In the pub, my boy!

I should like to be able to say that when Armageddon came, I was in the pub. But when, in 2020, a global pandemic hit and pub-goers across the land screamed ‘lock in!’, some spod in government misheard and ordered a lockdown instead. And so, fundamentally, the greatest opportunity of our lifetime — the chance,…

I should like to be able to say that when Armageddon came, I was in the pub. But when, in 2020, a global pandemic hit and pub-goers across the land screamed ‘lock in!’, some spod in government misheard and ordered a lockdown instead. And so, fundamentally, the greatest opportunity of our lifetime — the chance, in the future, to be able to answer a grandchild’s question, ‘Grandfather, where were you during the Great Pandemic of 2020?’ with the answer, ‘In the pub, my boy’ — has been taken from us.

Instead, forced closure was thrust upon us, and pub owners questioned why they’d ever bothered with insurance in the first place if the one exception in the small print is always the thing that’s just happened. It was the same for music touring. I had comprehensive coverage, with one exception — communicable diseases. How did they know!?

At the Fox & Pheasant, my pub in Chelsea, we used the time to do things you don’t usually get a chance to do in a business that runs seven days a week, 365 days a year: clean, purify and perfect. Our chefs dreamt up exciting new menus, and our front of house staff polished the dartboard. We made urinals look like crime scenes. But we also learnt something deeper and more important — that we were missed and yearned for, and when our doors opened again, people were happy. Because pubs are the greatest indicators that not just existence and survival, but life had returned.

When London, in its ’modern’ form, was created, the first buildings to go up weren’t nail salons or fried chicken takeaways — they were pubs, to which workers would retire each evening to be sated and fed, while the rest of the street was being built. Of the homes and houses around the Fox & Pheasant, the first to be built was the Fox & Pheasant itself. At more than 170 years old, it has seen war, disease and depressions come and go, but it has endured. For we are social beasts, who thrive on human interaction. And while I understand that pubs are the antithesis of ‘social distancing’, each year must have its catchphrase. 2021’s catchphrase will be different, and if we’re lucky it will  incorporate  the word ‘beer’.

And even if it doesn’t, I am still full of hope. Because out of hard times comes innovation and creativity. Someone might have used lockdown to invent something kinder than Twitter. Someone else might have painted something more profound than a Damien Hirst coloured dot, and someone out there, through accident or design, might just have used the pandemic to brew something fantastically, end-of-worldly, you’re beautifully, delicious — and just in case they have, you know where I’ll be…

by James Blunt

James Blunt is an English singer, songwriter, musician, record producer and pub landlord. He rose to fame with his 2004 debut album Back to Bedlam, including the singles, ‘You’re Beautiful’ and ‘Goodbye My Lover’. He bought the Fox & Pheasant in 2017, one of his favourite pubs in London, to save it from being converted into flats.

Fox & Pheasant 1 Billing Road, SW10 9UJ,

www.thefoxandpheasant.com