Sir Thomas Ingilby – My life in hospitality

04 September 2008
Sir Thomas Ingilby – My life in hospitality

Chairman of Great Inns of Britain and owner of Ripley Castle and the Boar's Head, North Yorkshire

Highs… When I inherited the Ripley Castle estate, at 18, I also inherited a colossal tax bill - so we turned the family home into a hospitality business and went from there. It was probably worse than Fawlty Towers when we started.

The business really came to us. We're 10 minutes outside Harrogate, and the Harrogate International Conference Centre opened in 1981 - and suddenly we had business turning up on our doorstep - and they'd bring 30 people for dinner.

The first few dinners were all cooked on the family's domestic four-ring cooker, which used to raise protest by fusing one of its rings - usually halfway through the starter.

When we started, my wife, Emma, and I were cooking, washing up, laying the tables and washing up afterwards. It was a fantastic way to learn. When we tell people that we used to wash up by hand after 500-person dinners, they look at us with utter astonishment.

It was a huge help to know that there were kindred spirits out there. Now it's fantastic - there's a whole group of us, and any time there's a problem we ring each other up.

Lows… In the late 1980s our fortunes really were at a low point. Everything looked very bleak. We received an offer from a Swedish man who'd made his fortune in Russian oil to purchase the whole estate, and he asked us to name a price.

The temptation to sell was huge. I would have got rid of all the problems and had more money than even my wife could spend. But we talked about it long and hard, and in the end we just couldn't bear to let it go.

It meant a lot of hardship and effort to make up the black hole, and eventually we came out of it. At the time it was horrendous. It makes you analyse what you're doing and why you're doing it.

I learnt my lesson to pursue the dream - if you chase it hard enough, you'll get there.

  • Age: 53
  • Lives: Ripley Castle
  • Drives: Subaru estate
  • Favourite holiday: Pollensa in Majorca
  • Working motto: Keep going until you've finished the job
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