Founder of Mulberry explains his new mission of helping Bowel Cancer UK

Roger Saul

Roger Saul - Credit: Archant

Roger Saul launched the Sharpham food brand with his wife Monty in 2005 after they bought the farm surrounding their home and he made the leap from fashion to farming.

The organic farm near Glastonbury specialises in growing spelt, an ancient grain which can be substituted in for the things we use modern wheat for.

The 300-acre park, which dates back the Bronze Age, has had a colourful history, having been home to the Duke of Somerset, Sir Edward Seymour (brother of Queen Jane), Elizabethan poet Sir Edward Dyer and the Thynne family of Somerset.

Through a combination of traditional farming and modern machinery Sharpham Park has, over the years, achieved its goal to produce ‘sustainable, organic, true food’ under the popular Sharpham Park spelt food label.

The farm is a far cry from the fashion world Roger was used to before he sold his shares in Mulberry.

Born in Lottisham near Shepton Mallet, Roger’s introduction to working with leather began as a youngster.

His father was a manager at Clarks and he would take Roger with him to work on Saturday mornings.

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After attending Wells Cathedral School and boarding at Kingswood in Bath he got a scholarship to go to Westminster College in London, but he was already selling Victorian military uniforms from a stall in Portobello Road.

In 1971 Roger launched Mulberry and he and Monty moved to Sharpham Park in 1977.

In 2003 he was forced to sell his shares in Mulberry after losing a battle for control, but transforming a former Somerset woollen mill into a designer shopping outlet, Kilver Court in Shepton Mallet, in 2011, shows his passion for fashion is still ever present.

Roger said: “Even though I disappeared into farming and organic food for five years, at that time organic food had almost become more fashionable than fashion so I still found myself very much at the forefront of press interest.

“It didn’t take too long for the designer bug to return with the launch of Kilver Court.”

When asked who his most famous customers have been over the years, the answer was an unusual combination.

“It would be a toss up between Margaret Thatcher or Bob Geldof.

“Bob walked into one of our London shops and told staff he wanted ‘that Donegal three-piece suit’.

“Staff were delighted until he said ‘but I don’t want to pay for it’.

“Bob promised to be on the front page of the Irish Times with the Prime Minister the next day, so without hesitation I said ‘yes’.

“Bob was indeed on the front page of the Irish Times the next day and the world’s best-known scruff became known as one of the best dressed celebrities and his picture and story, linked with Mulberry, reverebated around the world’s press.

“Never has a suit been seen by so many and cost me so little.

“I presented Margaret Thatcher with a Mulberry handbag when I was Chairman of the London Designer Collections and she forgot to thank me.

“A month later I got a wonerful, hand-written note apologising profusely and saying how much she loved the handbag.

“ There are many more.”

As well as juggling fashion and farming, Roger has recently got involved with working with Bowel Cancer UK, for reasons personal to him.

He told Somerset Life: “The charity approached me about a year ago to see if we could help them spread the word about how important it was to eat a balanced, high fibre diet.

“We struggled to start with as, whilst we applauded the endeavour, the horrible truth is bowel cancer is an ugly disease that is the second biggest killer in the UK.

“Bowels are not nice things to talk about with food in the same sentence.

“We then came up with the idea of approaching top chefs in the UK that we had got to know through our spelt journey and were delighted with the hugely positive response.

“When we bought the farm I was planning to grow wheat, but my sister, who was suffering from cancer was trying to find a nutritious diet and told me about spelt.”

Sadly Rose died in 2005, six months before the first crop.

A new website has been created for the spelt recipes, and Roger is about to create the next stage in the awareness campaign with Bowel Cancer UK.

They are in talks about creating a wider campaign both nationally and internationally and they will be launching a competition for the best spelt recipes, which will go into a new book next year.

And when asked what the future holds for him personally Roger replied: “Living life to the full.

“Somerset is where my roots are and it’s where I’ve had so many wonderful relationships, be they work or friendship related.”