We speak to David Linley, Earl of Snowdon and alumnus of Bedales School, about his life-long passion for creativity, design and inspiring the next generation
When did your love of design emerge?
I don’t think it was design as much as engineering. I was brought up by my parents [Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones] to enjoy looking at beautiful things, whether it was art or craft. From an early age we were making, drawing or looking at things.
Who else inspired you as a youngster?
My science teacher at Millbrook House School. He was very clever at engaging us and helped us to build machines and camps in the wood. He was also instrumental in helping me decide to go to Bedales. I loved the idea of being able to create things and there was a much freer dynamic at Bedales with an excellent workshop and art studio. I think a lot of schools can pigeonhole you and don’t give you the freedom and the opportunity to stretch your mind.
Were your school days happy?
Very happy. I have lots of friends from back then, it was a pivotal time for me. From Bedales I secured a place at Parnham House College (a school for furniture-makers) for two years. The problem with a lot of universities is that you tend to degenerate back to being a 14-year-old again, but we didn’t at Parnham. There were only 10 of us and it was a great privilege to be there and we did not want to waste that valuable time.
What was the next step?
I left on the Friday and opened my own workshop on the Monday. If I had known what I know today I probably wouldn’t have as it was such hard work. But it was great fun and I learnt a great deal about myself. I had a one-bed flat in Dorking above a fish and chip shop, which I rented with the workshop. It was from here that Linley furniture was born.
Any advice for the next generation?
I didn’t do one but I would look at doing an apprenticeship. There are some great colleges like Brighton, who push out good people. You also need to decide: are you going to pursue a life to make money or are you going to enjoy your life and what you do? You need to follow your dreams – too often parents push children in the direction they want them to go.
“it’s very important to take time out every year and turn your telephone off”
Have your children followed in your footsteps?
My son, Charles, is at Loughborough University reading design and engineering. I didn’t tell him to do anything, he chose to follow that path. My daughter, Margarita is very precise and good at drawing and has her own Instagram jewellery business called Matitajewellery.
Tell us about your role as chairman at Christie’s.
I started in 2006 and everyday I learn something. It’s the most interesting place to work because of the people I meet, from the staff to new collectors, to the world famous or people who have interesting habits or live fascinating lives, like artists.
I like trying to imbue a sense of collecting amongst the new generation and people who might not have thought about collecting in the past.
And your new appointment at The Prince’s Foundation…
I’m very excited to have become vice-president of the foundation, and this year we held the Snowdon Summer School at Dumfries House. This has always been an ambition of mine: to identify what I do and what I care about and how I can contribute towards young people’s development.
What do you do to relax?
I like meeting and talking to people, and I love messing around with cars, motorbikes and bicycles. I spend a lot of time collecting things on a small scale, like watches. My house is full of objects, all of which tell a story.
Sometimes you don’t let yourself stop working because you’ve been born to work, but it’s very important to take time out every year and turn your telephone off.
Favourite piece of art?
Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo. It’s the only Michelangelo marble sculpture in Great Britain and it’s free to see (at The National Gallery). How much better can that be?
The direction for design in the future?
It’s impossible to try and predict! I think we have got slightly stuck with interior design as nothing much has changed. We saw a great shift when we started making furniture for dual purposes. Technology has had an impact – I think machine and hand is a great combination.
What is your motto for life?
I dream of things that never were, and ask, ‘Why not?’. When I was at Parnham, we had to come up with a sentence and I still think about this quote from George Bernard Shaw 30 years later.