Living Between the Lines

Fowey Royal Regatta – celebrity or not celebrity?

It is Royal Regatta Week. This is the first summer we have been able to make proper use of ‘Treleigh’. Last year it was a dusty, bare floor boarded shell, ready for renovation. This year it is a four star, luxury holiday home and the visitors’ book is already full of appreciative comments.
Fowey Royal Regatta Week
View from top window

Strictly speaking, we are not ‘sailors’. Well, Dave would like to be. Dave likes nothing better than to jump aboard a boat and go exploring up the river. Me? I prefer dry land any day. Could this have anything to do with a disastrous boat trip taken many moons ago that, having promised to be half an hour round the bay, turned out to be an hour and half along the coast? Maybe.

That trip was a nightmare. It started out as a good idea. Dave and I weren’t even married – that’s how long ago it was. We were on the North Devon coast and Dave persuaded me to join the queue for a ‘30 minute trip round the bay’. The sea looked a little choppy to me but we were assured it was calm. (I should have believed my own eyes).

As we sat in the boat while the other passengers boarded and the captain collected our fares, I felt a little wobbly. I considered getting out. I wish I had.

I can tell you exactly what year it was because in my hand I had a Union Jack carrier bag. It was 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The carrier bag held my camera and not much else.

Eventually, the boat, called ‘Mary-Jane’ or something similar, set sail. Not that it had sails, it was fitted with an outboard motor and had a top speed of  five knots I think. A lot of that time was spent going ‘up and down’. As we altered course, it was obvious that we were leaving the bay for the open sea. I tried not to think what that meant as the wind got up and the waves tossed the little boat to and fro.

Hardly had we left the safety of the harbour than I felt seasick. Oh so seasick! Dave reckons I turned green. The other passengers smiled at me sympathetically, confident that their own strong dispositions would stand them in good stead. A little dog sat at his owner’s feet and wagged his tail. His owner threw me a disparaging glance.

“No sea-legs?” he asked with heavy sarcasm. It was evident from his dress that he fancied himself a sailor.

I did not reply. I couldn’t. I was too busy throwing up into the Union Jack carrier bag (Patriotic to the end.) Yes, I had removed the camera.

Valiantly, I tried to do what I thought was the right thing for sea sickness and concentrate on the horizon. I got muddled though and concentrated on the sea. How could I be so stupid? I just was. Of course, concentrating on the waves that were crashing into our boat and following the rise and fall of the water, produced the obvious results and much to the amusement of the man with the dog in particular, I spent most of the trip with my head in the Union Jack carrier bag.

Dave swore he hadn’t realised we’d be venturing out into the open sea and I almost believed him. As the boat swung around for its return journey I took a moment to survey my fellow passengers. To my surprise just about everyone was being ill and if not being ill, then looking extremely green. It gave me a frisson of pleasure to see that the man with the dog had succumbed and was hanging over the side of the boat groaning loudly.  It gave me less pleasure to see his little dog retching under the seat.

I have never been so glad to see land. An hour and a half after we had set sail, a group of green and gasping passengers disembarked. Dave kindly took charge of the Union Jack carrier bag and deposited it in a handy waste bin before guiding me back to safety. Funnily enough, as soon as my feet hit dry land, I was fine. Dave, I hasten to add, was not sick.

So, although I have since spent time on cross channel ferries and on some smaller boats, and have even made a boat trip round the bay in South Africa, I have never been very keen on sailing.

 However, I do love Fowey.

Royal Regatta week is ‘The week’ down here in Fowey. It is the week when families enjoy sailing and a carnival atmosphere pervades the town for seven days. This year is no exception. The weather remains dry and sunny for the first part of the week and the town teems with day trippers as well as those lucky people who live or have second homes here. The narrow, cobbled streets, built on the steep cliff side, meander through a hotch-potch of quaint cottages and shops. Flights of stone steps climb higher and higher taking one along narrow passage ways just as they did in the long ago days of the Cornish smugglers.

