John Timpson takes a break from his straight-talking management books in his latest writings, instead cataloguing his journey, with wife, Alex, into racehorse ownership. He shares some of his tales with Louisa Castle
Mr. John Timpson is a gentleman who has been on my interview wish-list since I joined The Cheshire Magazine team over three years ago.
My background is in writing for management consultancy, the theories and the hype and the new ‘new’ ways to do things. It wasn’t for me. Having absorbed the words I was writing, I always questioned if the art of management and success in business didn’t really just have good old-fashioned common sense at its heart. Hence, from what I had heard and read, I was looking forward to meeting John Timpson at his home in Tarporley.
Warmly greeted at the door, we sit at the kitchen table but then ushered to the conservatory “so we can enjoy the view while we chat”. With a perfect English country garden as our backdrop and coffee in hand, I begin. After asking about the gardens. “Oh I’m not a keen gardener. We’ve a wonderful team who look after things here. I get to enjoy it.”
I am here to interview Mr Timpson about his latest book. And it’s not about business, well not the eponymous high street business we would all recognise. It’s about the business, pleasure and trials and tribulations of being a race horse owners husband and making his wife’s dreams come true; Under Orders- The Diary of a Racehorse Owner’s Husband.
“There’s an old adage that if you want to make a small fortune, you need to start with a large one. It applies to the stock market. But I have also discovered it is the case with horse racing! It’s an expensive hobby.”
Indeed the book begins: “It’s amazing how many astute businessmen abandon common sense and invest in a football club. I would never fall for such a foolish trap. My football investment has been limited to three season tickets and the 1,000 Manchester City shares I gave Alex for Christmas in 1998. She liked the shares, but really wanted the racehorse she had coveted for 20 years.”
Alex is John Timpson’s wife who passed away peacefully at the start of the year, following a battle with cancer. “Under Orders may have been a better title for the book but it’s already been done, by Dick Francis nonetheless. Not only does it describe the start of the race but perfectly describes the relationship with my wife. She was the driving force in business, home and with this.
“Alex’s passion started at an early age when she was indulged by her uncle who was Clerk of the Course at Aintree and its stuck with her. I bought her a greyhound thinking I could satisfy the passion. He won at Bellevue, so it was a promising start. I then changed his name to While You Wait, thinking of being able to promote the business too. Then he went lame.
“Not too long passed until we won a VIP day out at Uttoxeter. We went into the jockeys’ changing room, stood on the starting line and it was a real behind-the-scenes day. That put the pressure on a bit.
“Alex sensed an open door and I found myself ringing a trainer and stupidly saying ‘would you help?’ Within just a few weeks we’d visited the yard, Alex had decided the horse had to be a grey, bought Transatlantic (a grey), and chosen her racing colours – ‘City blue and white will look pretty on a grey.’ I was officially a racehorse owner’s husband.”
And that is where the story begins. Asked by a friend’s daughter to write a short column for her website John Timpson catalogued his journeys through the eyes of an owner. His book is a collation of his and Alex’s tales and experiences. Friends have labeled it as a bit of a love story too.
I am two-thirds of the way through How to Make a Small Fortune at the time of writing. It is gentle, warm and easy-to-read. It explains to an absolute novice (me) a world of ante-posts and Rule 4s without labouring the point. And shares a snapshot of life shared with a racehorse owner – as well as stories from Alex and John’s life together. From campaigning with their son Edward Timpson MP to gain re-election to a geriatric gap year in New Zealand and the compromise of watching the 2.10 at Uttoxeter or City at The Etihad.
“I wanted to make it something everyone can read and get something out of. It’s a beginner’s guide of lessons learned, strange terms, expectations managed and we’ve even included some of our embarrassing statistics. There’s plenty to smile about too.
“Lesson 1. Don’t think you’re in it to make money! But tell me a hobby which does make money!? If you get pleasure out of it, why not?
“I get a buzz out of writing. When I first started I spoke into a Dictaphone, now I tap away on the computer – one-fingered stuff mind you!” With a column in The Daily Telegraph, a series of successful business and How to… books to his name it is clearly a passion. Alongside, business, family, City and horse racing…
His latest How to… aims to get the national curriculum thinking more about the care of adoptive children. “As foster carers and adoptive parents Alex and I were always grateful for the help we got from teachers and the support staff at our children’s schools. We found the more they knew and understood, then the more we could help and the better chance we could give them.
“Alex always did things her way. She wasn’t really interested in rules. Only enjoyed breaking them to make things happen. She was a strong character and big influence on so many people. A nursery nurse, she knew all the names of all the children we ever met!
“She would have been amazed though with knowing the difference she has made. It just goes to show her example lives on.”
The Timpson business is run by eldest son James, but John still plays a key role. “I know all our shops and can tell you their history! And I visit over 800 stores each year. Luckily, James and I work really well together. He’s very much like his mum. ”
No sign of retiring then? “What a ghastly idea. Retiring and the idea of nothing but playing golf fills me with horror!”
It is fair to say, then that there is much more to come from John Timpson. My time with the proud, approachable businessman has flown by, we both have places to be, and it was just as we started to discuss the prospects of City this season. We both have high hopes.
Under Orders – The Diary of a Racehorse Owner’s Husband is published by Icon Books, £14.99, out October 2016. Sales from the book will be donated to the Injured Jockey’s Fund.