How the Cotswolds became the VIP capital of Britain

Cotswolds
Cotswolds

Saturday morning at Daylesford Farm and the place is thrumming with honeyed, moneyed blondes, their ponytails bobbing as they sift the aisles for ripe peaches, juicy strawbs and the sort of avocados that are guaranteed not to be of the disappointingly under-ripe variety once transplanted onto sourdough. “Guaranteed” because the fruit at Daylesford is reassuringly organic – and also, reassuringly expensive. If you thought an avocado was costly at Waitrose, be prepared to baulk at Daylesford’s price tags.

But then, Daylesford’s clientele isn’t what you’d call price-sensitive. Nestled in photogenic Kingham, part of the so-called “golden triangle” of the Cotswolds, bounded by Chipping Norton, Burford and Stow-on-the-Wold, Daylesford Farm’s position in one of the most fashionable, sought-after and thriving areas of England was never going to attract Wayne and Waynetta Slob.

Founded by Lady Bamford, wife of JCB billionaire Lord Bamford, in 2002, Daylesford was decades ahead of the competition, a 2,350-acre organic farm and wellness business espousing the virtues of local, seasonal and sustainable long before wellness became a billion-dollar industry. As well as the farm shop, there are cottages, a spa, a Green Michelin-star gastropub, a cookery school and a lifestyle store stocked in an array of whites and creams that surpasses even Farrow & Ball’s.

Daylesford farm was founded by Lady Bamford in 2002 - Martin Morrell
Daylesford farm was founded by Lady Bamford in 2002 - Martin Morrell

Daylesford is a lifestyle, one that its wealthy fans buy into with gusto, their purchases allowing them to feel as though they belong to an elite club. So it was only a matter of time before its owners turned this feeling into a tangible, bricks-and-mortar establishment.

Le toute Cotswolds is currently a-chatter about the imminent opening of the The Club by Bamford, the latest private members’ club to take up residence in the area. Finally, there will be a mothership for Daylesford fans to meet, network, see and be seen; a tasteful, softly furnished idyll where they can sip on oat lattes while surreptitiously looking to see whether locals Carrie Johnson, Samantha Cameron, Stella McCartney, Zara Tindall, Jeremy Clarkson, Elisabeth Murdoch or either of the Kates (Winslet and Moss) are nestled in proximity, too.

Jeremy Clarkson (left); and Stella McCartney (right)
Jeremy Clarkson (left); and Stella McCartney (right)

The Club is the latest in an unfeasibly long line of private clubs to open locally. In addition to Lady Bamford’s club, newcomers include Aynhoe House, a former private residence recently purchased by the owners of Restoration Hardware, the cult US homeware brand whose devotion to neutrals would give Daylesford itself a run for its money. Then there’s Eynsham Hall, a Grade II-listed 18th-century manor purchased by Ennismore, which owns Gleneagles and the Hoxton, and is currently inviting memberships. André Balazs, who co-owns London’s Chiltern Firehouse, is said to be a consultant.

Aynhoe House - Bridget Catterall
Aynhoe House - Bridget Catterall

There’s also the Hive, a members’ club on the Farncombe Estate in Broadway, as well as the Fitzdares Club, a 200-acre estate that opened in March and whose membership is targeted at sport lovers, with an 18-hole golf course and five state-of-the-art 4K HD streams screening sport every day.

That’s not forgetting Soho Farmhouse, the first members’ club to settle in the area, way back in the mists of 2015, whose 100-acre site has welcomed the Sussexes, the Camerons, the Redmaynes and, of course, the Beckhams, who treat the club as a second home. Which it is, given they own a sprawling property in the same village, Great Tew. That it is nigh-on impossible to book one of the Farmhouse’s chic log cabins – even midweek – is an indicator of how great the demand is for clubs that provide a highly curated lifestyle that blends style, wellness and discretion.

David Beckham (left); and Samantha Cameron (right)
David Beckham (left); and Samantha Cameron (right)

The Club by Bamford is due to open in February, and its organising committee, which includes socialite Chloe Delevingne, is soliciting members. What can they expect? A phalanx of wellness options, including a gym, pool, yoga studio, sauna, ice bath and an IV drip.

