Christopher Scholey – Giver of good humour and taker of stunning photographs!
It was during the Palma International Boat show 2021 that I first met Christopher. I was walking along with Simon, my editor, when a rather enthusiastic chap, wearing super cool, but understated clothes bounded up to us and gave Simon a massive shake of the hand. Once he left Simon explained that he was an awesome photographer, who he suspected had led a rather eventful and spectacular life, and would I mind getting in touch with him to do a feature. Well, he wasn’t wrong.
Normally the interviews take around an hour, however this time, three hours later, everyone realised they were meant to be somewhere else and doing something else. Otherwise, I don’t think it would have ended there. And don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t three hours of me stifling a yawn, this was three hours of an absolute rollercoaster of emotions, from belly laughs, to horror, to happy tears, returning finally to a quiet calm satisfaction. To a realigning of the head and heart here on the beautiful island of Mallorca. It is a story not for the faint hearted, but by God it’s a good one!
Born and raised in Hampstead, London, by an extremely loving and creative family; his sister is a trained concert pianist, his mother a wonderful painter and pianist, and his father, although a banker of 62 years who recently retired aged 85, played trumpet with Dusty Springfield. The creative gene was clearly strong with this clan. Christopher spent his formative years first at Sunningdale and then later for upper school at Wellington. It was here where he discovered his love for all things sporting including athletics, hockey and rugby. In fact, he has continued to play rugby throughout his life in the various places he has lived.
Leaving school, he had a short stint in the soon to be closed McVities Biscuits factory in the East End of Glasgow, working on the Hobnob and Shortbread production line. Apparently, he says he hasn’t touched one since. Moving from there after one biscuit too many he quickly fell into his father’s footsteps by going into the world of finance as a stockbroker, but it wasn’t for him. As Black Friday hit, he realised it was more like playing the lottery than anything tangible and so he went and spoke to his chairman to inform him that he was quitting and despite the offer of other roles within the company, he knew that the future had a different path for him.
Indeed, it was a vastly different path that presented itself shortly afterwards when his father sat him down and asked if he’d ever considered Australia. Not one to turn down an adventure, he said that he would definitely consider it. To which his father replied good. You start in a gold mine as soon as you arrive. And so it was that Christopher found himself sleeping in an MDF box room with nothing but red back spiders for companionship, in a small town near Perth made up of 400 souls and one dog. Whilst he was not popular at first, the team he was working with soon realised that despite his sunburn making a lobster look anaemic, he wasn’t going anywhere. And as sunburn turned to chestnut brown, he earned the respect of those around him, staying for 6 months before taking a road trip across Australia in a Kingswood Holden which he had bought with the $2,000 winnings off a $50 dollar bet. He arrived in Sydney on 1st March 1989 in time to celebrate his 21st birthday.
From Sydney it was over to another mine, this time in the stunning and brutal landscape of Tasmania. Copper was the ore of choice and what Christopher describes makes me think of the Lonely Mountain in Lord of the Rings. He said that you could taste the metal in the air and when the lights went out you literally could not see your hand in front of your face. And despite being told that they only have one fatality a year and that had been last week so he should be okay, he did indeed have a small dice with death. A palette that had been covering an air duct had been blown off and if it had not been for his good friend Malc grabbing the back of his overalls he would have taken a step into the abyss. As Malc pointed out with a small nonchalant shrug, it’s not the fall that would have killed him, rather the slightly solid landing.
All the while Christopher continued to play rugby, getting to a higher and higher standard. That, coupled with the manual labour meant that he was fitter than ever before, but he had also bulked up and his entire shape had changed. When he arrived in San Francisco via Hawaii six months later to catch up with his parents for the first time in two years, what appeared before them was not the smart, pale, lithe, stockbroking son they had waved goodbye to the previous year, but instead a long haired, sun tanned, man mountain. To say it came as a bit of a shock to his mum was an understatement.
