Charmed by Ms Chalmers
In Judith Chalmers, the Bond found its ideal representative. Not only was Judith synonymous with travel thanks to the long-running Wish You Were Here holiday television programme, she proved over the next 20 years to be the perfect ambassador for HPB – constantly charming, always amenable and a true friend, both to her fellow Bondholders and to the company.
Judith is never without a project (or 10!) – but after two decades, HPB proved one too many. Editor Jonathan Broom had the pleasure of her company one afternoon just before Christmas, and took the opportunity to pose a few questions…
Jonathan Broom: When you were presenting Wish You Were Here you were asked by many holiday companies to endorse their products. Am I correct in thinking that the Holiday Property Bond was the first holiday-related product which you agreed to endorse?
Judith Chalmers: I never got involved with holiday companies – I didn’t want to ever appear biased. But the Holiday Property Bond was a different sort of product, in that it wasn’t selling holidays. I thought from the outset – and still do – that it was a very clever concept. I used to be asked if it was timeshare, and was always keen to stress that it wasn’t. It was the Bond’s flexibility that set it apart – the fact that you could go where you wanted when you wanted, you weren’t confined to the same week or two weeks in the same place year after year. I also think that the way the product has developed and diversified over the years – Themes and Tours, the HPB Travel Club and so on – is marvellous.
JB: How did you discover the Holiday Property Bond in 1989 and why did you decide to endorse it?
JC: My husband, Neil Durden-Smith, and a gentleman named Toddy Hanbury, were playing in Robert Sangster’s golf tournament in Barbados. Toddy was, I think, a director of the trustees of the Holiday Property Bond, mentioned the product and said there was someone he wanted us to meet. Back in England, he introduced us to co-founders Geoffrey Baber and Robert Boyce. As to why I decided to endorse the Bond – Geoffrey and Robert were the sort of people I felt I could trust, to be honest. I liked them, they talked sense, and they inspired confidence.
JB: What was the first site you visited?
JC: Le Manoir du Hilguy, in Brittany, with [HPB Operations Director] Nick Beamish. Absolutely superb and, I gather, still very popular.
JB: Have you any memories of that visit?
JC: Well, we had the first set of photographs taken there, and I remember leaning on the mantelpiece and thinking how lovely it was that people who didn’t actually own a home like that could actually have access to it on their holidays. Though of course they do own it, really… I also went up to Buckland Court in the Cotwolds last year for another set of photos, with [the other “face of HPB”] Sue Barker. I loved it. So nice – you’ve got the manor house nearby, but Buckland Court has its own little entrance, and there are all the different little houses, and it’s like a “community” for the Bondholders, really. And lovely little gardens… Of course another big thing about the Bond – a bit like cruising in a way – is that you form friendships, with people from all parts of the country.
JB: You are of course best known for Wish You Were Here. Over the 30 years that you presented the programme, you have surely seen the whole range of holiday destinations – and accommodation, good and bad. Where does the Holiday Property Bond sit on the “Chalmers Scale”?
JC: The quality of what it offers, and the confidence it inspires in people, mean it scores very highly. If people have put their own money into something like this, I think they care – more than if they’d simply bought a holiday in a way. It’s like buying anything – if you’ve put your own money into something, you take a lot more interest in it. And somehow that’s recognised in what the Holiday Property Bond does.
JB: What, in your view, are the Holiday Property Bond’s particular strengths?
JC: You know that the property you book is going to be maintained to, and often beyond, a minimum standard. You’re not going to find dirty washbasins, or unmade beds. Actually, I don’t like the word “minimum” in this context – it’s rather like saying something is “adequate”; damning with faint praise. The Bond properties are beautifully furnished, superbly equipped and well maintained. And you’re sure of the people who look after you – the managers really care. I think too that Bondholders take great reassurance from the fact that there’s no borrowing to buy or develop properties. I think that’s part of the Bond’s integrity.
JB: What areas do you think the Holiday Property Bond could improve on?
JC: There’s one area you’ve already improved; I’m glad you’ve made the length of stays more flexible.
JB: Do you have any special memories of visits to Bond sites?
JC: The grandeur of Le Manoir, the area around Buckland Court… I do think that’s important, the areas where the sites are located.
JB: How do we persuade you to take a Bond holiday?
JC: What we’re lacking is time – the first six months of the year are already filling up. But I’d love to take the children and grandchildren, go for a weekend somewhere. As a family we love being together, and I think that’s what the future holds.
JB: Stepping down as the face of HPB is one thing. Retirement, however, seems far from your thoughts – president emeritus of the Lady Taverners, vice-president of the Holiday Care Service, you are clearly keeping busy. Anything else on the horizon?
JC: A number of things – for instance I’m promoting a circulation booster to combat deep-vein thrombosis… but I make sure everything I lend my name to is tried, tested and trusted. I look very carefully at everything I’m asked to endorse. And I was more than happy to lend my support to the Holiday Property Bond.
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