Looking across to Fowey from Bodinick
Looking across to Fowey from Bodinick

It is carnival day today. Earlier, the local shops were decorated and sales staff dressed up in costume. The little cafe had become ‘St. Trinians’, the local Bakers, ‘Casualty. ‘The Teletubbies’ and ‘The Diddymen’  were just some of the marvellous disguises used.

We wander among the tourists, feeling ‘not so tourist-like’ ourselves because we have a base here and because the friendly people of this town greet us like old friends as we stroll. Dave is drawn to the boats of course. We allow him a peek now and then. He plans to buy one. Oh my…

The streets are far busier than we have ever seen them. Children run by clutching ice creams and balloons. Dogs on leads amble patiently beside their owners. Did I mention Fowey is a dog-lover’s dream? I’ve never seen so many dogs out shopping. Many are clad in sea-going gear with doggy life-belts securely tied on as they head off to one of the many boats bobbing about on the quay.

We could stay here all day, just ‘people watching’. Indeed, we emerge from a shop to find ourselves faced with a television camera. A celebrity is making an advert for Cornish Pasties. The celebrity is that well known rugby player/TV personality, Matt Dawson.

I am first out of the shop. There is a man blocking the step. I tap him on the shoulder,

“Excuse me please,” I say sweetly. The man jumps aside and that’s when I step into the street and realise the camera is on me. Everyone else has moved to the side of the street despite the director’s pleas of,

“Can you all just keep walking along naturally please?”

Natural British reticence is keeping the crowd wedged firmly against the shop fronts, out of the camera’s view. I falter and then think,

“Ok, I’ll keep moving.”

 Behind me emerge my friend (arm still in a cast) and my husband. They too are faced with the camera and walk blindly on.  Passing the bakery we see Matt Dawson extolling the delights of the Cornish Pasty.

We don’t think we’ll make the final advert. We think our startled expressions will mean we hit the cutting room floor pretty quickly. Still, Matt Dawson is a real live celebrity and we have seen him so all is not lost. We once saw someone from ‘Coronation Street’ in the newsagents and Dawn French and Lenny Henry lived by the beach until very recently. We never saw them though, sadly. Daphne du Maurier (‘Rebecca’ and ‘Jamaica Inn’ are two of her most famous novels) was a resident in her time too.

Will anyone ever say, “Deborah J Barker was here,” I muse.

As we wander back along the high street towards the harbour and home, we spot another ‘celebrity’ on her mobile, explaining to someone where she is. It is Gloria Hunniford. Maybe she sees us and maybe she will soon be saying to someone,

“I saw ‘The Barkers’ in Fowey.” I doubt it.

So pleased are we that we have seen two celebrities on our walk – not sure why but it is all part of the mystic of TV and Film I suppose – that I decide to text the family and tell them. If only to make them laugh.

“Matt Dawson wasn’t it? Not Matt Damon!” I chuckle as I type the message. So, can you explain why I write, “Matt Damon” then? I do. I don’t realise my mistake immediately and certainly not before the message has been sent to all five offspring. The first reply comes back quickly,

“Really? Cool!”

 I frown. Matt Dawson would not be offended I am sure but his presence hardly warrants a ‘cool’ response and nor, for that matter, does Gloria Hunniford’s. I re-read my text. Oh dear. Yes, I have to hurriedly send a correction to all concerned. I have told them Matt Damon was making a pasty advert, as if! Now that would have been cool. Needless to say, I will take a while to live that one down and when my daughter’s boyfriend sends me a photo-shopped image of Matt Damon with a ‘Ginster’s Pasties’ logo sitting in the corner, I can only laugh.

Making the mistake of driving out of town at lunchtime, we find the town closed to traffic on our return. So, despite having a very expensive private parking space, yards from our front door, we are forced to park in a field right at the top of the town and walk down, friend with her arm still in plaster, and bags of shopping shared between us.  We make it back through the crowds without too much trouble.