Finding himself back in the UK and without a job once more, he took his first steps into the hospitality industry where he joined the team at the stunning Draycott Hotel, just off Sloane Square in London, under the tutelage of one of the original St Trinians, Sally Bullock. A bohemian hotel with a relaxed atmosphere that played host to Hollywood greats of the time such as Richard Dreyfuss, it was the perfect training ground for Christopher to really begin to understand the hospitality industry. However, when Sally needed to move on a year later and asked him to take over as General Manager at the age of 22, a past experience came to mind that he has lived by since.
When in Oz four portacabins arrived on the site, looking as though they had been used as toilets for several decades without ever going near a bottle of bleach, and he was instructed to go about cleaning them. As he was about to pick up his rag and hold his breath, he noticed that the site manager had beaten him to it. When enquiring with surprise as to what he was doing, the Chief Geologist explained that he will never ask a person to do a job he had not already done himself and as he had never had the dubious pleasure of cleaning out a portaloo, then he would take the first one and Christopher would do the rest. As he applied this mantra to himself and to the Draycott Hotel, he told Sally that though he had been shadowing her for many of the back house roles, he had actually not performed the full job and so he couldn’t take her up on the offer.
And so it was that Christopher embarked on the next chapter in his colourful journey. This time working for the prestigious Savoy group and some of the most iconic hotels in the world. Alongside working across the various departments of the Savoy and Connaught where he cut his teeth in the kitchen, at dinner service and working in the upstairs bar, he was also doing one day a week at college learning about managing a hotel. Unfortunately, as is the case with most 23-year-olds with disposable income in London, the candle was very much being burnt at both ends, and finally with both working and clubbing seven days a week something had to give. And of course, it was college. After a few slapped wrists he was given his marching orders and returned to the Draycott where he finally gave in to becoming Front of House Manager.
It was during this time that he was invited to go Go-karting at the circuit in Chelsea Harbour and for the umpteenth time his career path went off in a 90-degree direction. He ran the track for a year and a half and rubbed shoulders with celebrities and ordinary folk alike. Diana would bring William and Harry down and he would be at the track teaching them karting. At one point he realised he had George Harrison, Damon Hill and David Coulthard all speeding around in front of him. He says it was more fun than he had ever had.
It is also here that I discover, when his equally silver foxed partner in crime drops in on the interview, that he met our very own beloved Hamish Goddard at this very track when they worked side by side. Seeing the two sitting together and reminiscing about the friendship they have had over the years brings a smile to your face and a bit of a lump in your throat. There are talks of moonies whilst Hamish was on phone calls, pranks that kept them amused and a friendship that has taken in the brilliant, the bad and the downright awful, but has endured the last 28 years and resulted in the arrival at the place that Christopher now calls home. It also turns out in the smallest of world scenarios, that Hamish’s Uncle is also Christopher’s Godfather. A fact that reconnected the old friends through this new friendship.
Karting was clearly in Christopher’s blood and at one point he was called to consult in Jakarta, a track that it turned out was unfeasible, but a time for him that he says was eye opening and also very grounding. Describing it as a city of immeasurable wealth and abject poverty without much in-between, it was the first time that he had really been exposed to and explored a city. Its dynamism was captivating and the very fact that there were so many, with so little, but were so happy, really stuck with him through life. He openly acknowledges that he has had a blessed upbringing and start in life where he wanted for nothing and the experience in Jakarta really made him appreciate that all the more.
Enroute to setting up his karting agency, the unfortunately named CSA Leisure, which someone pointed out also stood for Child Protection Authority Leisure, he went for a holiday in Bali with his girlfriend of the time. Apparently, she still resides there 26 years later. He says with a rueful smile that he didn’t think island life was for him. Whilst CSA was extremely successful the market itself was changing and as stricter health and safety measurements came in the viability of indoor karting went out the proverbial window.
