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Planes, river taxis and automobiles

Planes, river taxis and automobiles

Planes, river taxis and automobiles

“I’ve got a silly idea,” announced French Garden’s Managing Director Iain Furness on the drive back from Rungis Market one morning in mid-January. Neither Marcus Rowlerson, his counterpart at Le Marché, or colleague Nathan Humphries said anything until a few miles further along the autoroute, when they asked Iain to elaborate. “No, it’s just a silly idea,” he said. When Iain did finally spill the beans, his “silly idea” led to a 20,500 mile four-day round-trip to the other side of the planet for him and Marcus, to honour their great friend, Grenville Snowdon, owner of French Garden. Here’s how it transpired

“I was walking out of Rungis and got a message from Grenville,” recounts Iain. “I’d asked him how his 70th birthday had been and he said it was excellent and that he was having a party on February 11th. I thought was ‘I reckon I can go to that’ and within 10 minutes, I’d checked out flights, hotels and my diary.”

At this point, it’s best to point out that Grenville’s party was to take place at Noosa Yacht Club, in Noosa Heads on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, in Australia – not the most inaccessible place on the planet, but certainly a long way from home for a party that is just over three weeks away.

“I bought Grenville presents for his 60th and 65th, but there was nothing I could buy him for his 70th,” says Iain. “I decided the gesture of flying halfway round the world to celebrate with him would be the nicest thing I could do!”

Cut back to the car en route from Paris to London and both Marcus and Nathan disagreed that it was a silly idea – Marcus in fact thought it was a great idea, but neither felt they would be able to go at such short notice. “A week or so later, I had a beer with my wife and told her what Iain was doing,” says Marcus. “We were due to be going away, but she said, ‘why aren’t you going too, this is a once in a lifetime thing?’.

That evening Marcus informed Iain he would have a companion on the trip and a couple of weeks later, on a frosty Thursday February 9th, they left Heathrow on the first leg of their epic journey. Iain, who made a surreptitious phone call to Grenville from the airport to make sure there was no suspicion, recalls: “Literally no-one in Australia knew we were coming; it was really important that it stayed that way so we didn’t ruin the whole thing. We got to Brisbane on Friday evening – we’d decided not to go straight to Noosa in case we bumped into anyone. We took a taxi to Noosa the next morning and checked into our hotel and went for lunch.”

Marcus and Iain enjoy a rare moment of relaxation on their marathon trip

Marcus continues: “We had to get a river taxi to the yacht club and the last one was at 4.30pm – the party started at 5, so we got off the stop before and walked to the back of the yacht club, where a member of staff was just finishing his shift. We explained to him why we were and he got his manager involved and took over the filming duties for Instagram!”

As Grenville approached the bar, Iain and Marcus were ready – Iain behind the bar ready to serve him his next cocktail and Marcus waltzing in behind to join the birthday boy at the bar. As anyone who has watched the footage on Le Marché’s Instagram feed will know, their presence certainly had the desired effect. As Commodore of the Yacht Club, Grenville is careful to mind his Ps and Qs, but even after 17 years of relative peace in Queensland, let’s just say you can take the man out of New Covent Garden…

Grenville posed with the intrepid pair for this happy photo at the yacht club

“It was a brilliant night,” says Iain. “There were 100+ people there and as Grenville said as he referred to us as ‘typical Poms’ in his speech, we knew we had to be there because he was buying the drinks. We spent Sunday with Grenville and his family too and then it was back to the airport on Monday morning to fly home.”

Marcus says: “We’ve both known Grenville for more than 30 years. He has been a major part in both of our lives, I’ve known him since I worked here while I was at school.” And Iain adds: “He used to come back regularly before the pandemic stopped all that, but he’s still very much involved and calls us at least once every week. He quite often knows Pictured: Left, Marcus and Iain enjoy a rare moment of relaxation on their marathon trip and right, once the initial surprise had worn off, Grenville posed with the intrepid pair for this happy photo at the yacht club! what’s happening in the Market before we do, which can be a bit disconcerting!”

The time difference meant the pair arrived back in London on the Tuesday night and much to the despair of their wives, both were back working in the Market the following morning. “It’s amazing that everything fell into place as it did. One thing going wrong with the journey would have scuppered it,” says Marcus. “We can’t thank everyone who helped us enough – mostly though, my wife was spot on, it really was a once in a lifetime experience.”

Tommy Leighton
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