Tête-a-Tat with Ros Byam Shaw

Updated: May 15


I first encountered Ros without fully grasping who I was meeting. I was with my mother, Liz, and we had a lovely exchange with a smiley and incredibly funny mystery stranger. On asking who we had just spoken to, my mother replied: 'But I thought you knew that was Ros Byam Shaw?'. Boy did I know Ros Byam Shaw, but by name only at that point. The Tat aesthetic owes a great deal to the marvellous books that Ros has produced over the years, and there hasn't been a birthday/Christmas where I haven't had one of them on my gift list (yes at 31 I still have a gift list). Anyway, thankfully I hadn't put two & two together at the first meeting, as inevitably I would have got over-excited, spoken too fast, and very likely embarrassed myself. But over the last few years, our paths have crossed more often, and I recently felt brave enough to wave Tete-a-Tat in her direction, nonchalantly and with the preface: 'of course don't worry if you don't want to...'. But really I was excited and very much wanted an answer in the affirmative. Oh well cover blown for me, but here is Ros' marvellous Tete-a-Tat!

 

Best Day?

Impossible to choose just one - my own wedding, and the birth of each of my daughters would all be high on the list. But the best, and happiest days I have had since then have undoubtedly been the recent weddings of my daughters, one in June 2018, the other in August last year. They both got married in the local church - where they once sang in the choir - the tower of which we can see from the kitchen window. We had marquees in the garden, a friend (@millhousefloristry) did wonderful flowers, and we had the most beautiful weather. Despite the basic formula being the same, the look and feel of each day was as distinct as my daughters are different. What was exactly the same, was the sheer joy of seeing them so happy, and surrounded by people who love them.


Girl Crush?

I have serial girl crushes, but since lockdown began, I have been missing one in particular, my friend, writer, cook, and all-round gorgeous good egg, Lucy Brazier (@brazier.lucy). I first met her a couple of years ago on a shoot for House & Garden. She persuaded me to join her for early-morning sea swims. We started in June two years ago, got through one winter and were still swimming this year until March, when we were all told to stay at home. Anyone who can make me laugh as much as she does while wading into icy water in a biting wind and semi-darkness is worth getting up at 6am for.


Boy Crush?

Cliche maybe, but this has to be Barack Obama - need I explain why? (Interruption from Tat: No you don't! )


Any good advice? Who gave it to you?


This is not advice that was given to me, rather it was shown to me, by my grandfather, the theatre and opera director, Glen Byam Shaw. As a child I adored him, and one of the things I loved about him, was the way he was not just polite, but also warm, and apparently genuinely interested in pretty much everyone he met - the man at the petrol station, the lady in the shop, me, even when very young and probably annoying. I also noticed that people were nice in return. And I guess it was an early lesson that ‘what goes round comes round’ and that you should ‘do as you would be done by’.


Top Destination in the UK?

There are so many places to love in this country - London, the Lake District, Dartmoor, the Yorkshire Dales - but if I had to choose one favourite it would be the Scilly Isles. For more than ten years, from when our youngest daughter was three, we went every year, driving down from London to Penzance, and catching the helicopter to Tresco, and they were the best family holidays I could imagine. It always rained some of the time, but whatever the weather we would set off on boat trips, and long walks, finding empty beaches where we would build elaborate sandcastles. The sea is an extraordinary turquoise blue, the sky seems enormous, and there is a sense of remoteness and pristine nature that is intoxicating. Tresco has changed a lot since we first visited, when it felt undiscovered, and not at all smart - but those islands are still some of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Favourite Restaurant in the world?


This is an impossible question for someone who likes eating as much as I do. That being said, I am not a great fan of fashionable eateries, or of grand and formal restaurants. I am more than happy to go to the cosy, unpretentious local pub. I love eating outdoors and one of the best meals I have had in the last year was a barbecue by a very talented local chef, Connor Reed (@connorlreed) when we ate scallops straight from the pan, followed by a huge pollock which had been caught earlier that day.

What is the thing keeping you sane at the minute?

I could just say gin. But in truth, we are ridiculously privileged, and I have no excuse to resort to the bottle. We have a big garden, plenty of space, lovely walks, excellent local shops, and a daughter and son-in-law with us, both of whom are superb cooks. Life is not fair - as my father never stopped telling me when I complained as a child - but to be this lucky, when so many other people are having a hard time, seems unfairly unfair.


A song that can always make your foot tap?

‘Gimme Shelter’ by the Rolling Stones - forget foot-tapping, I have to get up and dance.


Favourite Smell?

This would have to be either freshly brewed coffee or the sweet, faintly honey scent of primroses.


What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?

West Side Story - a favourite since childhood when we had the LP of all the songs. I love the music, I love the dancing, and it still makes me cry, without fail.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I have never seen one, though I know people who say they have. I am a ghost agnostic, though I often feel conscious of a very particular atmosphere in an old house - sometimes welcoming, sometimes slightly sinister - that makes me wonder if people leave some kind of impression on a building they have lived in.


Favourite Cook Book?

This is a book I don’t own, but I did give it to my son-in-law for Christmas, and then wished I had bought a copy for myself. It’s called ‘Time’ and is by local chef, Gill Meller (@gill.meller), and although I haven’t cooked a single recipe from it, I sat reading it before I wrapped it up and have never found a cookery book so appealing - gorgeous photographs (@montgomeryphoto) of real kitchens - and full of things I wanted to eat, and felt capable of cooking (I am very put off by too many ingredients - especially things I have never heard of).