When it came to making a career change in his late twenties, Anthony Ward-Thomas decided his destiny lay in one of two professions: undertaking or removals. ‘It was my wife who put me off the former, although I’m not sure I could have ever stomached introducing myself as an undertaker at a party,’ he says, wryly. But he is far from your average removals man: he’s the son of novelist Evelyn Anthony and, this year, he rode in the Aintree Foxhunter’s at the spirited age of 52.
The idea was formed when he employed an (unnamed) company to move house. ‘Having things stolen is obviously your biggest concern when you hire a removals firm to come into your house, but, on this occasion, it wasn’t a piece of jewellery that went missing, it was two pairs of my shoes. It made me wonder: what else did they try on?’ Next, a bout of unpaid work experience with another firm, during which time he was exposed to the tricks of the trade-in the criminal sense-sealed the decision.
With that, he picked up a van at auction (which later turned out not to have a gearbox) and began to reinvent the business by employing young, enthusiastic men and swapping the tired Del Boy look of brown coats and a flat caps for black shorts, cotton shirts and trainers. Today, teams of smartly dressed Antipodeans sporting burly muscles and white trainers have been known to cause the odd pile-up in south London streets as admiring female drivers find themselves momentarily distracted. The idea has been so successful it’s been mimicked all over the capital.
At the beginning, not all went entirely as planned. There was one occasion when the team was clearing up the last of the boxes from a house in London for some clients who had gone ahead to their new home in Devon. ‘We found the cat roaming the house on the final morning and thought we’d go the extra mile and take him down with us. We assumed they’d cry with delight, but it was quite the opposite: the cat wasn’t theirs.’ On another occasion, the team was instructed to clear a house from a King’s Road, but not the King’s Road.
‘The Spanish cleaner of this grand house in SW3 with barely two words of English let them in and they got to work. When my clients called me two hours later to find out where they were, I realised what had gone wrong. The team put everything back in place and the cleaner-who’d taken the opportunity to vacuum behind all the furniture-was oblivious to the error and thanked them profusely.’
Today, Ward-Thomas carry out 75% of the removals for properties worth more than £750,000 in Kensington & Chelsea, as well as moves to second homes in France and Italy and to and from the country. At the top end, they compete with Abels (0800 626 769) and Cadogan Tate (0800 988 6011). The former has held a Royal Warrant since 1988, and the latter is widely used by the art world to move important works around the world. For a full list of insured removals companies, try the British Association of Removers (www.bar.co.uk).
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