And so, once again, Christopher found himself with a career change in front of him. Whilst skiing in Utah with his girlfriend who was 12 years his senior, he received a call from a job that she had encouraged him to apply for. That of bartender at a pub. However, the job on offer was that of Bar Manager. Deciding this time to totally ignore the previous portacabin advice, he grabbed the bull by the horns and took the job. He says it was his calling. Not only did he have an incredible team around him, but they have also become lifelong friends. Despite not necessarily being qualified he was quickly promoted to Ops Manager, and they expanded to 5 pubs in under a year.
He well and truly had the bug by this point and decided that he wanted a pub of his own. Having the collateral of his flat in Holland Park, despite several people warning him against the idea, he set out to find his love, the home from home, where everybody literally does know your name. But he didn’t want it to be in Fulham or Chelsea, he wanted an everyman’s pub. One evening when driving through south London, he got turned around and lost in Streatham he found himself outside of a massive black building, heaving with people in Balham. The Bedford. At this point I practically screech “I know the Bedford!!!!” Having spent many an evening there with friends. Well, the Bedford that we know and love today is the creation of Christopher, though it is here that the story takes on a bittersweet edge.
Having finally convinced the previous owner, a jovial old gentleman by the name of Paddy, to part with his pub, and that it was in good hands, he set about refurbishing the entire place which not only had a bar, but a ballroom, theatre and numerous other cavernous spaces that he was soon to bring to life. His vision was that everything should be live or alive if you will. He had a space for musicians to come and plug in and play. Anyone from the likes of Ed Sheeran to local unknown bands. The Bedford had the facilities and was the place to be and be seen. During the 3 months refurb every single person pitched in. The locals understood that one night they may be in one bar and the next moved to another space. That the loo facilities may not be everything they hoped for as replumbing was occurring, but no-one minded, they just rolled their jeans up. The Bedford was being reborn in front of their very eyes and the pints never stopped pouring.
Christopher talks of a particularly emotional moment when he had the cleaners of Nelson’s Column come in to sort out the facade. Knowing they were on a tight deadline he promised them all the food on the bar if they could get the facade done and the scaffolding down by the end of the day. As he stood in Sainsbury’s car park watching, he said it was the most glorious thing. Gone was the angry Gothic black and in its place were the beautifully restored original red bricks. It was a sight so magical that he cried.
I can see that the next part of the story is difficult for Christopher to talk about and I’m glad that Hamish is with us at this point for moral support and guidance. Because it was around this time that Christopher was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a mental illness characterised by extreme mood swings. They can include extreme excitement episodes or extreme depressive feelings. At the time that he was diagnosed there wasn’t a great deal that was understood about the illness, however as we have moved on through time, it has been realised that it is far more common than individuals diagnosed with it were once led to believe. They certainly aren’t on their own and it can be treated with drugs and time and empathy. I can’t help but be extremely impressed at how brave Christopher is in discussing it with me for this interview, and how, by talking about his own experiences he will help pave the way for others to be open and able to accept help.
Sadly, at the time of the diagnosis, Christopher’s stress levels were at the highest. The pub was doing well commercially but the refurbishment, combined with his company’s financial situation, as he had taken on a further two pubs, one in London and one in Bristol, meant that he needed to find an investor. He was always adamant that he would protect the people who worked for him and the pub first, even if that ended up leaving him with nothing. A tragic self-fulfilling prophecy. For the investor he had trusted ended up turning on him, having him sectioned and claiming that their partnership and significant shareholding had been a figment of his imagination. That a person can turn someone’s illness against them is beyond me, but that is exactly what happened.
After the incident Christopher spent three months living on the streets, surviving hand to mouth. As a poet friend, Phillip Wells said to him, “he had walked the world in London”. He says that one of the best things that happened is that his parents gave him space for a time, that he needed to work out his own head. To somehow remain grounded. It was on the evening of Sep 11th, 2005, when he came across a priest walking down the street reading the bible at 2am. Curiosity got the better of him and he stopped the priest and asked where he was headed at that time in the morning with a bible. The priest explained that it was Ethiopian New Year, and he was headed to church to run the service, and would he care to join? He says that it was such an amazing experience that was deeply moving.
