Me And My Partner: Richard Guy and Gilly Metherell

Richard Guy and Gilly Metherell met on a blind date and found they shared a love of pigs. One year later, they were married, then in 1986 they started the Real Meat company. Today, the firm has a pounds 2m turnover, with seven franchises

RICHARD GUY: In the 1970s, awareness was increasing about what we eat and how it might have been treated, the first wave of vegetarianism. I solved the problem another way. I lived on my parents' cereal farm and bought a pig we called Boorman after the famous Nazi, so we wouldn't mind eating it. Then came the grisly prospect of killing him. The important thing was that we knew how this animal had lived. When I took Boorman to the abattoir I expected a lot of bawling and shouting but it was done peacefully and quickly. People noticed he tasted a lot better than ordinary pork. We moved to a farm near Warminster, where I lived with my then girlfriend. When she left, I thought it would be an idea to phone up unmarried female contacts and ask them out. I had already been out with a few characters when I met Gilly. She was one of only a couple of women grain traders in the whole country; I was impressed. It was a complete blind date. At 20, I'd have been going on CND marches and listening to John Lennon. She would have been listening to Radio 2 or going to charity balls. She must have thought I was weird. When I asked her what she did for fun, she said she kept pigs. We realised we had a lot in common. Gilly was interested in how the farm ran, so for her, living on one was a dream come true. We had the same attitudes; we're incredibly straight and our company has been built on sincerity.

Gilly had 20 sows, and ran this little business. She was intrigued by my objections about the chemicals fed to pigs to make them grow faster and stay fat in adverse conditions. On our honeymoon, the question arose as to whether I would be happy to eat her pigs, which had had these chemicals. I said no, and we agreed it was gross hypocrisy that we should eat one kind and sell another. We thought: if we grow them free of these chemicals maybe people will pay extra. The idea began to pick up momentum.

Gilly used her farming contacts to ask people if they would like to do beef or lamb for us, and launched the business on a bit of a chance.

At university, I had been involved in politics and had some knowledge of the press, so I did a press release and sent it to the obvious places. The Telegraph and Radio 4 picked it up. The idea was that we would sell to good butchers; our message was that it was meat you could eat with a clear conscience. Gilly continued to work for the first year and a half, then gave up her job. We took a decision to contract out our arable farming work. When our daughters came along, I realised you can't stay up all night doing brochures, and still play a big part in their upbringing. You have to get a balance, and Gilly and I have shared that quite well. We have amazing energy; for 10 years I got up at five every morning. I've only just gone back to 6am.

Our biggest challenge has been to find the right method for the customer to buy our product. Meat is restricted to three methods of purchase: supermarkets, butchers, and mail order. We thought about going the supermarket way, but realised they would want to bully. So we started our own shop in Bath in 1986.

It was successful, but hard to run; we opened a couple more in London, but they were a disaster, and we realised that franchising might be a good way forward but we would have to bring in better marketing.

We started at a time when people were able to reflect a little more upon what they were buying. Then BSE came along and shook people's confidence in food. People have become more suspicious about supermarkets, probably because meat can't be packaged well.

But the more principled you are, the more it's going to cost. I have said, "I can't go back on my principles - I am stuck with them." We proved it was possible to sell this kind of meat, and we have been fastidious in checking that the meat on sale comes from us.

We're not going to renege on our principles, so we have to communicate that. We changed our breed of chicken because a principle was at stake. The mainstay of the British dinner table is a breed which suffers genetically from leg weaknesses. If a bird finds it painful to stand up and move around, it will grow quickly. We didn't know about it until recently. Fortunately, we had already started to research the sourcing of other breeds. Through Gilly's contacts, we found a breeder in France with another type of bird.

As a couple, people probably perceive us as stable and rather tedious; we don't get outrageously drunk at the local pub. We are loyal. We're short-tempered, but contain it well.

We started off with rules - things like "don't talk about the business at mealtimes". That lasted 30 seconds. It has become a core part of our marriage. We're aware we could have done things to expand it more quickly, but both of us would rather let it roll, taking on two or three new butchers a year until we're old. We're getting there, and we're happy.

GILLY METHERELL: I went to agricultural college but I didn't want to be a farm manager. I spent a year in Canada, where I got into pigs. The man I worked with there could recognise 20 different noises that pigs make, and you can't help but be inspired by such enthusiasm. It fired my imagination: I found it really fascinating, and decided I wanted to get into pig exporting. But when I left college, I couldn't get a job doing that so I opted for the grain trade, hoping to get involved with grain exporting.

Being a grain trader gave me a real buzz - you're doing several deals at once and juggling with logistics. But it was a very male preserve, I had to become "one of the boys".

I take pride in being informed and read everything I can that relates to the work I'm doing, whether it's grain trading, farming, meat wholesaling or marketing. Somebody described me as blunt - I do like to cut the crap.

I found Richard intriguing; I was pleasantly surprised when I met him because he was so unchauvinistic. I didn't think there were men like Richard in agriculture. It seemed incredibly rare. He is honest and has has tremendous integrity. I had always wanted to have a business I could run from home. I didn't want to drive off and leave my children with a nanny and not be around.

I have always been a keen stock person; part of my philosophy is to be able to treat animals as individuals, and you can't do that on a big scale. Here at the Real Meat Company, I can walk in and see every chicken, and if there's a problem, I can deal with it. When I was a child, I always had my little projects - I used to sell eggs - and I like being in a primary industry.

Since we started in 1986, we have been doing mail-order - that's one of my marketing projects. I have found marketing very interesting; I get really excited about it. I'm always throwing ideas at people. Our staff say, "We love your ideas Gilly" but they can't always take them all on board at once.

When I read about brands that are successful, invariably it's an extension of the people that are running the company. If you try to be something you're not, you're sussed. I'm not going to sacrifice the principles of the business just for the sake of a marketing idea.

I admire the way Richard deals with the difficult bits, such as the legal problems, and I recognise I couldn't deal with that. He's very strong and I rely on that strength. He knows I've got the farm sorted on a day- to-day basis.

We do talk shop the whole time, although in marriage and in business you still need to be able to operate as an individual. I've got my horses and I work out with a trainer, and go out with girlfriends. I need to have a bit of head space.

Making our partnership work is about knowing when to back off and keep a bit of mystery.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried