When it comes to success in the licensed trade, being a big character is a definite plus – and Wight Mouse landlord Andy Greenwood certainly ticks that particular box.
The six foot four Yorkshireman is a former cruise ship drummer, with a dry Northern wit, a passion for cricket, and such a legendary love of hot curries that he even named his boat The Curry Cruiser. Jackie McCarrick spoke to him, and found out why, after years of sailing the world, he’s come to regard the Island as home.
He’d sailed thousands of miles across the world’s oceans, but the short ferry ride he took across the Solent in late1995 turned out to be the most significant sea crossing that Andy Greenwood would ever make.
At the time, he and his wife Cheryl, still only in their mid-30s, were successfully running their second Whitbread pub in Romsey, Hampshire, having already turned around the fortunes of The Bugle in nearby Botley.
It was a brewery manager who suggested they might like to consider taking on The Folly Inn at Whippingham, East Cowes – and Andy jokes that since he’d only recently bought himself “a nice new nautical coat”, he reckoned that would be enough to equip him for life at the internationally-famous yachtie watering hole.
He and Cheryl agreed to take up the challenge, and in early 1996 took the reins for what they expected to be a six-month tenure. As it turned out, though, they were there for a total of over 18 years, with a one-year break in the middle.
During that time, the pub became known Island-wide for its lively, party atmosphere, Mediterranean-themed Saturday nights, big band events, and dancing on the tables – and it was by no means unusual for the Greenwoods and their hard-working team to serve over 1,000 diners in a day.
But then when you consider their background before going into the pub trade, it’s hardly surprising that Andy and Cheryl made such an impact.
The ocean wave
The couple had met in 1984 during a world cruise on board the Sea Princess, when they were both working as entertainers – Cheryl as a dancer and Andy as a drummer with the band.
He may have been a good musician, but he freely admits that when it came to dancing, he was “terrible”.
So when a team of championship dance pros put on some ship-board classes, he decided to bite the bullet and learn some nifty ballroom dance moves in order to surprise his mum when he landed back home.
Cheryl went along as his partner, and they became good friends – although the ‘here-today, gone-tomorrow’ nature of their working lives meant that they didn’t actually get together for a few years.
“Working onboard with P&O was a great life for a single man” Andy recalls. “It was a lot of fun, took me around the world several times, and certainly developed the social skills that helped me later on in the licensed trade”.
He was also able to indulge his love of cricket, by captaining the ship officers’ side against teams of passengers, and met some of his sporting heroes, including cricket commentator Brian Johnston and goalie Gordon Banks, who went along as celebrity guests on football and cricket-themed cruises.
Andy also counts himself lucky to have got to see some fabulous parts of the world, from the Australian Barrier Reef to the Caribbean Islands and the mountains of South Africa.
So how did a young lad from East Yorkshire, who had been planning to go to university and study languages, end up taking such a different path?
The son of a professional musician, Andy says he was never encouraged to go down the same route as his father.
In fact it was only after his parents separated when he was aged 15 that his mum – by way of softening the blow – agreed to let him have the drum kit that he had long been coveting.
Before long, he was playing in every band he could – and once his father realised his commitment, he helped him along by making introductions, including one to a bandleader working on cruise ships, Eddie Laver, who was impressed with the young Andy’s talent.
Laver happened to be working on P&O’s Canberra at the time and had just lost a drummer, so Andy was given the chance to stand in on a cruise that was sailing a few days later.
“I was only 18 so I think I probably came cheap too!” he laughs.
It was a huge leap for a teenager – not just in terms of heading off oceans away from the familiarity of home, but also entering what at that time was a rather elitist world, in the days when cruising was pretty much reserved for the rich and famous.
“In those days, working on the Canberra and QE2 was a posh job” says Andy.
In between cruises, he did other ‘posh’ gigs, including top hotels in London’s West End, including the Savoy and The Ritz.
At the rather less salubrious end of the scale, he also did seasons at Pontin’s holiday camps, although he says: “I shouldn’t knock them because we had some tremendous fun there”.
Once they were formally an ‘item’ they were due to perform in panto together at the Hawth Theatre in Crawley, although this never came together and when they had to go off again to separate jobs, they realised that something had to change.
“We’d find ourselves in a situation where Cheryl could be in Minehead and me in Liverpool – it just wasn’t do-able for us any more” he says.
The solution they came up with was to sign up for a manager training scheme being run by the Whitbread Brewery and switch their career to one that they could do together.
And that was why February 4, 1991 is etched in Andy’s memory as the date he finally ‘hung up his drumsticks’ – at least professionally – after a touring gig with the Rocky Horror Show at the Naples Opera House. Shortly afterwards, he and Cheryl had applied to Whitbread and were setting out on a whole new life
“I’d drunk plenty of beer in my time, and thought that would be good experience for the job” he jokes, “but Cheryl didn’t even know that beer came in brown and yellow, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire when we got into the intensive training”.
However, they clearly took to the trade and quickly made their mark in the brewery’s Solent Inns Division, winning an Egon Ronay plaque at The Bugle and then effectively turning around the ailing Luzborough. Andy is keen to stress that it’s been a strong double act, and with characteristic irony he quips: “Cheryl is no chef and in fact she could even burn tea – but she turned into an amazing manager”
During that time the Greenwoods also has their first two children – Tom being born at The Bugle in 1993 and Katie at The Luzborough in 1994.
So when they arrived at The Folly, it was with two pre-schoolers in tow and a huge act to follow in terms of running the pub.
Their success at developing the pub as a go-to venue for good food and great entertainment kept them there for six and a half years – but when the pub was taken over by the Laurel Pub Company in 2002 with a focus on more liquor-based trading, they reckoned it was time to consider a move – especially as by then they had a third child, Anna, born in 1999.
They were approached with an offer they couldn’t refuse, to re-vitalise a Beefeater Inn in Harlow, Essex as a Premier Travel Inn. “It was a wrench for us leaving the Island” Andy recalls, “but financially it was a great offer, and whoever said that money doesn’t matter was lying, because it does!”
It didn’t take long for him and Cheryl to realise, though, that it simply wasn’t for them.
“It wasn’t great there with a young family, especially after being in a lovely environment like the Isle of Wight” he says. “We also had much more responsibility, with 104 staff – and I only wanted to run a pub.”
The best thing about the year they spent there was the added experience they gained – but they wanted to be off, and at that point headed back to Andy’s native Yorkshire where they were in the process of buying a house – until an out-of-the-blue call from the Laurel Pub Company changed their plans.
In short, they were asked if there was any chance they’d consider returning to The Folly – and it didn’t take them long to decide.
“The Island is such a great place to bring up your children” explains Andy. “I guess having had that year away made us appreciate the place even more for how special it is”.
Hence, they moved back to the helm of The Folly – though living off-site – almost exactly a year after having left.
Over the next few years, they built on the pub’s reputation for a lively atmosphere, high jinks and great food. To facilitate customers’ fondness for dancing on the tables, Andy had all the table legs reinforced – and got fun tee-shirts printed to advertise the table dancing antics.
The pub became the most successful in its division, with the largest turnover by a long chalk, a fact which Andy attributes largely to the great team of staff they had there.
Meanwhile he and the family relished the social and leisure side of life on the Island. He’d always had a boat, but his speedboat – which he describes unflatteringly as “a fishing boat with a shed on top” – became known for its quirky Curry Cruiser nickname and could be regularly seen ploughing up the Medina en route to one of Cowes’ curry houses.
“By that time, I could also afford a better sailing coat” he quips”
Like most licensees, Andy and Cheryl had always dreamed of having their own pub, and it was in 2014 that opportunity finally knocked, with The Wight Mouse in Chale, which they agreed to rent on an individual lease from Hall & Woodhouse, and operate as a freehouse.
While it was a wrench to leave The Folly (Andy reveals that youngest daughter Anna, then 14, locked herself in the bedroom when told they were moving), the whole family quickly fell in love with Chale, and have since put their distinctive stamp on the venue.
Again, Andy credits a great team of staff with the growing success of the pub, which benefits from an unrivalled location, popular menus, live music and letting rooms.
“We feel really lucky to be here” he says. “There’s lots of open space, the views to The Needles are amazing, and it’s great for dog walks.
Both his daughters now work in the busy operation and the elder one Katie, 23, has become “an unbelievable asset” according to her proud dad, taking on management responsibility, while Anna, 18, is also making her way in the trade. Older brother Tom, 25, is based on the other side of the Solent, at Warsash where he works as an engineering officer on private motor yachts – slightly larger ones than his dad’s Curry Cruiser!
For Andy, the Island has definitely become his adopted home: “I can’t tell you how much I love being here” he says. “I know we’d be termed ‘overners’ but we’ve never been the type who want to come over and change everything… we like it just the way it is!”