Interview: Estate agent Atty Beor-Roberts, Knight Frank
- Credit: © Thousand Word Media
When it comes to the movers and shakers of the region, they don’t come much bigger than top estate agent Atty Beor-Roberts. As retirement approaches, he tells Katie Jarvis about his Cotswold Life
Traditional, full of character, with charming original features and the most interesting of Cotswold views. We’re talking, of course, of Atty Beor-Roberts, for more than 30 years a stalwart of top estate agents Knight Frank. He’s handled some of the Cotswolds’ most fascinating and exclusive properties, involving names such as Kate Winslet, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Liz Hurley and Anne Robinson. Atty (his real name, Alastair, is on so few documents, he has difficulty remembering which) might be retiring as chair of Knight Frank’s central region but – despair not, house-sellers! - he’ll still continue in a consulting role.
He’s not leaping to fill his new-found freedom because much of it will be taken up with existing activities. “Gardening, keeping chickens; being churchwarden, governor of an Oxford prep school, and chairman of the Radley College Beagles – one of only three school-owned packs of hounds in the country,” he lists. And, possibly most important of all, he’s chair of the Cheltenham fundraising board of Maggie’s Centres, supporting people affected by cancer.
“If I’ve ever had a bad day and I go down to Maggie’s, I’ll walk up the path and find an absolute ray of hope there. Everyone is so positive. We aim to raise half a million a year in Cheltenham, but I’ll be doing a lot more to help that grow.”
Atty and wife Celia have three children: Bertie, 22, an Oxford graduate currently working on the defence of prisoners on death row; Daisy, 21, studying property at Oxford Brookes; and Emily, 18, working at a Knightsbridge prep school during her gap year.
Where do you live and why?
When we got married in 93, my wife was working for Knight Frank in Oxford and I was in Cirencester; so our village of Hampnett was a fantastic location for both. We thought we’d probably move on but we’ve never found anywhere to better it. Only 47 people live here, and I know them all. The one public building is St George’s - a stunning Norman church where I’m a churchwarden – and around a third of villagers come to services. Not many parishes can say that! In the middle of Hampnett is a field that used to be open, so the village had gates to stop animals wandering out. When the new A40 was built, the field was fenced for safety, but the gates are still there. If passing motorists start cutting corners, we shut them.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
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I went to Beaudesert Park [the Minchinhampton prep school] in 1966, aged eight. It was a tough experience but it was what one did – my father had also gone there. Before that, I’d been taught by a governess at home in Breconshire. I went on to Radley; then came back to the RAC [now Cirencester’s Royal Agricultural University], where I studied estate management. We’ve still got the old family farm in Wales; still the home of my mother, who’s nearly 95. I shall spend more time there post-retirement.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
Out to dinner with friends on a Friday night. Saturday, something sporting, such as racing, shooting or hunting. (As long as it’s active and outdoors.) Saturday night, happy to party again – bit of a party animal; or, if not, put my feet up and watch the racing we’ve recorded. I’m famous for refusing to go out for Sunday lunch because it’s a family day. We’ll eat early evening – usually a roast – to give me time for gardening. We’ve got chickens here, though we do have problems with Mr Fox. I bought some new hens the other day: Burford Browns, and Cotswold Legbars that lay blue eggs. I’m a closet farmer.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I would love a big farmhouse – nothing fancy; I don’t need a Georgian statement – up in the hills, with lots of outbuildings and barns. A hundred acres, where I could keep rare breeds. I like preserving old things and old ways. I’m not great on change.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
In my job, it’s not a good idea to name a village but flat land is not me.
Where’s the best pub in the area?
They come and go. Currently, top of the pops is the Bell at Langford, the other side of Filkins. It’s run by Tom Noest. He and my son grew up together. He’s only 22 and has had amazing write-ups.
And the best place to eat?
Friends’ houses. I reserve going out to restaurants for when I’m in Pembrokeshire, where we have a house. (I might not like to move house but I am a collector.) Fresh fish, straight off the boat: you can’t beat that.
What would you do for a special occasion?
We had my 60th the other day in London at the River Café: some of the best fish I’ve eaten in my life. My wife and I both enjoy parties. ‘Live every day to the full!’ I tell my children. If I drop dead tonight, I’ve no regrets.
For my retirement, we’re having a dinner in the West End for my closest 60 friends in the firm. It’s with slight sadness – bound to be, if you’ve done from age 26 to 60 with the same firm - but I am staying on as a consultant. Some of my friends have already said they want me to hold their hands when they do decide to sell. In the country-house market, people plan ahead. The longest I’ve had is 10 years from seeing someone to their property actually coming to the market. I went and had tea or drinks with them every year for a decade.