We have decided to eat out this evening. We change into our finery. Our mistake is obvious the minute we leave the house. A brass band is passing by followed by a stream of gaily decorated floats, hoards of dancing children and yet more bands. This is the carnival and it passes right by our door. 

We have already started walking and have little choice but to keep going. “Casualty” have a float. We blend in quite well for a while, my friend’s cast looking like a prop.

Stoically, we let ourselves be pulled along in the throng. We seem to be the only people going out to dinner tonight. Most are eating fish and chips in the street or burgers from the barbeque in the harbour.  We will know better next year.

The good weather doesn’t last. The next day dawns misty and drizzly. The next three days dawn misty and drizzly so that the evening that the red arrows are set to fly over and perform acrobatics over the harbour, is rather disappointing. We are there, in the top bedroom which affords views across the river and it is only as the formation flies over our heads, trailing a rainbow of coloured smoke behind them, that I realise I have forgotten to pick up my camera. I grab it and attempt to take a picture but the planes have disappeared into the mist. I wait for them to return but they do not. A few moments later they appear briefly behind us to salute the town and depart.  It is too foggy for them to perform safely.

So that is that.

My daughter and her husband join us for the remainder of the week. The weather remains dismal until Saturday. It brightens up a bit today.

We are here
To prove we are here (I am behind the camera of course)

We have pre-booked a table for dinner. We sit upstairs and there are few people with us. A couple on the next table look familiar. Well, what do you know, Ben Miller and his companion are sat there. Ben Miller of the comedy team, ‘‘Armstrong and Miller’ no less. Another celebrity! I am careful how I text that to the family at home, mustn’t put ‘Ben Stiller’. They are suitably impressed.

Son-in-law is itching to spout a line from the comedian’s show.

“Shall I? Oh please, I am so tempted…” he pleads.

“No, definitely not! Don’t you dare!” We hiss as one.

“Shall I ask for his autograph?” he quips.

“No! Don’t you dare!”

Son-in-law shrugs but is clearly hard pressed to keep quiet. Considering the restaurant is very small and the other couple are all of two yards away, I am pretty sure they can hear us as clearly as we can hear them. Not that we listen of course.

They leave before us and it is the highlight of my son-in-law’s evening when Ben says goodnight to us and smiles in our general direction.

“He smiled at me!” son-in-law grins through the balm of several pints of beer.

Friend sees the couple next morning, walking by our house. Wow!

It is strange though, since seeing these people, hitherto just faces on the TV screen, that their ordinariness is exacerbated. I have to wonder, this is a Royal Regatta, does the Queen come here often and if she does, will we see her and if we see her, will she too become ordinary?

All men, and women, are of flesh I suppose – but if you want my autograph just ask!

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Katie Gates

    This is a fun post. When I lived in NYC, I became so accustomed to seeing celebrities, I would tell friends, after an encounter, “Guess who saw me today?” In fact, on my lists of blog to write is a Paul Newman story that riffs on this perspective. I’ll write and post it one of these days…

    It sounds like a wonderful time in Fowey. Definitely better than the boatride that ruined the purse!!!

  • Martha Gates-Mawson

    I must ask, where in North Devon did you take the sick-inducing trip? I first lived in North Devon on moving to the UK.

    My stepson has just started college in Cornwall. We hope that will mean a visit or two to that beautiful part of England…

  • Deborah Barker

    Hi Martha, that dreadul boat trip took place in North Devon, Ilfracombe.
    My youngest son is at Plymouth University in his second year and we recently bought and renovated a holiday home in Fowey, Cornwall. ( if you would like to see) as we love that part of the world so much.

  • Martha Gates-Mawson

    I had a feeling it might be Ilfracombe. That’s where I lived! Some lovely people and some dear friends still there, but don’t like the town very much. As an American whose knowledge of Devon consisted of Beer and Seaton, I was horribly disappointed with North Devon.

    My stepson is at Newquay – studying ecology.

Leave a Reply