5 minutes with

Posted on July 8, 2019

There’s more to shop at the Mailbox this Black Friday, as we welcome Best of Britannia to the Urban Room for an exclusive pop-up event. From fashion brands including Genevieve Sweeney and Ross Barr, to urban homeware Stolen Form, there’s even The Sweet Potato Spirit Company – a Worcestershire-based company that exclusively creates spirits using sweet potato as its base ingredient!

Talking us through what it means to be British, Christmas gift inspiration and being inspired by the 90s, we caught up with Joe Pidgeon, co-founder and events director at Best of Britannia…

Joe Pidgeon, Best of Britannia at the Mailbox

Hi Joe! Let’s start with a little about you…

I’m originally from North West London, and actually started out in publishing. I’ve always had an interest in music, and for 10 years my job was working on a magazine called Touch, the official magazine for KISS FM. As part of that I got to meet some of the biggest artists (he tells us he’s met Beyonce, back in her the Destiny’s Child days!), and work on some incredible events, including parties for MTV and the Donnie Darko film premiere, so that’s where my passion for events stems from.

In 2001, when the internet really took off, it was much harder to create content for a magazine, because you could find it all instantly online. That was when I really decided to change career path and focus on the event side of things, and that’s still the main part of my job today here at Best of Britannia.

You’re one of the co-founders of Best of Britannia, a company designed to discover and promote the finest British brands. How did the idea of Best of Britannia come about?

I’ve always been a bit pernickety about what I buy, and like to know how things are made – some people call it fussy but I think it’s really important to know! It’s something that Antony, Esme (Joe’s co-founders) and I all have in common, so that was a great starting point from going in to business together.

The real turning point came in 2012 around the Olympics, when we found out that so many products for the Olympics were being made overseas. One example was the ‘Boris Bikes’ in London; we make some fantastic bikes here in Britain, yet it was all being outsourced at a time when the spotlight was firmly on the UK. It seemed crazy that there just wasn’t the confidence in British made products.

We actually did a Best of Britannia event just after the Olympics, when the feel-good factor was at its highest, and the response was incredible. We should be championing our own products when we get the chance to on that kind of scale.Best of Britannia Mailbox Birmingham

Best of Britannia is all about supporting British independent brands. Do you think that demand for both has increased in recent years?

Absolutely. There’s always been a demand for British made products, but surprisingly this is more from overseas, countries like China and Japan. It’s not about British pride, it’s about championing well-made products, that you know have been made by someone earning at least minimum wage, and working in a really positive environment – people are more conscious now, and the brands that we support come with that guarantee.

You’ll be showcasing a number of brands as part of Best of Britannia here at the Mailbox, but if you had to recommend just one for picking up a unique Christmas gift, which would you choose?

That’s an impossible question, because everything is so varied! There’s something to suit every budget, and it completely depends who you’re buying for; I’m going to sit on the fence so you’ll have to come and take a look for yourself!

You certainly champion being British, but what do you think is our best national tradition?

Without a doubt, fish and chips. I live in Brighton now, and there are some incredible places for really good fish and chips.

A little bird tells us that you’re inspired by the 90s – what is it about the decade that you love?

I was definitely inspired musically by that decade, because I spent so much time working at the heart of the industry. It’s also the time that I learnt to do what I do now; the passion everyone seemed to have back then has made me the person I am today.

You’ve recently launched your online store, allowing even more people to get access to some of the brands you showcase. What item is top of your Best of Britannia wishlist at the moment?

A Moulton bike, without a doubt. They’re beautifully built, really well-designed and are honestly a work of art – it’s like the Aston Martin of bikes.

sweet potato spirit company best of britannia mailbox birmingham

The Sweet Potato Spirit Co. is proudly based in Worcestershire, are there any other Midlands brands on Best of Britannia that we should know about?

Definitely – Ross Barr menswear is manufactured in Leicester, and Teddy Edward is from Wysall in Nottinghamshire.

And finally, what are your first impressions of Birmingham?

I actually like it, without meaning to sound so surprised! The Mailbox is a beautiful building, and I love the canals. It’s changed a lot in the last few years, it doesn’t feel as moody as it used to! Having said I like fish and chips earlier, I think I will have to go for a curry later; the best curry I have ever had was in Birmingham after all!

Best of Britannia is hosting an exclusive Black Friday pop-up in the Mailbox Urban Room until Sunday 27th November. Click here for more information.

Tags: 5 minutes withbest of britanniaBirminghambritishfive minutes withindependentshopping

Mailbox Sessions Takeover – 5 Minutes With Joanna Simon

5 minutes with

Posted on July 8, 2019

Mailbox Sessions Takeover

5 minutes with: Joanna Simon


The Mailbox Sessions are back with a bumper weekend of non-stop events. Marking one year since the relaunch, there’s plenty to choose from, with celebrations being hosted by Aluna, Gieves & Hawkes, Toni & Guy and many more. We’ll also be catching up with some of the guest hosts and stars of the events, as they take some time out of their busy schedules.