What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?
The scenery, which has changed little over many years; proximity to transport; theatre; shopping; and the best racecourse in the country – Cheltenham. But, above all, any county where the houses are built out of the natural stone has a far greater beauty.
... and the worst?
The traffic and the potholes.
Which shop could you not live without?
There are two in Cirencester: Market Garden, the veg shop; and Oops A Daisy, the florist. I love flowers – might open a florist myself, one day. When I was a child, we had a full-time gardener, Willie Davies, and I’d spend every day with him that I could. We had an amazing vegetable garden: Willie taught me to open pods, take the peas out and eat them raw. My mother would say, “The birds have been at those peas again!”
I love longevity. I’ve known the chap who farms for me in Wales since we were both three years old. His father worked our farm before him; and his son does all the building-work on my properties.
What’s the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
The true Cotswold native doesn’t care less who you are; they’re not socially driven. It’s fantastic that the two Princes, who’ve been brought up here, can walk through Tetbury, or come onto our stand at Badminton, and no one bats an eyelid.
What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?
Trout paté from Bibury (or scallops from Pembrokeshire); pheasant or partridge in winter – which I’d have shot - or Old Spot sausages. Veg from my garden, which I’ll grow now I’ve finally got the time. And Double Gloucester or Bath Soft cheese for pudding.
My meal would start with a Cotswold cocktail: Cotswold gin and sherry, 50/50. I used to go shooting with a lovely old chap who lived in Devon, who said to me, “Atty, you must have a Cotswold cocktail! I learned it when I was at the Ag College and lived at Stratton House for three years.” Sadly, he’s dead now but, whenever I go to his son’s, we always have a Cotswold cocktail in his honour.
What’s your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Coln St Aldwyn, with its river, pub, deli, post office and church; and it’s walking-distance of a primary and a prep school. All the houses are beautiful and there’s no main road.
What’s your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
Badminton House and stable-yard. These big estates and houses keep the local economy going. They provide livelihoods; farms for people to farm on; they rent out houses which, in places like the Cotswolds, is essential when prices have gone so high. I hate it when people damn the rich. On a big estate, they employ gardeners, inside staff, people who manage the kennels, the stables. Badminton runs the horse trials – and look at the money that brings in! It’s the same when somebody wealthy moves house: there are the professionals’ fees, the new white goods, carpets and curtains; they get builders in. I’d love to explain to Corbyn straight to his face how it works.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
I’d never get business solely by sitting at my desk. I learned this from a lovely Knight Frank partner, John Inge, whom I knew when I was working in London. He would say, “Go out to the art galleries in St James’s; go and meet people for an hour!” And it’s true. If I go to Cirencester Waitrose, I’ll always see somebody I know, and that will lead to something.
Starter homes or executive properties?
Starter homes on carefully selected sites on the edge of small towns or villages. I deal with property over £2m – I’m a great believer in people specialising – but, as a firm, we do everything. The lower end is essential.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
I’ve sold property from Stratford-on-Avon to south of Bath; from the Bredon Hills in the west to Chipping Norton in the east.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
It’s lovely to go abroad but, every time you come back, you think: My god, I’m lucky to live in the Cotswolds. I would take Burford Browns, Cotswold Legbars, Gloucester Old Spot, and Cotswold sheep.
What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
This is the countryside so don’t complain if a slow tractor is holding you up or there’s mud on the road. I was at a dinner party once where somebody was complaining that she’d been to see a house and there was cow-shit on the road. ‘Don’t the farmers sweep it up?’ she asked. I said, ‘Madam, I suggest you stay east of Ascot.’ I’ve never been one to hold back.
And which book should they read?
Jilly Cooper. See the raunchy side of the Cotswolds and what really goes on.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I’m not a character to be invisible. People always know when I’m about.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
To the Romans for the layout of the roads. As you whizz up the Fosse Way or drive along the Whiteway, you see what a great network they created.
The Cotswolds – aspic or asphalt?
I wouldn’t want them changed any more. Traditional farming keeps the beauty, and a Cotswold stone cottage with the sun on it wakes up as the day wakes up.
Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
Mine would be ‘Glass half full’. (Half full of whisky, preferably!) There’s so much to do: I don’t think the Cotswolds is a place for moaners.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
It would have to be Churchill: great ideas; great views; said what he thought; stuck by it. I always say what I think, not what people want to hear, and he was the same. But perhaps I ought to meet Boris Johnson. According to Adam Edwards [journalist and Cotswold Life columnist], I am the Boris of the Cotswolds!