HTSI editor’s letter: when Emma Watson slid into my DMs
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Emma Watson first got in touch with me to ask about a potential feature in HTSI via Instagram. Well, it is the modern way, if a little unorthodox for an actress with 70.4mn followers and surely legions of publicists and assistants whom she could task with that kind of work. Assuming it was some kind of scam, or attempt to infect my computer with a virus, I didn’t click on her message to begin with. But then curiosity got the better of me and I opened what turned out to be a very humble, self-deprecating request.
The fruits of that correspondence have now come together in a cover story about her latest project, Renais, a premium gin that her brother Alex is launching using the waste grape skins collected from the vineyards of Burgundy. As she tells Alex Bilmes, the launch is in some ways the logical extension of a lifetime’s immersion in the drinks industry – her father first arrived in Chablis “to pick grapes” in 1987 and Emma was raised on the terroir. Hence, when Alex first started talking about gin-making using the surplus product she wanted in on a very family affair.
The role has also allowed her to focus on something other than acting. Forever associated with her role as Hermione in Harry Potter, Watson has lived under such punishing scrutiny during her adult life that it’s a miracle she’s remotely sane. Her observations about Hollywood, the life of an actress and the stabilising influence of her family make for fascinating reading; she provides a blend of naive wonderment, idealism and ambition that suggests much more to come.
Another singular, ambitious character, Sharan Pasricha, founder of the global hospitality conglomerate Ennismore, sits down with Maria Shollenbarger before the opening of his new venture, Estelle Manor. The man behind The Hoxton hotels and Gleneagles (which, following his radical renovation, took Virtuoso’s prize for best hotel in 2022), Pasricha now offers a rural escape for Maison Estelle’s private members and guests in west Oxfordshire. His vision for hospitality knows no limits: his portfolio includes budget stays, cool urban sanctuaries and traditional institutions with long and lustrous heritages that he must both protect and try to evolve. Nothing seems to faze him. As he tells Maria: “I’ve always been an operator. I was always a commercially minded guy who happens also to love product. It could be, you know, lederhosen, or leather jackets, or a hotel.”
Lastly, in this triumvirate of extraordinary individuals, we meet Amanda Feilding, the “First Lady of LSD”. Beatrice Hodgkin went to visit Feilding at her family home Beckley Park, a spellbinding Tudor mansion from where Feilding’s foundation has been studying consciousness and psychedelic drugs for 25 years. Feilding makes an unusual advocate: it takes a certain type to try trepanation on your own skull using a dentist’s drill. But Bea finds that the woman once considered a hippie outlier has now become a major authority on the new psychedelic wave. (On which note, have you checked out our programme at the FTWeekend Festival in Washington DC on 20 May? We’ll be discussing microdosing, psilocybin, ketamine and LSD.)
However, my favourite story in this, or nearly any issue, sees Rosanna Dodds take us into the world of the supercar spotter. I first noticed this was a thing while wandering down Sloane Street late last summer and seeing groups of young men on street corners clustered around extremely jazzy cars. They were skirting through the traffic, risking their personal safety in order to get their shots. Curious as to whether this was a phenomenon, I asked Rosie to try and track down some spotters. There followed a six-month investigation in which she tried to penetrate this strange, publicity-shy, testosterone-fuelled world.
It transpires that the successful superspotter can make sufficient money to buy a super-vehicle of his own. And, much to the chagrin of the locals, Kensington remains his happy hunting ground. I love uncovering obsessives who keep their business entirely to themselves. Rosie offers a brilliant and very funny insight into a rare, secretive and sometimes controversial sub-culture on our streets.
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