Entering the Personal Shopping area of Selfridges Exchange Square it was hard not to feel a little nervous at who I was there to meet. As a drama student at college I had spent many an evening watching my VHS copy of Withnail & I and now here I was about to come face to face with one its iconic stars, Richard E. Grant.
Of course since then Richard has become, not only an actor but a director, author, screenwriter and most recently a fragrance creator. It is for the latter that I got to bag 10 minutes with him for Manchester’s Finest.
Richard E. Grant is just lovely. FACT. A true English gent he oozes with style and sophistication adorned in a Union Jack blazer (very on brand when it comes to his perfume). There’s no air of a diva despite the fact he could claim it due to his credentials but what ensues is one of the nicest interviews I have ever had and definitely worth getting up early for on a Saturday morning!
MF: So Richard, you have created not one but two fragrances now – Jack and Jack Covent Garden, which you are here for today. How did it all come about?
R: When I was 11 and ¾’s I had an enormous crush on an American girl, who were few and far between in Swaziland where I grew up. Her name was Betsy Clapp and she was only in Swaziland for 6 months, I’ve since tried to track her down on facebook, I don’t know if she’s back in America or even if she’s alive.
At the time I wanted to give her a gift and on the pocket money I had saved I couldn’t afford to buy her perfume. I then raided all the rose and gardenia petals in my parents garden (to the fury of my Mother) and boiled it up in sugar water, which I thought would do the trick, in jam jars believing that in two weeks they would miraculously transform into perfume. Of course they just turned into stink bombs!
I’d always compulsively sniffed and smelt everything in sight, which I realise from what people have told me – including my parents- is not what other people do. I still don’t fully understand though because animals always do…but my Mother would say ‘You’re not an animal’! Anyway, fast forward four and a half decades and I was on holiday in the Caribbean when a fellow house guest Anya Hindmarch, the handbag designer, took me aside because she saw me smelling everything in sight and she said ‘Are you going to do something about this?’ and I said ‘What…psychiatrically?’ and she said ‘No no no…are you serious about doing this? ’ and I said ‘Yes’ and she gave me a list of people to go and see about creating a fragrance and then it went on from there.
Following the success of his first fragrance JACK, which instantly became a best seller when it launched last April, Grant set about creating a second scent.
Jack Covent Garden is a unisex perfume exclusive to Selfridges Manchester for a year. It’s clear this is something he is passionate about and refreshingly Grant is heavily involved in the fragrance every step of the way, unlike a lot of celebrities who just put their name to a scent.
MF: So what is the inspiration behind Jack Covent Garden?
R: I had worked as a waiter in Covent Garden many years ago when I arrived in England as an immigrant and, because of My Fair Lady it was iconically linked with the fruit and veg market there till1973 so the notes I had in my head were orange, rose and ginger. On a first night actors are always given fruit, flowers and often use ginger to clear their throats.
I was also inspired by Nell Gwyn, the mistress of Charles the II, who lived in Covent Garden and was an orange seller and an actress. It was because of her relationship with the King that he agreed to legalise women to become actors (as previously all the theatre roles had been played by men, even the womens’ parts). Nell struck out for women’s lib even before we heard the term.
So, off I went to Grasse in the South of France and got all these miniature bottles of oil and mixed them together. I worked with Alienor Massenet in Paris who then added pimento and carrot oil, which absolutely fits with the Covent Garden theme.
MF: You have many talents Richard but the one most people associate you with is the role of Withnail in Withnail & I. If he was to create a fragrance, what would it smell of?
R: Oh I guess I’d have to say patchouli oil, marijuana, Petrus wine, Deep Heat and, of course, lighter fuel!
MF: Withnail & I came out in 1987 so will soon be celebrating its 30th anniversary. Any plans for a sequel?
R: I’m afraid there won’t be because Richard Griffiths, who played the fabulous Uncle Monty, has now passed away. And yes Withnail was alive at the end but the man the film is based on originally, died of throat cancer when he was 48 so we can’t really do that as I’m now 10 years older than him. So no plans, well, not that I know of.
MF: What was it like filming Hotel Secrets where you take a look at some of the most remarkable hotels in the world? And can we look forward to a third series?
R: It was a real privilege to do, my favourite hotel had to be the Ballyfin in Ireland, it was unbelievable. They’ve changed the commissioning editor at Sky Atlantic though and they are not doing another series so they have just endlessly repeated the first and second series. They are not doing any more which is a real shame.
MF: You have been to many places around the world but is this your first trip to Manchester?
R: I thought it was but this morning someone tweeted a picture of me at a book signing at Waterstones in Manchester 20 years ago. I was on a book tour around England so I never spent a night in Manchester. To my shame didn’t remember it. I tell you what is extraordinary, in comparison to London, people here speak to you…in the shops, in the Hotel, in the street.
MF: We heard that you never miss putting pen to paper and keep a daily diary. Are then any plans to publish it at some point?
R: Maybe, who knows? Never say never as Bond says!
MF: Finally, what’s the next project you are working on?
R: I’m doing a 10 part series of Jekyll and Hyde, playing the Head of the Secret Service. It’s being done by ITV at the moment and filmed all around London, set in the 1930s. It centres around the grandson of Jeykll and they have rebooted the format just like they did to the latest Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch.
JACK COVENT GARDEN, comes in an 100ml bottle and is ‘sleeved’ inside a vintage style Union Jack calico drawstring bag with a luggage label attached to personalise once opened. It is exclusive to Selfridges.