Rocking our world: Q&A with Oli Christie
- Credit: © Thousand Word Media
From our ‘barkingly mad’ pursuits to über-cool Black Jack Street, Oli Christie is on a mission to shake up the lazy person’s conception of the Cotswolds
Every now and then, someone comes along who really rocks the Cotswolds. And in this case, it’s Cirencester-based entrepreneur Oli Christie. His new website - www.rockthecotswolds.com – flags up the coolest, hottest, hippest businesses on the planet. And they all just happen to be in the Cotswolds.
“Lots of people - 20-somethings especially – think they need to move to London to get more of a life,” he says. “But, if you look a bit deeper, there’s some really cool stuff going on right here. I want to create a hub where everything highlighted – every restaurant, shop, bar or hotel – is something you wouldn’t expect in the cliché Cotswolds.”
Oli set up his highly-successful techie company Neon Play – making addictive games for iPhones and other portable devices – with his business partner, Mark Allen, in 2010. But despite their fun work ethic (which includes the promise of luxury loo roll, charity donations, and your birthday off), they found it hard work convincing young games designers to move here. Oli’s solution? To show the world how much this region really does rock: “I love the Cotswolds as they are; I also want to champion all the great stuff that’s under the radar.”
Oli and his wife, Panda – a three-day-eventer – have three children: Emily, 9, Bella, 7, and three-year-old Alfie.
• Where do you live and why?
I live with my wife and three kids in Compton Abdale, quite near to Northleach. Having lived in London for a long time, I craved open space, fresh air and a bit of peace and quiet. Now we have endless clutter, horse manure and three children to ruin all that. But still, I absolutely flipping love it.
• How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
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I used to come to Gloucestershire as a teenager for parties and always thought it was the place I would love to live when I was a grown-up. So it was rather fortuitous, when I met my wife Panda in a bar in London back in 2000, that she was a born-and-bred Cotswold girl. We got married in 2002 and did the M4 London-Glos cohabitation until 2004, when our daughter Emily arrived and I managed to get a job down here. I don’t miss London one hundredth of one iota.
• What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
I just love being at home with friends. So having some mates to stay with their children for the weekend. And then a boozy dinner party with some more local friends, ending up polishing off a couple of bottles of Sambuca. The Sunday would be a joyous slob in front of the fire, watching a Grand Prix on TV under a blanket, nodding off in a snory-slumber by the time the race has finished.
• If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I’d evict Lord and Lady Bathurst from Cirencester Park! The view from the front of their house down to the obelisk at the end is amazing. And their pool looks like it’s been plucked from Florence. They were kind enough to invite the whole Neon Play team for a pool party last year and we played football and frisbee on the lawn. It was a lunch party like no other!
• Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
Anywhere too far from Cirencester because it’s where Neon Play is based. And not in a residential area as I love the countryside.
• Where’s the best pub in the area?
Without doubt, it’s the Wheatsheaf in Northleach. Since Sam and Georgie Pearman have taken over, it’s been transformed into the best pub around. Amazing food, genuine polite service, a cracking atmosphere and it’s always fun.
• And the best place to eat?
About 20 yards from our studio is a bar/restaurant called Somewhere Else and we love it. I probably eat there four or five days a week for lunch. It’s always delicious. The main courses are mostly around a fiver and Andy and his team always give us incredible service with fun, personalised, reserved places. It’s a gem.
• Have you a favourite tearoom?
I can’t say I’ve ever been into a tearoom in my life. I don’t really drink tea or coffee so, unless they do an ice-cool pint of Ribena, it’s no good.
• What would you do for a special occasion?
I love going to Cowley Manor. The bar is a lot of fun, with papier-mâché African animal-head sculptures and a cool chill-out area. There’s a great private dining room, which is perfect for a decadent night out.
• What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?
Having lived in London for 10 years, it’s a joy to be able to live in the most beautiful place in the UK, but still have a proper job (sort of), with loads of friends and family within 30 minutes.
…and the worst?
Excessive car parking charges. Towns need shoppers to stay alive.
• Which shop could you not live without?
There are two shops in Cirencester I go to for last-minute distress-purchases for Mrs Christie. One is Surprises - perfect for stocking-fillers and slightly quirky presents; the other is Wadham Trading in the Corn Hall, which is where I love buying little bronze animals. Also WJ Castle in Northleach - it’s a proper butcher with a chainmail “door”, which our kids love.
• What’s the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
I think there’s a preconceived idea of the Cotswolds being pretty villages, Cheltenham Racecourse, Japanese tourists and the brilliant Adam Henson. And that is all great and we know that, but there are so many cool companies, people, artists, places to eat, shop and stay, etc. And that’s why I wanted to start Rock the Cotswolds to try and unearth the hidden gems that don’t get enough exposure. You’ve got pop artists like Teddy M, for instance, who does pop art. There’s a skateboard shop, Decimal – the last shop you’d expect in Cirencester – where kids come from Birmingham and Swindon just to buy a pair of trainers. And wonderful places like He Says She Waffles in Black Jack Street [Cirencester] which, in itself, is my favourite street.
• What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
Err. A Cotswoldian? A Cotswolder? A Cotswoldite? A Cottager? A Wellywolder?
• What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?
If it wasn’t a quarter-pounder with cheese, fries and strawberry milkshake at McDonald’s Cirencester, it would probably be the cheese soufflé at The Wheatsheaf, a steak and chips with homemade béarnaise sauce at Made by Bob, followed by some nice strong Cheddar cheese.
• What’s your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
We have a bench in our garden where I love to sit and ponder life. It looks over the valley into Compton Abdale. But I also love the view over the Windrush Valley on the A40 stretch from Burford to the Witney bypass. There’s a little barn there that’s been for sale for years and it must have the most incredible views.
• What’s your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
I love the drive from the Fossebridge Inn down the Coln Valley through the villages of Coln St Dennis and Coln St Peters. It’s so pretty, with a stream running through the valley, the church and Cotswold stone houses. It’s one of the few roads I go down like a Sunday driver: slowly taking in the view.
• Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds
The views. The people. The individuality.
• What’s your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
Probably the big church in the Market Place in Cirencester because I got married there. It was 11 years ago and a sunny October day. The day after the wedding, it rained biblically and the marquee leaked like Niagara Falls. We got lucky.
• What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Cycle up a hill. I tried once and it wasn’t pretty. (It was more of a slope really).
Starter homes or executive properties?
Parts of the Cotswolds are getting so overpriced, it’s going to be a challenge to keep enough young/20-something-year-olds here; and those are the people who are the future of the area. We need them to help breathe and sustain life in the place - they are the creative ones who can rock the Cotswolds.
• What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
I got an ‘E’ in Common-Entrance geography, so I wouldn’t have a clue. But through Rock the Cotswolds, I’m certainly discovering some wonderful places in every nook and cranny of the Cotswolds. I really want to spend time in places like Stroud, Painswick and Broadway, and visit these incredible restaurants, hotels, shops and diverse companies.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
The chef from the Wheatsheaf.
• What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Look deeper and find the hidden gems. For instance, if you go to Cirencester, it’s easy to just stay in the Market Place and two other main streets. But, if you walk down Black Jack Street, you’ll find the most phenomenal collection of unique shops with, a charming individuality that makes the heart sing.
• And which book should they read?
Mmm. I can’t say I’ve ever read a book about the Cotswolds. But they should go to www.rockthecotswolds.com!
• Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
I love taking our cocker spaniel, Pudding, for a walk with the kids down the road into Compton Abdale and to the mini-waterfall called “the Crocodile”. (The water gushes out of the crocodile’s mouth). The children splash in the stream and there’s some great blackberry-picking up the hill.
• Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Life for me is about experiences (good and bad). I would love to go to the cheese rolling at Cooper’s Hill, because it’s barkingly mad and 100% British. But I think the Cheltenham Festivals provide the most incredible diversity of entertainment and mind-enrichment. With music, literature, science and jazz, there really is something for everyone. People should try to go to one event at each festival and they’ll see, hear and learn things that will expand their minds.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
Obviously Liz Hurley’s bedroom. As long as Shane Warne wasn’t there.
• To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
A big gold statue of Adam Henson and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen holding hands and skipping through a field of daisies.
The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?
Well, clearly we should want to preserve the stunning views and villages. But, at the same time, you can’t stand still, so we need to be prepared to be brave with architecture. There is not really one structure or building that represents the Cotswolds so, like Angel of the North, I would love a huge sculpture on a main road that shouts “Welcome to the Cotswolds”. But no one would be brave enough to do it...
• Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
I think there’s a wonderful quirkiness, serenity, niceness and individuality. Having done 10 years in London, it’s great to be able to smile at someone and know they won’t stab you. And cars actually stop to let you cross the road. In London, they would just run you over.
• With whom would you most like to have a cider?
To me, cider smells of wee. But I’d be fascinated to go for a G&T with Damien Hirst. I think it’s great that he’s created the factory-style set up of Andy Warhol and that his production base is in Stroud. I’d love to see how he works and how he approaches the marketing of his art.
This article is from the January 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.