He used to bear the heavy title of the Commander of Special Operations. Now he is the Global Ambassador of Hendrick’s Gin. The name is Piper. David Piper.
We met at the lobby of the New Hotel, downtown Athens. On an extremely hot July afternoon. He was wearing an old watch, a retro shirt and pair of pants, reminding one strongly of a young Sean Connery – while still at his Majesty’s Secret Service, without Honey Rider though. We were briefly introduced to one another, before we went to the terrace, where we could damage our lungs with smoke, undisturbed, while talking. I could tell immediately, the man was no Scott.
What I knew about him was that he is the Global Ambassador of Hendrick’s Gin. An unusual man, doing an unusual job for a completely unusual brand. An Englishman working for a Scottish brand. And Mr. David Piper would soon reveal everything else. In his low, deep voice.
Hendrick’s GinCreated in 1999 by William Grant & Sons, the brand’s rise as a niche, supre-premium distilled gin and its cult status on the cocktail circuit is now being matched with a growing presence in travel retail. Do note that Hendrick’s is the only gin made in a combination of a Carter-Head and copper pot still. The stills were purchased at auction by Grant’s Chairman Charles Gordon in 1966 and lay underused until the family decided to begin making Hendrick’s.
You are no Scot, right?
Correct, I’m not, I was born and raised in London.
Is it hard working with a bunch of Scots?
It is slightly weird, yes. Although I am based in London and travel throughout the world most of the time. But each time I visit Scotland, I find it majestic, to be honest. Think about it, when Hendrick’s first came out, about ten years ago, Scotland was simply another word for whiskey. Now there are many gins distilled there. More than you can possibly imagine. Scotland has long been known as the home of excellent distilling, so it does not come as a surprise, in the end.
Why is Hendrick’s Gin the best gin in the world?
I never said that it is the best gin in the world (although it is to me). It’s different. It’s unusual. From the very beginning the production process is totally different to that of any other gin. So no other gin tastes like it, simply because no other gin is made like it. Add to this the twin essences of love: cucumber and rose petals (from the best roses in the world that grow in Bulgaria, picked right before dawn, when the concentration of the oils on the petals is at its strongest).
Really, say no more… So you have worked as an architect, as an actor, writer (fiction), poet and performer. Has this past helped you with your current position?
It’s all true. I still write and perform. But I get to do all these things for Hendrick’s. Although I do have less time for myself now. It all has to do with the “unusual campaign” really. From slightly strange to a little bit delightfully peculiar, all the way to quite serious surrealism and nonsense and really turning the world upside down and inside out. So my background helps. I also come from a background of creating extravagant events and parties. Mix it together, here you go.
And what is it that your position at Hendrick’s Gin demands of you?
I was on board for Hendrick’s Gin right from the very start, about ten years ago. When the correct people saw potential in me and my performances. They saw a match. I became the Hendrick’s Global Ambassador about six months ago. But before that I had already been working full time for the brand as “Commander of Special Operations”, a title I chose myself. Because everybody is entitled to a little James Bond fantasy on their own. Hendrick’s has a wide potential, there’s a whole wide universe behind it, so part of my job is to forge and bring together artists, writers, musicians. And for this you simply need to be literate, intelligent. And be a performer yourself. A man who knows about arts because he is an artist himself. My activities used to range from organising parties to directing performances, the manifestation of strangeness, mastering ceremonies in the world of burlesque and cabaret, provoking guests’ curiosity, to acting in films, performing in various different capacities and writing poetry and fiction, yes. It all helps now. I was and started off as an artist, which is what I have studied (Fine Arts). Until one day I realised that in order to put all my creative energy into the Art world (with a capital “A”), somehow diminished it and reality was more interesting. So I chose the surprise of the unexpected. Which is what I did next and still do. Hendrick’s gave me the licence -not to kill but- to do the extraordinary. It’s a great partnership. Now it got a lot more serious so it’s probably a marriage.
Well, what constitutes the perfect cocktail and the perfect night?
It’s very nice to see the cocktail world, the bar industry growing up a little bit each day. This is the Renaissance, basically, of cocktails. It’s not just about the techniques of making the drink. Part of being a bartender is being a host, creating a certain atmosphere and ambient in general. I know this well, since I have worked as a bartender younger. And the best bartenders in the world are the ones who give you (and the rest of the people in the bar at the exact same time) absolute devotion and make you feel at home. To me, for example, the Emperor of drinks and my personal favorite is the Dry Martini. Some bartenders then, if you’re half way though a martini, they will –without you even noticing it- get a cold glass from the fridge and pour your martini into it. So that it stays cold. It’s details like this that can make a perfect night out. It’s what it’s all about. Feeling special and appreciated. In a place, full of stories, a bar. Either if you want to drown your sorrows, meet people or celebrate.
