Robert Ogden: My Town

FAMILY NAME: Robert Ogden of Ogdens jewellers which he runs with his brother, Ben.
FAMILY NAME: Robert Ogden of Ogdens jewellers which he runs with his brother, Ben.
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THE opera singer now runs his family’s long-established jewellery business. Picture: Adrian Murray.

What do you like best about your town? 

I think the most obvious thing that has always struck me every time I enter Harrogate is the expanse of the stray – it’s a stunningly maintained open space. The fact that almost nobody living in town has more than a courtyard garden means that people tend to get out and use the parks more, which makes Harrogate a very social place.

What would be your perfect day?

The day would start with a lie-in, which would be unusual with a three-year-old son and 18-month-old girl twins, as it usually begins with much yelling! We would have breakfast at Weetons followed by an hour or so in the Valley Gardens. Lunch would probably be a pizza at Jakes; the train set upstairs would keep the children occupied. We could walk to Harlow Carr in the afternoon and, if it was Festival time, take in a concert in the evening. After that we would have a late dinner at the Royal Baths or Orchid.

Do you have a favourite walk or view?

The walk that we take most often is to Harlow Carr Gardens via Valley Gardens and the Pinewoods. It’s a perfect distance for young children to walk and the views are spectacular. Further afield, Bolton Abbey or Fountains Abbey are hard to beat.

If you had to name a ‘hidden gem’ in your town, what would it be?

The Mercer Gallery has been lavishly renovated and is a huge asset to Harrogate, and criminally undervalued: the recent Atkinson Grimshaw exhibition was brilliantly done. Finding the Winter Gardens’ grand architecture in a Wetherspoons is an unexpected surprise! At Ogdens we have an old photo of my great-great-grandfather (the founder) receiving the Freedom of Harrogate there, and it doesn’t look very different today.

Do you have a favourite pub or restaurant? 

I wish I had the opportunity to go to Rudding Park more, as it is very special. Recently we had breakfast on the terrace on the day of a concert for the Northern Aldborough Festival, of which I am artistic director. The weather was stunning, as was the food and service. In town, we love the welcome and the food at the recently refurbished Royal Baths restaurant, and often take the children to Brio Hornbeam Park. Recently we tried a new restaurant, the Claret, which was also excellent.

What do you think makes Harrogate special?

I think Harrogate’s background as a glamorous spa, with its hotels, stunning landscaped parks and wide open spaces has made it the special place it is today. There are reminders of this glamour everywhere, from the Royal Hall to the Valley Gardens. There are also some wonderful village-y areas such as Kings Road and Cold Bath Road, with characterful independent shops.

Do you have a favourite shop in the area?

I like the fact that many of Harrogate’s most prominent shops are either independent or small chain shops, as it differentiates it from many other towns. Among the best examples are Weetons, a lovely food hall, the classical music shop Pomp and Circumstance and Woods of Harrogate.

If you were hosting a dinner party, which three other guests would you invite and why?

I think our dinner would be presided over by Samson Fox, a larger-than-life Victorian Mayor of Harrogate who was also a huge benefactor to the town. The other guests would be present-day Harrogate citizens: Malcolm Neesam is an expert on all things Harrogate. He and Samson could discuss how things have changed and whether or not they had improved. Finally, I would of course include my wife Lucy!

What is your pet hate about the town?

I know it’s well-rehearsed in the local press, but Harrogate’s rail services are not currently worthy of the town. Also, the original train station, which was apparently larger and more impressive, was demolished in the 1960s and the current station is a huge let-down for visitors.

What are your priorities?

Family and children are obviously now the main focus. Before having the children, I was often away for months at a time singing opera – the travelling was wonderful, but I couldn’t imagine leaving my family for more than a few nights now. My wife and I are fortunate that Harrogate is such a salubrious place to bring them up, with excellent schools and parks. After family, Ogdens is the next big responsibility. I run it with my brother Ben, who has been in the jewellery business for far longer than me. As I now sing much less often than I used to I can still satisfy my musical cravings with the Northern Aldborough Festival.

What would your ideal holiday be?

Before starting a family, I would probably have said a Greek island or somewhere on the Amalfi Coast, but we now have to compromise a lot more on holidays. This year we have had a week in Deal and Broadstairs on the Kent coast. It is a lovely part of the country that we got to know well when living in South London, and very underrated in my view. We will also spend a week in Sandsend later in the year. The foreign holidays can wait until the twins start enjoying flights!

What was the book/film/play/concert/CD you have most enjoyed recently?

I recently read Carl Hiaassen’s Star Island, which was ridiculous but very funny. I’m currently reading The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. One of the best films I have seen recently was Made in Dagenham. The Russian pianist Ilona Timchenko came to Aldborough in June to perform two Mozart piano concertos with the Elias Quartet – that was pretty special. The CD I listen to most is probably Elliott Smith’s XO.

Who or what makes you laugh?

Lucy and I have always shared a similar taste in comedy, and although we watch a lot of it, we still keep returning to Alan Partridge: I’m not sure any character-based comedy has been as well observed since. Mark Wootton and the Australian Chris Lilley are both very funny and terrific actors, but the humour can be a bit close to the bone at times!

How would you sum yourself up in a single sentence?

What can I say? I’m one big contradiction. A fulfilled family man and a rock star manqué.

What is your favourite charity?

It would be very hard to single out any one charity, but in terms of personal relevance to my and Lucy’s families, it would be a cancer charity. Through Ogdens I have recently been involved in a new fundraising initiative called Fashion Joins Forces, for The Yorkshire Regiment and Household Cavalry. We are launching new products, including leather and steel bracelets, to support them.