Favourite places: Geetie Singh-Watson MBE
Sustainable places to shop gorgeous jewellery, scoff pastries and fondle beautiful bedding? Sounds good to me! Multi-award winning organic restauranteur Geetie tells us where to go in Devon.
Schoolgirl-crush warning! Fun, feisty, and a flag-waver for organic eating long before it was fashionable, Geetie Singh-Watson MBE is cooler than a sustainably-grown cucumber. Next time your drink comes with a cardboard straw instead of plastic or you tuck into a farm-to-fork menu, it’s Geetie you have to thank for helping to move ethical eateries away from worthy hair-shirt territory into mainstream and sexy.
Growing up on a Herefordshire commune meant political awareness was in her DNA, making her considerate of her impact on the environment. Fast-forward to 1998 when she founded The Duke of Cambridge in Islington with the aim of creating an organic eatery in the new gastro-pub style. She didn’t put up a big sign saying ‘organic’ over the door – few people even knew what it really meant then – she just wanted to prove it was possible to create a profitable business and for customers to have a fantastic time in an ethical, sustainable way.
And boy, did it work. Awards came flooding in, celebrity fans included Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Kylie Monogue and political heavyweights like George Monbiot, and the icing on the carrot cake came in 2009 when she was awarded an MBE for ‘Services to the Organic Pub Trade’. (And she had her daughter Mabel and wrote a book in the same year.) Awesome or what?
Geetie now lives near Totnes on a 150-acre farm with her husband since 2014 Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford Organic Farms, where she continues to walk her ethical talk, by recently opening The Bull Inn in Totnes. A refurbished, eight-bedroom ethical pub with rooms, it’s stuffed with upcycled furniture, powered by sustainable sources and plates piled high with food sourced locally and of course, from Riverford.
Within just six months of opening The Bull made runner-up in both Sawday’s Best Food and the Gourmet Getaway category of the National Geographic’s Big Sleep 2020 awards, and The Times and Sunday Times Best Eco Hotel of the Year 2020 in their first year of trade.
So, you can guarantee where Geetie goes is going to have fabulous ethics and sustainability at its core. Over to you, Geetie!
Me and East, Totnes
I could shop in here every day. In fact, have so many jugs from here, its getting out of control! The owner, Chloe, just sells craft and it’s all so beautifully curated, with work from jewellers and potters, and wonderful soaps which we have in our bathrooms at The Bull. All my friends get presents from here now – I think it’s a too bit personal to buy jewellery so everyone gets the most amazing pottery.
The Almond Thief, Dartington
This is my Mecca for bread. Dan does the best pastries, and I think his croissants are even better than Ottolenghi’s. It’s just take-out at the moment but I really miss the cafe which is decorated on a shoestring and is on an industrial estate at Dartington. It’s almost like being in San Fransisco.
I love Dartmoor’s woods and wild places. There is no specific place or particular pub that calls to me, as long as it’s well away from the crowds. Of course, it’s remote so we have to drive there but we have an electric car which gets charged on a three-pin plug in the garage. We’re planning to get solar panels on the roof and then it will get charged directly from the sun.
Green Fibres, Totnes
I could spend all day in here fondling the linen! It’s all organic and natural cotton. Owner William is a real guru and can tell you all about the climate impact of cotton growing. We use their linen in The Bull and at home I have their unbleached cotton sheets. They’re so wonderfully weighty, it’s like having an extra duvet on you.
I adore material and textiles and I am the queen of keeping moths off. They don’t like activity so I will hoover the sofas and clear out my drawers, shaking everything down and wiping it down. William sells a natural anti-moth oil, made from lavender and neem. I love all the house-keeping that goes with it.
The Bull Inn, Totnes
The Bull is my favourite place to eat. When everything is going smoothly, I will sit there with a happy smile on my face. I have the most incredible team – I’ve been blown away by recruiting in Devon. I have also met the most thrilling women. I think you can make friends quicker here than in London. You see someone who looks interesting and say, ‘Hey, let’s go for a coffee.’ People don’t worry so much about being cool, they just go for it.
Secret ‘seal beach’
There is a cove near Salcombe we call Seal Beach. It’s actually a nudist beach, although Mabel is 11 now and starting to get p***ed off with me for taking my clothes off! For me, walking here with a picnic and a scarf you put on four sticks for shelter is what going to the beach should be. It’s like going to the beach when you were little, not about turning up on a gas-guzzling speedboat (no-one talks about the huge amount of fuel they use but it’s depressing). It’s about being free, swimming in the sea and feeling the salty water on your skin.
Ode – True Food, Shaldon
Tim Bouget’s cooking is fantastic and he’s one of those ethical businesses that is succeeding because he’s doing everything so brilliantly well. A lot of hospitality businesses talk about being local or growing their own, but it’s always worth asking and digging a bit deeper. If they say the meat is from the local butcher, ask where the local butchers gets it from. Or the menu might say ‘organic where possible’ but if the ketchup on the table isn’t organic, when it’s perfectly possible to buy organic ketchup, that tells you something.
I love buying secondhand and recycled as it’s ethical and supporting local. Plus, Sue is brilliant at dressing me. I always know if something doesn’t suit me by the look on her face. When Sue says it’s right, I know it’s right. Today I’m wearing vintage Jean Muir from 1980s, a padded shoulder number with a striped lining – the sort of thing I’d never have worn at the time! She has lots of lovely shirts, silk and lace, I’ve got quite a lot of Dallas-wear. Grown up lady wear, I call it.
I had a very political upbringing and mum used to take me on marches and to Greenham Common but she’d always say it was important to dress normally, so people can see you’re just the same as them. If you wear a hippy uniform, it’s like saying we’re not part of you.
Picture credit: pics of Geetie and The Bull Inn, Rachel Hoile Photography.