Bangers & cash: How Charlie Brocket reinvented himself as a purveyor of eco-friendly sausages
Esther Walker meets the aristocrat, ex-con and star of reality TV and his well-bred pigs
Thursday 27 September 2007
"Ha ha ha!" shouts Lord Brocket, grinning ferociously, as he crouches down to pose with three grumpy large white pigs. "The caption will be – 'Spot the pig'!"
Lord Brocket – or Charlie Brocket as he prefers to be called – is at Osney Lodge Farm in Surrey to talk about his new range of groceries, Brocket Hall Foods. Dreamed up during a barbecue last summer at which the sausages " tasted like shit", the range is limited at the moment to beer, bacon and sausages ("Brocket's Bangers"), but will soon venture into different kinds of ale, a range of flavours for the sausages, sauces and ice cream.
These days, it would be unthinkable for anyone to launch almost any product – particularly food – without pegging it to some kind of green issue. It is one of the great modern consumer trends and everyone seems to want to cash in on the young, solvent hipster's need to be greener-than-thou. According to a 2005 Euromonitor survey, organic products only count for 1 per cent of the market, but that is set to expand to 9 per cent by 2008. A 2006 survey by Omnibus, part of the Office of National Statistics, found that 16 per cent of people would buy ethical goods after finding out that celebrities are buying them. The influence of celebrities not only endorsing ethical products but selling them is just as powerful, if not more so.
In the past few years there has been an avalanche of ethical products produced by the famous. Ali Hewson, who is married to the U2 frontman Bono, runs Edun, which calls itself a "socially conscious clothing company", while Ronnie Wood's wife, Jo, runs Jo Wood Organics, an organic cosmetics company. Elsewhere, the Bamford family (who made their millions from JCB diggers) heads Daylesford Organic, which sells "scrupulously sourced" products from "young craftsmen and women who keep precious traditional skills alive"; the London chef Tom Aikens' "green" fish-and-chip shop, Tom's Place, in which all the fish is seasonal and sustainable, is opening later this year in Chelsea, and Prince Charles's high-quality, all-organic grocery range, Duchy Originals, is now a common sight in supermarkets. And don't forget accessories designer Anya Hindmarch's "ethical" I'm Not A Plastic Bag for Sainsbury, even though they're now considered infra dig after it was revealed they were made in China and not from Fairtrade cotton. They originally cost £5, until they hit eBay, at which point they starting changing hands for £225.
So is Lord Brocket just jumping on this very lucrative bandwagon? An ex-King's Hussars lieutenant-turned vintage car dealer, he sounds an unlikely champion of touchy-feely stuff. He served two and half years in prison for insurance fraud after claiming three vintage Ferraris and a Maserati had been stolen, when he had buried them in the grounds of Brocket Hall.
"If you had asked me 10 years ago if [the green agenda] is a fad, I would have said yes, absolutely. But now I think there's a real awareness of what we're eating and the waste we're producing."
Also, he argues, Brocket Hall Foods isn't trying to be modern; rather, it is looking backwards, "to how food used to be and used to taste. Brocket's Bangers are the kind of sausages that my mother used to get from the butcher when I was small."
The sausages are excellent and Osney Lodge Farm is faultless; the pigs – three or four good-sized pens – have got plenty of space and look smug about life.
However, calling the range "Brocket Hall Foods" is misleading; the food has nothing to do with Brocket Hall, the 543-acre family seat in Hertfordshire. Although Lord Brocket still owns it, as he is quick to point out, it is on a 60-year lease to a German company, which markets it as a golf resort. The pigs come from a series of farms, picked for having the same standards as Osney Farm Lodge, across the south of England.
"We've gone down the Bernard Matthews road of marketing," he says, referring to the gaudy labelling, featuring Lord Brocket baring his teeth in a terrifying grin. "People know me and if they don't like them then they can write to me and say so." It's an admirably high-risk strategy: Bernard Matthews's name is now, of course, indelibly linked with bird flu.
