ASKEW MAG : MEET YOUR NEIGHBOURS : PHIL HARRISON

PAUL COSGROVE

PAUL-COSGROVEThe heart of Finlay Brewer opens up about horses, dogs, cats, rabbits – and busy bees

How long have you lived in the area?

Since 2010 but I was in Chiswick before that.

Where did you grow up?

County Kildare, horse country, the home of flat racing. Every spare bedroom was rented to a horse. We had a Georgian townhouse in the middle of Kildare Town. I was one of 10 kids. I'm Paul the Sixth.

I'd like to be subtle but I'm not

What was your family life like?

Mad. Crazy. Outrageous. Dysfunctional. No, not dysfunctional, but our house was like Piccadilly Circus 24/7. There were people everywhere. There were horses everywhere. My father was an equine vet and he worked from home. His surgery was at the back of the house but there were phones everywhere, even in the loo. He was a renowned orthopaedic surgeon and racehorses were always getting injured. His clients included the Aga Khan, who had 3 or 4 stud farms in the area, as well as rich Europeans and Americans. He treated Golden Fleece, at the time the most valuable stallion in Europe, worth £30 million, and the owner, Niarchos, the billionaire shipping magnate, said to my father: I'll lay on a private plane to fly the horse, whenever you need. My father said: Would you lay on a private plane for my wife if my she was ill? And Niarchos said: You can always get another wife.

What were you like as a boy?

A little devil. But my mother was a saint, terribly relaxed, and magnificently oblivious. Thank God!

Were you the chattiest person in the house?

Absolutely not. You had to compete to be heard. It was very competitive. I remember pushing my brother out of the way and he's eighteen months older. He's a Buddhist now.

Did you inherit your father's love of animals?

I’m afraid not, which is ironic because before working in property I headed up the equestrian division of Petplan, the UK's largest pet insurer. The truth is I'm afraid of dogs. I'm a complete wuss. And I can't stand cats. I know people will hate me for saying this but cat people can be so extreme. If they had to choose between a person or a cat, it would always be the cat.

What did you do before joining Finlay Brewer?

When I first came to London I became a bloodstock insurance broker, insuring horses for people like the Aga Khan. Flat racing is so expensive now. They used to say you needed to be a millionaire to be in racing, but now it's for billionaires. That's why the Queen doesn't compete as much as she did. Some Arabs have stables of 500 broodmares. In any case, our biggest client became Petplan, who essentially insure veterinary fees for cats and dogs. When Petplan merged the small animal side of the business with the equestrian division, I was made the commercial director which basically meant I was doing PR for effing cats and dogs. It was a disaster!

Why did you switch horses to property?

Because I felt like a fake. And I hated the new Lloyd's Building. They can say what they like about Richard Rogers but the lighting is appalling, depressing beyond belief. It was so dark. Since I came out of the womb, it's been lights, camera, action. I need it, not all the time, but some of the time. I'd had enough. I walked into my boss's office, kissed him on the cheek and said, I'm off. But I needed a job. I had three mortgages, a couple of buy-to-lets. And then a friend saw Finlay Brewer's ad in The Times looking for a negotiator.

What was your first impression of your now partners, Simon (Finlay) Gresswell and Teresa Brewer?

TB is very bright, very astute and incisive and six steps ahead, but she has no attention span. She gets bored even more easily than me! I liked her as soon as I walked in but she started reading the paper, so I concentrated on Simon. The thing about Teresa and Simon is they're very fair and incredibly supportive. Simon is quite amazing. The man I respect most is my father but Simon seems to be the perfect husband, the perfect father and really rolls his sleeves up and gets involved in everything. Someone said we're the perfect triumvirate: Teresa is the brains, Simon is the tank who runs everything and I'm the heart.

What is it about selling that you like?

It's like a drug. It's lovely to see people get so excited and inciting that excitement. You feel hopeless if you're not selling. The cliché that you're only as good as your last sale is true. Finding a home for someone is one of the most intimate things you can do with them without having sex.

Your wardrobe is rather colourful and your colleagues insist you're the first to remove your shirt at a party. Are you an exhibitionist?

Guilty as charged. I love parties. Life is about people.

Have you a tattoo?

No, but I've thought about it. I'd like something clever, with two sides. There's that line in Paradise Lost: The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. I'd want something that no one would automatically get. I'd like to be subtle but I'm not.

Have you ever wanted to perform?

I would love to dance or sing or act, but I have no talent. When I was six I sang as a busy bee. The sister dressed me up in a yellow top and put strips of black cloth around me to look like a bee. I sang away, waving my hands, and she told my mother I had great fingers.

What was your most embarrassing moment selling a house?

Teresa and I were valuing a judge's house and I was on the terrace when I heard this terrifying rustling. I screamed like I'd been murdered and the judge rushed out to see if I was okay. But it was just the pet rabbit. So embarrassing. And one client had an older son and warned us he was upstairs in his room with his girlfriend, but we should just go in and we did. The thing is, he just didn't stop – completely oblivious.

You always seem so cheerful. How do you keep positive?

Of course I get down but who wants to hear it? If you're positive it's infectious. It's good for you and good for everyone.

If you weren't doing this, what would be your dream job?

You won't believe it but the church. My father truly lives what he believes. He's a senior member of Opus Dei. None of us were but the church is important to me. I embrace it but I also hit out at it. Yes, I could see myself in the church but obviously I couldn't behave myself.

Do you go to church?

I'm a church prostitute. My attendance is sporadic, but I love going. I'm sure there'll be a turnaround and people will start going again. Even if you're a non-believer the music is amazing. And that feeling of sanctuary.

How do you relax?

I can't possibly answer that.

Thank you, Paul. It's been a real pleasure.

Interviewed by Jo Reynolds September 2017

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