Can you remember the night of all nights to you?
The absolute best nights, I can’t remember (laughing). But I can remember some of the best. Listen, literature is a world I am very comfortable in. And there was this little literary festival last year (the Stoke Newington Literary festival) in a beautiful country house in Nothe Fort in Eastern England. It lasted four days. Incredible authors, incredible musicians, incredible artists, all gathered together. Imagine all these authors staying up all night, drinking and talking. One of them was Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols. An amazing mixture of rock ‘n roll, literature and countryside. It’s the story of the chicken I’m about to tell you. Sit tight. A chicken had suddenly come to us in the distillery, out of nowhere. And it simply wouldn’t go. We did not know what to do with it. She just wouldn’t leave. But we couldn’t keep her in the distillery. So we started taking her with us, wherever we’d go and whatever we’d do. Be it Edinburgh, or even a cathedral visit. She even came along for the festival, and came up on stage with us. She actually became the talk of the festival. And after the festival was over, we tried to find a home for her, a friend with a farm perhaps. We just couldn’t keep her. But we didn’t want her to end up in a slaughter house or TGI Friday’s bucket either. And eventually we managed to get her the perfect home to stay and live a prosperous life. The house of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. See, he had also been at the festival. And already had quite a few chicken of his own in his farm.
How much is a gentleman allowed to drink?
A drink needs to be sipped and saved. Treasured even. And when you reach a certain level when you are no longer enjoying it, then you should probably call it a night. Responsibility to your own health is very important. So, it’s not a matter of how much a gentleman is allowed to drink, but rather a question of how much a gentleman can enjoy responsibly. At the end of the day, around 18.00 o’clock, I go to my favorite bar and sit often on my own there and have a martini. And actually there’s something about the taste and the mixture, it’s almost magical, it can indeed slow down time. And it even allows you to access another part of your head. A more relaxed one. A different place. It lifts me up. I can almost see into the future then, I think. That’s what taste does. It operates in a much more basic, instinctive, deeper level. It hits you in the heart. You are alert. So it should be appreciated accordingly.
What’s your favorite bar in London? The one you go to on your own, I mean…
Oh, that’s a tricky question. I don’t have just one favorite. One of them is “Happiness Forgets”, a tiny little neighbourhood bar. With great drinks and atmosphere. Then there’s the “Experimental Cocktail Club”. Rich, bit smarter, much more chic (the original one was in Paris, and it was the one I fell in love with at first). And there are quite a few absolutely fantastic hotel bars. “Dukes” is one of them, with an incredible martini service. And the “Savoy”. And definitely also “Artesian”.
How often do you travel for Hendrick’s Gin?
I spend half the year around the globe. The other half in London.
So how fast can you pack your suitcase?
Really quickly, within forty minutes. But I still tend to pack too much. The essentials are in the end a couple of suits, stuff for the daytime, vitamin tablets and no more than three pairs of shoes (this is what troubles me). The trick is to pack up a small amount of things to cover every eventuality. And the trouble begins when you have to travel from somewhere cold to somewhere hot, or the other way round. As for the suits, my fantastic Irish tailor in London, Jonathan Guiney is preparing a few for me as we speak, to cover every eventuality.
Must a gentleman stay loyal to his tailor?
It helps. Different tailors – different styles. Few men tend to stick with one. Besides, when you find the right one, and he gets to know you, why change and experiment?
You said once you love to manipulate reality. How do you do that?
I started by dressing accordingly. Wandering around town looking like a king from another era. I used to dress in a lot of crazy ways younger. In Victorian clothes even. I also went through a very Christopher Lee, classic old-school Vampire phase, around ten years ago. For many years I lied at night. Endless parties. So I was some kind of a vampire. And this whole dressing up changed my routine. It made my days and nights more fun.
Did you bite?
I mean, you couldn’t… Right?
Sure I could (laughing).
Would you say that as a writer you’re more of an Ian Flemming type? Or rather team Hunter S. Thomson?
A tough question. And an interesting choice. I respect both endlessly. Am a big fan of them both. If I had to choose one, I’d go for Hunter S. Flemming.
Do you drive a car or a motorcycle?
