How We Met: Sir David Tang & Anouska Hempel

'We get on like a house on fire but we couldn't work together in a million years'
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The Independent Online

Sir David Tang, 56, is an entrepreneur, retailer, designer and restaurateur, best known for founding the Shanghai Tang fashion chain and the China Tang restaurant in London. He lives with his wife and divides his time between homes in Hong Kong, mainland China and London

In 1994, I went to see [the banker] Lord Rothschild at his office and he fleetingly introduced me to his business partner [and Anouska's husband], Sir Mark Weinberg. I had, of course, heard of Anouska and thought Blakes Hotel was very special and I wanted to take the opportunity to meet this designer I admired. So, soon after, I invited them for dinner. I'd heard that she was rather dramatic and slightly batty but ruthlessly precise in what she wants – exactly the kind of person my friends and family used to accuse me of being. We hit it off immediately: we were rather blunt to each other and we found ourselves laughing together.

Anouska is a huge diva. She travels with seven Louis Vuitton cases even if she's just going away for a weekend. But she's always immaculately turned out. For her there is no such word as "casual". Her dress sense is as elegant as Coco Chanel's.

We're both quite theatrical in our aesthetic. We want the rooms we design to evoke that moment when you're sitting in the stalls and the curtains open. We want to feast on what is visual. And we are both hypersensitive to the tiniest details. Often our spouses say to us: "What's it matter if the napkin was overlapping the plate, or the dim sum was askew?" We care about how things look and we regard that as part of living a richer life, a less mundane one.

We travel together every three to six months. We're always comparing notes on what other people do, how they designed this, and what we'd have done. Whenever there is an opportunity to buy anything, we rush to the market or shops. The only problem is, we usually pick out the same things. When we went to Angkor Wat [in Cambodia], we discovered this shopping alley, and to avoid disagreement, we agreed to split the shops down the middle: Anouska would [take] one side and I, the other. At the end of two hours, we both emerged at the other end of the alley, clutching the only things we had bought. Extraordinarily, we'd bought the same things: 30-odd Celadon pots. We laughed and laughed, and realised there was no escaping from having the same taste!

Anouska Hempel, 68, is a hotelier and designer, whose work spans architecture, fashion, interior design, garden and product design. As a hotelier, she created London's Blakes Hotel, one of the first boutique hotels, in 1981. She lives in west London with her husband

It was my husband Mark who first met David. He came home one evening and said he'd met this larger-than-life and noisy [character]. Soon after that, I met David in the bar in Blakes. He was being frightfully rude to the barman and very politically incorrect but so funny. I thought he was the most refreshing person I'd met in years and we got on a like a house on fire. So off we went up the staircase into a life of adventure and friendship.

Design is one of the coagulators of our relationship. We're both in the clothing business, the restaurant business, the hotel business... and [like me], he's not stuck in a box. I think if you have an eye and the ability and the confidence as a designer, you can turn your hand to anything.

We go down the same highway with our tastes. We have the same idea of what works and what doesn't work and we like the same things, whether that's the same atmosphere or the same people, the smell of a cigar or the turn of an ankle. We also have monumental rows, where we could kill each other. They're always of a very superficial nature – [for example] we're packing a suitcase and he says something will fit, and I say it won't or vice versa.

Both of us are also impatient with other people's imperfections. We're both control freaks: when we're on the loose, watch out, we're dreadful. We couldn't work together in a million years. Why should we? I don't want to be told what to do by him, and he doesn't want to be told what to do by me.

We do all sorts of things together: we go to the opera and the movies, we're both gardeners and we both love food. Together with my husband and his wife, I have also literally travelled the world with him. He is our tour leader: there's no nonsense with him, he's always up early, co-ordinating everything and getting us organised. When we went to the Great Wall of China, we were all given these hats and boots and Chinese clothes, and he had fires and barbecues prepared at every stop. It was romantically and beautifully done.

He has these pyjamas embroidered with "DT sleeping" but they should say "DT never sleeps". He's tenacious, and his breadth of knowledge is extraordinary.

On top of everything else, he's a concert pianist and an exceptional wordsmith. But he also has a great sense of the ridiculous, and an unceasing torrent of jokes and anecdotes, mostly at his own expense. He's a whirlwind of huge energy: opinionated, fun and just non-stop. He makes my life much less ordinary.

Anouska Hempel ( anouskahempeldesign.com) has teamed up with design company yoo ( yoo.com) to create high-profile hotel and residential projects worldwide

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