Town & Country (UK)
The gardens at Daylesford House, the Cotswolds home of the Bamford family
Lady Bamford has shaped our fantasy of the English-country idyll with her lifestyle empire Daylesford, yet her apparently effortless aesthetic is based on many years of hard graft. She opens her doors to Teresa Fitzherbert to discuss organic farming, her
Honey-hued stone cottages nestling in the hills; a scrubbed oak table standing before a pastel-painted Aga; an elegant hostess clad with simple luxury in white linen and the softest cashmere… if this is your vision of life in the English countryside, then you probably have Carole Bamford to thank.
Since she founded Daylesford, her organic lifestyle empire, in 2002, her expertly curated take on rural living has beguiled us all, from inveterate townies to the international elite, while prime ministers, supermodels, rock stars and Royalty have flocked to deepest Gloucestershire in quest of Daylesford’s botanical beauty products and black truffle butter…
Naturally enough, Lady Bamford’s exquisite vision of rural perfection extends to her own home; but she guards her privacy fiercely. As her goddaughter, I am one of the lucky few to have visited. She and her husband, Anthony, Lord Bamford, the chairman of JCB, have been friends with my parents for nearly 40 years. As a small child, I remember doing conjuring tricks for her in my pyjamas, and at the age of three, she earned herself the honorific of Fairy Godmother when she gave me her daughter’s old pony, Larky, a fat little chestnut with a silky stomach and a penchant for bolting with people he didn’t like. Later, when I was at a boarding-school nearby, Lady Bamford (or rather Carole, as she hates being called by her title) would pick me up to ease my homesickness by treating me to an afternoon of playing with her pack of fluffy shih tzus.
Now, for the first time, Carole has opened her front door to the wider world with the publication of her debut book, Nurture. This collection of her own notes and recipes covers the topics central to her ethos, from beekeeping to soil preservation, tea ceremonies to flower arranging. It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to bring the Daylesford aesthetic home; though it is undoubtedly a hard act to follow, I reflect, as we glide up the drive, past the manicured lawns and clumps of brilliant daffodils, to the Georgian portico.
Inside, the house smells of fresh jasmine and scented candles. I am ushered into the study, a cosy nook hung with portraits of Carole’s beloved dogs. Chic as ever in a sumptuous lamb’s-wool gilet and navy palazzo pants, she envelops me in a warm hug. ‘Tea, coffee, croissants?’ she offers, as her favourite dog, Bellini, trots in and jumps onto her lap. I sense that she is uncharacteristically a little apprehensive about this meeting; indeed, when she was first asked to write the book, she says, she was puzzled. ‘I thought “Why? Who on Earth would want to hear from me?”’
She’s being entirely honest; yet who would not want to know about the inspiration behind one of the most iconic British brands of the century? In 16 years, the business she started has grown to encompass a spa, clothing and beauty lines, a pub, a charitable foundation and restaurants in Belgravia, Notting Hill and Selfridges. There’s also a further 4,500 acres under organic cultivation at Wootton, the family’s farm in Staffordshire, and Château Léoube, a collection of Provençal vineyards and olive groves producing award-winning rosés and oils. Quite the conglomerate for a woman who claims she doesn’t understand business. ‘I’m not clever,’ she insists. ‘I had an idea, but my team are the experts.’
Born in Nottingham just after the war, she shared a home with her parents, grandfather, uncle and brother. After leaving the RAF, her father set up his own building business and there were tradesmen forever passing in and out of the house. ‘My mother had four men to look after so there was always a stew in the oven or a big ham. She was a great provider.’ As a child, Carole would accompany her mother to markets to barter for food with rationing coupons. ‘You ate what was in season and if you had a joint or chicken you would make it last for three days.’ She left her grammar school before finishing her A levels in order to become a secretary. It wasn’t until her family took a trip to Barbados that the 20-year-old Carole realised how much of the world she was missing. On returning home, she saw an advertisement for an air stewardess in the Nottingham Evening Post and applied immediately. ‘My parents were horrified but I am so glad I did.’ In her first six months, she worked 18-hour night shifts.
No wonder, then, that every Daylesford employee will
reference their boss’ ferocious capacity for hard work. ‘I wouldn’t have missed it,’ she says of her four-year career as a stewardess. ‘It taught me so much about discipline and the real world.’
It was in her early twenties that Carole first met Anthony Bamford and his then-girlfriend, later to become his wife. Not long after the wedding, the new Mrs Bamford tragically died in a car crash. ‘It was awful, awful,’ says Carole. Several years passed before she and Anthony fell in love, and they eventually wed in 1974. Two years later, during the hot summer of 1976, Carole was walking with her newborn Alice through the gardens at Wootton. ‘I noticed that the roses were wilting and I could hear and smell the pesticides being sprayed in the next-door field.’ She couldn’t bear the thought of what the chemicals might be doing to both her flowers and her baby. This, coupled with an enlightening conversation with an organic farmer at a local agricultural show, was the turning point. ‘It wasn’t a choice for me. Organic was the only way.’
