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David Brook

David Brook moved to Phuket in 1998 with the aim to retire from his fast-paced UK corporate life, but 15 years on he’s as active as ever. Here, he reveals more about the people he’s met and adventures he’s had in launching a local beer brand and a bar in Patong.

October 2013

Where are you from?
I was born in 1943 in Yorkshire, England. Educated at Leeds Modern Grammar School, Sheffield University (BA Econ) and Bradford University Business School (MBA).

What did you do before you came to Phuket?
I have over 22 years experience in the UK brewing, and drinks supply and distribution business and some 15 years experience in the Thailand drinks industry, with 17 years at Managing Director/Chief Executive level. UK Companies have included Scottish and Newcastle and Lonrho, prior to joining Federation Brewery, the tenth largest brewery in the UK, as Chief Executive for some 13 years.

When did you move to Phuket?
I was a regular visitor to Thailand for 20 years before deciding to live permanently in Phuket in 1998.

What was it about Phuket that made you decide to live here?
I’d been to Pattaya and Bangkok many times but first came to Phuket in January 1998 to see the Johnny Walker Golf Classic at Blue Canyon. I thought the island was fantastic and fell in love with the place instantly. I had an opportunity to take an early retirement deal from my employers, which I did, and that was it. By the end of 1998, I’d sold everything in the UK and came here: lock, stock and barrel.

Two years later you founded Phuket Island Lager. When did you get the idea to make a local beer?
It came out of one of the early conversations I had on my first trip. I had dinner with Tom McNamara, founder of Baan Rim Pa restaurant, on a few occasions and I mentioned that Europe and every part of the UK have different local beers, and I didn’t see that in Thailand. I saw only national brands like Singha, which had dominated the industry for so long, and one or two imports. Tom said, ‘Yes, you’re right. What can we do about it?’ That was where it started.

What’s happening with the beer company now?
It’s still going, but I’m not involved with it anymore. I ran the company initially as managing director but then found myself working 15, 16, 18 hours a day. I didn’t want to do that anymore as I’d come to Phuket to enjoy my life and play a little golf.

Tell us more about Phuket Island Lager Bar, which you opened in Patong soon after the beer launched.
The first bar was a big operation and quite successful, until the tsunami came along in 2004 and decided to change all that. We moved to a couple of different locations after that, but when the lease was up for renewal this year we decided to stop, as we fully anticipated that something would happen with the property. The owners of the land decided they wanted to repossess the site and what was there was demolished.

You must have met many interesting people over the years. Tell us about your network of friends and acquaintances.
I used to be well known in UK government circles, including numerous Lords, MPs as well as former Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 1994 I was awarded The Freedom of the City of London for services to the brewing industry. The Phuket Island Lager Bar received many visitors from around the world, including a number of celebrity friends, such as Jimmy White, John Virgo and Pete Conway, who is Robbie Williams’s dad. I’ve also been a close personal friend of three-times World Professional Darts Champion, John Lowe, for some 28 years. John is a regular visitor to Phuket.

How does doing business in Phuket compare to back home?
It’s the coming to terms with the pace of doing business in Thailand, and the pace of getting things done. The legislation’s obviously different, in some cases for very good reasons. Working through the legislation to actually make something happen can be extremely lengthy and sometimes frustrating. And of course the worst thing in Thailand is to get frustrated because then nothing gets done.

Tell us more about your family.
I met my wife Kanchana on my first trip to Phuket. We’ve been together ever since and were married about five years ago. I have two children back in the UK from a previous marriage. My daughter Helen, 40, lives in Scotland and is a teacher and mum of two. My son Richard, 42, lives in London and is a professional musician of repute being a tour drummer for a number of groups, having backed the likes of Posh Spice, Ozzie Osbourne, Roger Daltrey among others. Richard has one daughter and another on the way later this year.

You have supported a number of charities over the years. Can you tell us about them?
In the UK we sponsored the UK Celebrity Golf Tour, raised funds for the Special Olympics, Children in Need and variety of local events. In Phuket, I organised the John Lowe Golf Classic to raise funds for the British Business Association of Phuket charity, the Asian Celebrity Tour 2008 for a charity in Patong, and was involved with The Irish Times Charity Golf Event to assist the Life Home Project. I also helped organise the 2011/2012 Poppy Appeal for Phuket.

What have you been up to since closing the bar?
I was a guest presenter on 91.5 FM Phuket Island Radio (Mr B) and am a regular column writer for The Phuket News (Grapevine). As for starting another business I would simply say, ‘who knows’. Something may be around the corner. I said I’d retire 15 years ago but I’m still as active as ever. I don’t have time to retire!

What are you most proud of?
Surviving till I’m 70 years old. My health is good, touch wood, and I have just one ambition left in life: to wake up every morning for another 10 years.

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