This weekend, award-winning wine specialist, Joanna Simon, joins us at the Mailbox for our very own wine tasting event – we caught up with her for five minutes:

1. Hi Joanna! Let’s start with a little about how you got to where you are…

I was very into food and cooking in my teens and I happened to pick up a book on wine. Something just clicked and I thought this is what I’m going to do. By the time I graduated from university, where I’d been heavily involved with the wine society (my parents probably thought a bit too heavily), I’d lined up a job in the wine trade.

From there, I moved pretty swiftly into writing about wine, editing a couple of specialist wine magazines before becoming The Sunday Times wine critic, which I did for years.

Along the way I wrote several books including Wine with Food, Discovering Food and The Sunday Times Book of Wine.

I’ve presented a wine series on BBC Radio 4, co-founded The Wine Gang, – an online monthly wine review magazine and wine events company that’s going from strength to strength, edited the food and drink pages for House and Garden Magazine, and travelled extensively to vineyard regions.

I also have my own website, which has weekly wine recommendations, recipes, restaurant reviews and so on. And of course, I love sharing the fun and excitement of wine, and wine and food, through hosting tastings and events.

2. The wine tasting session you’re hosting alongside Harvey Nichols sold out in a matter of hours. What can lucky ticket holders expect?

 I’ve chosen six wines from around the world that are delicious in their own right but which we’re also going to pair with Harvey Nichols charcuterie and cheeses. There’s a nod to classic wine styles but I’m also going to be introducing people to some really exciting new wave wines that they might not have thought of trying.

 3. We’ve heard you’re a fan of the wines at the Harvey Nichols Wine Shop. What’s your personal recommendation from there?

 It’s such a good selection of wines, it’s almost impossible to choose just one but I highly recommend Harvey Nichols own-label wines. They come from leading producers around the world and the labels are very stylish. If I was going to pick one, I’d say try the dry Australian Riesling. It’s a very underrated style of white wine and food-friendly.


4. If a novice walked into the Wine Shop and wanted to shop to impress an expert such as yourself, what advice would you give them before they went in?

Be adventurous! Instead of heading for the famous, recognisable names, go off piste and pick out wines that you don’t know anything or much about.

 5. You’re part of a busy weekend here at the Mailbox. What other events have caught your eye and why?

The Cocktail Masterclass – for new ideas and inspiration, and I’d love to see the dishes Richard O’Connell is cooking up at Tom’s Kitchen.


6. Obviously, there’s a different wine for every meal. With Christmas on the horizon, which wine should be on the table for turkey and the trimmings this year?

I think red goes better with turkey, so I recommend Pinot Noir because it’s good at coping with all the trimmings as well as the bird. Also, white wine drinkers are usually happy with it because it’s not a heavy, tannic red. I’d go for a New Zealand or Chilean Pinot Noir.

7. You’ve been lucky enough to travel with your work. Where’s your favourite spot on the whole globe? You don’t have to say Birmingham…

There are so many lovely wine regions but I’ve been on two trips to Italy recently – Bolgheri, close to the Tuscan coast, and to Valpolicella near Lake Garda. It reminded me how beautiful Italy is. I also spend a lot of time in southwest France in a remote spot not far from the Cahors wine region.

8. You’ve presented on BBC Radio 4 – let’s hop over to another show on there and play Desert Island Drinks – one wine, one cocktail, one non-alcoholic drink, one book (or boxset, it’s 2016) and one luxury item (we’ve given you a corkscrew).

Champagne. Negroni. Freshly squeezed blood-orange juice. I don’t think I can claim to need any of my own wine books but I’m hoping to find some vines growing on the island and so I’d like Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. It covers more than 1368 vine varieties and tops 1200 pages so it’ll keep me going for a long time.

As for the luxury, I shan’t need the corkscrew (but thank you anyway). I’d like a supply of vintage Champagne. I’ll find a cool cove, cave or stream in which to chill it.

9. Imagine we’ve given you a £500 gift card to spend on a new autumn/winter wardrobe at the Mailbox, but the rule is that you can only spend it at one shop. Where do you head for your shopping spree?

I’d be off to Armani Collezioni!


10. And finally, if you could share a bottle of wine with any celebrity, living or dead, who would have the other glass and why?

The Reverend Richard Coles! He was one half of the band, The Communards, in the 1980s and now presents BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live (when he’s not being a vicar).

He always sounds such fun and so grounded. He got to the semi-finals in Masterchef, so I know he likes food and cooking, and I’m assuming he likes wine too.

Tags: Dr Sam Buntingharvey nicholsMailboxmailbox sessionsWine

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