Never a motorcycle. For reasons I would not like to mention. My last car was a Triumph Spitfire. But I left it in Paris, where I used to live. In London I do not really need a car, since I have my cucumber mobile (the official Hendrick’s automobile). Although we had to retire the previous one (a Rover oldie), due to a serious mechanical problem (it had broken down several times). But it still lives in the distillery. And I’m waiting for the new cucumber mobile to arrive. That’s the thing with the really beautiful things: they tend to be old and break down. But the next one won’t be a Rover.
You’re not going to tell me what it will be, right?
No. I can’t. My mouth is sealed. But I will help you. I used to have a mobile peep-show. As a performer. That Piaggio little van was converted into a tiny little peep-show. Everything inside was red, covered in velvet. And I would drive around town, searching for the next party and event to go to. Even that was reality manipulation. I would pop out in the real world presenting something unthinkable. Something people wouldn’t ever expect.
Your lifestyle is pretty inspiring. You get to travel a lot, meeting the most interesting people around the globe, drinking the best cocktails there are, performing and presenting art, while being yourself. Not many could say that about their jobs.
Thank you. And yes, I believe that too. Makes me feel great. I can imagine writing till I die, but there are hundreds of things to do before that. And getting paid to do them, well, that is magnificent. I appreciate every day.
Even the packaging of the Hendrick’s bags, the graphics of the ads, everything suits you perfectly. It’s a burlesque world we dive into. Coincidence?
Do not believe in coincidences. There’s no such thing. Up until a few years back, I didn’t even believe in time, so I refused to even wear a watch.
But you do now. A retro one, as I see.
Yes. What changed my mind was this. I met this guy back then. A fan of Alejandro Jodorowsky (a South American film maker who know lives in Paris and has made some of the strangest but stunning films, like “The Holy Mountain”, all of them about magic, imagination, psychology, archetypes) who would practice psychic stuff and magic. Now this guy had developed his own method of reading the tarot, a mixture of tarot magic (which is all about imagination) and union psychology. A very interesting way of using the cards as a technique to see what’s going on with people. And this man told me after a reading that it was very important for me to buy a watch. And so I did buy this ‘20s wind up watch. And he was right. It did help.
Do you believe in magic?
Yes. But I think it has very interesting links into psychology and our imagination. I never thought that human beings are rational, reasonable creatures, as we pretend to be. We aren’t. And neither is the universe we live in. Nowadays we have blocked certain ways of looking at symbols and rituals that would help in a psychological way. Magic is -to me- the link to that fantastic world of the imagination. And personally, all I have to do for this is go drink a martini. Which links –again- back to the surrealism we talked about previously. The slight (at first) manipulation of reality. And I am a surrealist at heart.
Is it similar to being in love?
The feeling? Yes, I guess you could say that. They both push you to stop using the practical part of your brain and start exploring the darker, more interesting one at the back.
Is this the first time you visit Greece?
I came here for the first time when I was seventeen. With some friends. We stayed one night in Athens and then headed over to Mykonos. With very little money in the pocket. There we used to sleep on the beach. It was so much fun.
Let’s say you were to host a party this weekend. At home. And could invite only four people. Who would that be? And what would you serve them to drink?
Dead or alive?
Yes, dead or alive. Can be anyone at all.
Alfred Jarry, would be the first. A French writer, his texts present some pioneering work in the field of absurdist literature. Sometimes grotesque or misunderstood, he started a science called Pataphysics, an imaginary science really, but nevertheless resulting some surprising solutions. An incredible character. Alfred Carven, who was Oscar Wilde’s nephew. Some kind of a proto-dadaist, poet and boxer, a quite big man. He used to wander around in a fur coat, holding a cat, selling magazines he had himself written the day before, firing a revolver to get people’s attention. He disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Katherine Hepburn. Because I loved her attitude, her spunkiness. And last but not least, Dorothy Parker – because she loved gin. And I’d serve them all martinis. And we would probably skip food.
Last question and then you are formally dismissed. I’m not going to ask you anything regarding future plans. This would be an ordinary question to an ordinary man. But I would love to know what the house of your dreams would look like. The day you would, theoretically- retire and sit still. As an architect, performer, writer and magician.
It would definitely look like a Frank Lloyd Wright model. Wright believed in designing structures which were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. So it would be quite long, with big windows, modernistic. I’d have it probably in the forest, overlooking a lake. But it could be anywhere, at see, in the desert, anywhere. But thirty meter high from the ground. Now that I think of it, I’d love a magical house where walls would move and disappear on demand. With furniture that would move slowly. So if you were to sit down with guest for say a cigar, and some cognac, all the furniture would after the first hour slowly and subtly move around. Would be fun to notice, after a while, that the person seating at first right next to you would then sit at other side of the room.