The moment forever stays with him as the following day his father called and said that it was time and could he help him. They found a one-bedroom studio flat near Balham which Christopher said was so important as he wanted everyone to see that he was still standing. However, despite the security of the flat he actually felt more trapped there than ever and on top of that he ballooned in weight from 88 to 120 kilos. He went back to see Sally, his old mentor from the Draycott days but what she said to him left him deflated and lost.
However, all was not lost, a moment was just around the corner that would change his life forever. His father called to say that a friend of his owned a superyacht and there was a position open for a bartender, in fact the first bartender’s position in yachting at the time. So could he sort out his CV and send it to the captain. Cue a quick dash down to Hamish as he hadn’t written a CV in years, 36 packets of Walkers Cheese and Onion crisps and many tears later and they reached the hobbies section of the CV. All the normal things were put in: sport, culture, travel and then for good measure he added photography. A keen photographer as a child, he and his father had spent hours in their dark room at home processing image after image that he had taken. It was something that he had kept up as a hobby over the years and was going to prove an unexpected and monumental lifeline.
Christopher was invited to the boat SY Drumbeat for an interview by Captain Mark Stevens, affectionately known as Baywatch, for reasons that are instantly apparent when you meet him. Ever the self-deprecator, Christopher describes how he waddled up the pasarel feeling more like a fender than himself and stepped aboard a yacht full of beautiful crew. It didn’t help his confidence; however, he was determined to present his best side. After a ten-minute standing conversation Mark asked him when he could start. Slightly overwhelmed, he replied the next day, but that he would need to return to London to pick up his things. Mark said no problem and that he should stay the night on the boat to meet the crew properly.
The following morning he headed to the airport awaiting the call to say that actually the job had gone to the other candidate that they knew was in the running for it. Sure enough the call came and with a sinking heart Christopher answered the phone waiting for the inevitable polite let down. But it never arrived. Instead, he simply asked if he could have some maglites delivered to his home in London that he could bring back to the boat with him the following day. His heart soared. This was his chance. The programme was amazing, the crew seemed wonderful, even if one of them was an ex-Tornado-flying model, and it was an opportunity to right the injustices of the past.
As he returned to the boat Baywatch explained that the only thing left to do was to go for his medical. Full of panic over his weight as he was coming in at 120 kilos in those days, he trundled off to Club de Mar. The weight came up however proved no issue. But it was then that the question was asked about his mental health and rather than lie like many would, he explained that he had been diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder. He was then asked when his last episode had been and he did the usual formula so many of us have employed with units of alcohol… how much do you drink, divided by a number and add one, and he said a date. The doctor proclaimed that this was the first instance of anyone admitting to such a disorder and that he didn’t know the protocol, so proceeded to consult his manual. With sadness he looked at Christopher and said that the last episode had to have been more than 5 years ago in order for him to sign off, so that meant he had to fail him.
He returned to the boat with no hope, no future and such overwhelming sadness in his soul that he didn’t know what else to do than head into the lazarette and attempt to fix a table. Mark immediately appeared and asked what had happened. He explained and Mark asked him where he was and he said mixing superglue with tears in the laz. Ever the optimistic problem solver Mark said not to worry but to stay in the laz until he said come out. An arduous and emotional two hours later and Mark stuck his head around the door and gave a thumbs up. It was another hour further on that Christopher discovered exactly what that thumbs up meant when he finally appeared. It was explained to him that normally Drumbeat would carry nine crew, however this time they were to set sail with eight crew and one guest. Who was also quite handy behind the bar.