But Lord Brocket seems to believe in it all passionately. He has spent the past few weeks slogging up and down the country to appear at supermarkets and press sausages on an alarmed public. "They do a real double-take when they see me! Ha ha ha!" he says, showing all his teeth. "We wanted our sausages to be as good as Duchy Originals', but cheaper. They sell theirs for £3 a packet; we sell ours for £2.49. It was a challenge, but we've done it.
"Sourcing food locally comes naturally to me. When I was running Brocket Hall all our suppliers were local, where possible. We liked to keep the money in the local economy. All we want to do with our foods is take all the nasty stuff out and have them like they used to be. It's no surprise that sausages have any old rubbish chucked in. Supermarkets keep pinching at the margins of the suppliers, so it's inevitable that they cheat by injecting their sausages with water and padding them out with rusk and extra pork fat. The same thing happens with chicken – it's stuffed full of water. "
Lord Brocket, who is 54, married his 32-year-old photographer wife, Harriet, in June last year. Some were a bit surprised that the pair tied the knot as Harriet issued Lord Brocket with a writ in 2004 over his autobiography, Call Me Charlie.
He finds this very funny. "Ha ha ha! That's one of the reasons why she's rather special – she's very principled. At the time, she was so pissed off with me going backwards and forwards between her and this other girl and being completely useless, driving her mad, so she thought 'Right, this'll wake you up,' and slapped a writ on me. She's brought me to heel."
Lord Brocket has three children from his previous marriage to the Puerto Rican model Isa Lorenzo, the woman who blew the whistle on his attempted insurance fraud. After he went to prison in 1996, the children had to go to Puerto Rico with their mother.
The lord has come a long way since then. His appearance on the 2004 series of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, led to the autobiography and television work such as Bad Lads' Army. Consequently, Brocket Hall Foods are not the only pot Lord Brocket has on the boil.
He has just written a book with David Thomas, who edited Call Me Charlie. The book, Accident Man, is a fictionalised account of what Lord Brocket thinks really happened to Princess Diana. The film rights have been sold to a Hollywood studio and a sequel is in the pipeline.
Television work also continues to roll in. "ITV want me to do six one-hour shows taking the piss out of modern life." It all sounds a bit Jeremy Clarkson, who is a friend of Brocket's and who wrote to him while he was in "in nick".
"I've still got the letters – I'm not sure what to do with them. It's not something that you do out of choice," says Lord Brocket referring to his stretch inside, the smile sliding off his face. "But my family suffered far more than I did. It's the shame, I guess, of me going to prison – it was all very difficult, particularly for my mother. But prison generally has done me a lot of good. It re-levels your priorities and your feeling of what's important."
"Like sausages! Ha ha ha!"
Talking pork: sausage facts
* Each year, the UK consumes £529m worth of sausages.
* The typical economy sausage can contain as little as 30 per cent lean meat. An average recipe might contain 30 per cent pork fat, 20 per cent recovered meat, 30 per cent rusk and soya, 15 per cent water and 5 per cent e-numbers and preservatives.
* Economy sausage meat will often include skin, rind, gristle, bone, cheek and jowl. The cheek and jowl may contain the pituitary glands, which is where any drug residues or diseases are concentrated.
* Manufacturers used to be permitted to count diaphragms, spleens, tails and lips as meat. Since the BSE crisis, there has been stronger government regulation on which parts can be used for human consumption.
* By law, a pork sausage must contain 42 per cent meat, but pork containing up to 30 per cent fat and 25 per cent
connective tissue can still be described as meat. Mechanically recovered meat, heart and tongue can no longer be classified as meat.
* Premium and organic sausages typically contain 40 per cent pork belly, 40 per cent boned shoulder of pork, 10 per cent breadcrumbs, 5 per cent water and 5 per cent herbs and spices.
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