Although the farm manager initially thought she was ‘crazy’, she was determined to convert the family estate to organic. It took seven years for it to be certified; and when the Bamfords bought Daylesford in 1988 they set to work to convert that too. Keen to make use of a dairy herd they had inherited with the property, Carole found a local cheese-maker, and the seeds for the Daylesford organic empire were sown. Since then, the company has won more than 100 food and sustainability awards.
Nevertheless, Carole is keen to stress that her journey hasn’t been a smooth one. As well as sceptical farm managers and a ‘lots of hiccups and wrong turns’ along the way, she says critics often dismiss her efforts because of her wealth and privilege. ‘People want to knock me because they say I can afford to buy organic. But we can’t afford not to be. We have got to realise the proper price of food. If we don’t, we pay for it later, either in medical bills or in sustainability.’
Her daughter Alice has followed in her footsteps, running
her own biodynamic ranch in Malibu. She and her partner, Ann Eysenring, have written a cookery book and Alice lectures on soil conservation at the University of California. ‘I am so proud of Alice,’ says Carole. ‘I don’t write about her in the book because I’ve got three children [the Bamfords also have two sons, Jo and George] but she has really taken on my passion without me realising I passed it onto her.’
Having grown up in a male-dominated household, Carole says her daughter is ‘very precious’ to her. ‘She’s got my mother’s cheeky, naughty sense of humour.’ It is soon clear that Alice isn’t the only person to inherit an appetite for fun. The Town & Country team are invited to lunch in the tithe barn, a beautifully restored outhouse with vaulted beamed ceilings. After making sure everyone has a glass of sparkling rosé, Carole puts Michael Bublé on full volume. ‘Louder!’ she says, laughing as the photographer captures her at her desk surrounded by family photographs, sneakily hiding her glass of fizz behind a snap of an infant grandchild.
‘Have you seen this picture?’ she calls to me over the music. She is pointing to a black and white portrait of a young woman gazing sultrily into the camera. Her kohl-smudged eyes are framed by enormous eyelashes and a cigarette hangs loosely from one hand; she looks the spitting image of Twiggy. ‘That’s me!’ Taken in the late Sixties, it was around the time that Carole followed the Beatles to India to learn transcendental meditation, and she still meditates today. Is it fair to say that she was a bit of a hippie? ‘I suppose so,’ she considers. ‘It was 1967, I was reading Hermann Hesse, and everyone was going to San Francisco with flowers in their hair.’
Many who write about the Bamfords focus on the gloss and the glamour, the private jets and the family yacht, but Carole is a bohemian at heart. ‘I don’t like five-star hotels, I would much rather have sand beneath my feet.’ She learnt how to be the lady of the manor by osmosis, she says. ‘Aren’t we a tapestry of everyone we’ve met?’ One influence in particular was the late Hubert de Givenchy, whom the newly married Mrs Bamford met at a dinner in the South of France. ‘He was so handsome, so talented, so stylish… he said to me “Why are you nervous?” and I said, “Because I’m sitting next to you.”’ They became friends, and when she and Anthony bought Château Léoube she called him for advice. ‘If my glasses are like this, it’s because of him. If we use three-pronged forks, he taught me. I was a sponge. If people say that I am stylish now, I am flattered – but I learnt an awful lot from him.’
Carole certainly has impeccable taste. She personally chooses every Daylesford item, from the elegant, handleless teacups to the soaps shaped like a pebble she once found on the beach. Every surface at her home is covered with beautiful trinkets – a collection of miniature silhouettes here, a monogrammed cushion there. ‘I always believe I’m going to find a treasure around the corner,’ she tells me, of a forthcoming trip to India. ‘I’ll take a rickshaw over the top of the hill and find something that excites me. I never think I’m too old for that.’
Before we leave, she treats the photographer and me to tea, and insists on giving us parcels of chocolate cake and smoked-salmon sandwiches to eat on the train home. As our taxi pulls out of the drive, a rainbow arches majestically across the dappled sky, as if placed there by a celestial designer. It seems impossible, but at Daylesford, even the English weather is perfect. ‘Nurture: Notes and recipes from Daylesford Farm’ by Carole Bamford (£35, Square Peg) is out now.
SHE LEARNT HOW TO BE THE LADY OF THE MANOR BY OSMOSIS, SHE SAYS. ‘AREN’T WE A TAPESTRY OF EVERYONE WE’VE MET?’