I can’t express the emotion I felt witnessing Christopher tell this part of the story. He found it hard to speak and he swallowed back years of thankfulness, love, pride and friendship to hold it together. As Mark was about to move off he said that he had seen in his hobbies that he was a keen photographer and here was the owner’s camera. They needed shots to create a photo book for the boss and guests and did he think he could do the job? Well, 23,000 NM, 25 countries and many stunning remarkable Drumbeat photo books later, the answer was obviously yes.
Mark Stevens, Drumbeat and the crew of her, transformed Christopher’s life in so many ways. Not least at that moment in time, by giving him a new opportunity, then by having a weight loss bet with Mark that they both achieved in quite some style, but so much more than that. Baywatch enabled and encouraged and championed him to have the life that he now has. From listening to his story over three hours it really feels that this is the most pivotal point in his life and career.
So, I asked what happened between then and now. Surely it can’t be any more exciting than part one, not least my discovering that he had once been Marie Claire Man of the Month in 1998? But that’s a story for another day. It is however just as colourful. He had a stint as Head of Trade at The White Company, got mothered as Ops Manager as a prenatal club called CupCakes Mums, made bread sexy for a year as Sales and Marketing Director at Marcus Miller Bread and fell in love with and married the gatecrasher of his 40th birthday. He found his calling again when he began to run The Tabernacle in Notting Hill, a Caribbean music and arts centre. He stayed for three and a half years and left it at the peak of where he thought he could take it. They now run the whole of the Notting Hill Festival. Just saying!
All the while Christopher continued to be a jobbing photographer on the side, heading out to various yacht shoots when Mark would give him a call. Documenting the new build of Aglaia, enrolling in a course at the London School of Photography and working alongside industry greats. All the while learning and earning the respect of both his clients and industry colleagues. In fact, he says that one of the greatest compliments he was paid was by the street photographer Colin Taylor who said that the thing he loved about Christopher’s photography was that it was inclusive not exclusive. It is part of what makes him. Part of what came from that time in Jakarta. From his time on the street and in the Bedford. An innate understanding that it is not about them and us. It is about all of us being in this together.
As to where Christopher is now, well, I can confirm he is here in Mallorca. At this particular moment he has come from a tennis match, is about to shoot a boat and will then be back at the gym later. He says that after coming time and again over the last 17 years his partner in crime finally said the words that he needed to hear at that exact moment in time. Why not move here? And so, just as Brexit was about to deal her final blow, Christopher moved to this most wonderful of islands on the words of Hamish Goddard and declared himself resident.
Alongside his role as professional photographer, he is also working with the delightful Marc Kelly, an old great friend of his, at Palma Refit as Sales and Marketing Manager. They work incredibly well together, and the role allows Christopher both the freedom and stability that he needs as he acclimatises to island life, which can be wonderful yet challenging. He can’t say enough of how much he loves the yachting industry and working within it. The people are so welcoming and inclusive that you can be here for three weeks and be treated as though you have been here all your life.
It is testimony to absolutely everything that Christopher has achieved and been through so far (I personally am looking forward to part three) that what is in front of me is not a husk of a man, but one filled with joy and love. Love and respect for a wife who is now an ex-wife, but who he is still clearly so proud, when he talks about her business which you can read all about at LauraSanttini.com, and her two wonderful children who he cares deeply about and are flying high at university. A love for the people and places of his past who have brought him to this point. A forgiveness for those that have done him wrong, but an understanding that for better or worse he wouldn’t be here without them. Without those sliding door moments. He is without doubt an exceptional human being and a remarkable man. I will sign off with a quote that he sent to me from a book that he loves, as it resonates so much with him.
“You are not just here to fill space or be a background character in someone else’s movie. Consider this: nothing would be the same if you did not exist. Every place you have ever been and everyone you have ever spoken to would be different without you. We are all connected, and we are all affected by the decisions and even the existence of those around us.” • The Moon’s a Balloon 🎈 David Niven
By Victoria Pearce