The Club’s website shows an illustration of two long, low, barn-like buildings with sunloungers out front, surrounded by what look like low clouds (though they could equally be Pom-Bears). It describes how the property is nestled in 3,500 acres of organic farmland, and boasts of how members will be able to indulge in a 360-degree wellness experience incorporating health, fitness and holistic wellbeing. “This is time for you”, it intones, the “you” underlined.

Daylesford Farm
Daylesford Farm

No doubt it is – provided you can afford the £3,500 annual membership fee, a figure that has some well-heeled locals wincing. “We’ve all been waiting for it to open, but we were surprised when we found out how much it would cost,” said one 40-something local, after receiving an email inviting her to be an honorary member. “In some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised, because this area is divided into those who shop at Daylesford and those who only browse. The shoppers are in a different league.”

And it doesn’t do to stare at them. While wellness is important to the Cotswolds elite (the triangle of destinations for big-spending health aficionados is now London, Ibiza and the Cotswolds), discretion is even more so. It’s why the Beckhams feel relaxed at Soho Farmhouse, knowing its no-photo policy is rigidly enforced. It’s also why Bamford’s new club will do well: as the woman who hosted Boris and Carrie Johnson’s clandestine summer wedding, as well as allowing them to move into a luxury cottage on their estate, Carole Bamford knows a thing or two about privacy.

Carole 'Lady B' Bamford, in the Lavender Room of the Bamford Wellness Spa - Andrew Crowley
Carole 'Lady B' Bamford, in the Lavender Room of the Bamford Wellness Spa - Andrew Crowley

As for what else members can expect for their considerable buck, it’s likely that Lady B, as she’s known to her friends, will stamp her own personality on the Club just as Nick Jones did with Soho Farmhouse. But where Jones is present in a self-effacing way, Lady B’s presence is likely to be more ebullient. “Carole is a force of nature,” says one Cotswolds resident. “She’s pivotal to a certain sort of social life, and people love to be in her orbit. She might be a billionaire, but she also mucks in. I remember being at Daylesford and ordering a coffee. Carole herself was manning the Gaggia and made me a decent flat white.”

Despite the prices, attracting members is unlikely to be a problem. “For many people here, saying you’re a member of the Club will be a badge of honour, regardless of how many times they’ll go,” says one local. “If nothing else, the spa and gym will be a draw. People take their wellness seriously here.” Indeed, Bamford’s most pressing concern isn’t attracting clients, but staff. Cotswold hotels, pubs, spas and restaurants are struggling to find staff just like every other hospitality business across the UK.

Soho Farmhouse - Veerle Evens
Soho Farmhouse - Veerle Evens

In addition to the slew of new private members’ clubs, the pretty villages where Carole, Elisabeth Murdoch and Julian Dunkerton (co-founder of Superdry) are often seen seem to be becoming a kind of rustic Belgravia. A number of hostelries that were once cosy, shabby and welcoming to all are now immaculate and slightly forbidding. “They might still be called pubs, but they’re almost wholly converted into dining-only restaurants. Try having a pint and a packet of crisps in them: it’s impossible,” says one local resident. “Prices are London prices. There are no farmers, no locals and not much in the way of atmosphere. Most of them are empty midweek.”

Many people who have lived in the Cotswolds for decades raise their bushy eyebrows at the glossy incomers and their mud-free Range Rovers. It’s not wealth they object to, as one 60ish stalwart pointed out. “There’s nothing new about new money in the Cotswolds. It’s an obvious destination for anyone from London who comes into a bob or two. When I was a boy, one of the best riders at Pony Club was the son of a postman who’d won the pools. Nobody minded that.”

Inside Soho Farmhouse - Veerle Evans
Inside Soho Farmhouse - Veerle Evans

The old-school crowd may not be delighted to find crisps off the menu at what used to be their local – but they know the back way to another authentic pub. And they know that the Cotswolds, for all its glitzy enclaves, remains a large and surprisingly diverse community. For every village that has succumbed to the perma-tanned incomers, there are dozens that remain happily off the radar of the paparazzi.

Many recent residents will have regarded Daylesford’s Christmas Fair this year as one of the season’s hottest tickets. Others will just have seen it as a bit of fun (all profits went to WellChild). The wealthiest visitors will undoubtedly have dug deep, while others walked around bemused. In the Cotswolds, it takes all sorts.