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Jodie Kidd on her new role as landlady of The Half Moon in Kirdford

PUBLISHED: 12:51 22 January 2018

Jodie Kidd at her pub The Half Moon in Kirdford near Billingshurst (Photo by Jim Holden)

Jodie Kidd at her pub The Half Moon in Kirdford near Billingshurst (Photo by Jim Holden)

Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036 01825 841157

Former supermodel and racing driver Jodie Kidd has taken on a new role as landlady in the pub where she celebrated turning 21. Duncan Hall visits The Half Moon to find out more

A recent Evening Standard article suggested former model Jodie Kidd was “putting the brakes on” by choosing a new career as a pub landlady in Kirdford.

It’s something Jodie laughs about as she introduces Sussex Life to her new business. “I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in my life,” says the 39-year-old, fresh from the kitchen where she is preparing for her first curry night. It’s one of several new Tuesday night monthly events she is spearheading at the Kirdford pub, alongside a quiz and epicurean event featuring foods paired with the pub’s wine range. Dressed in her kitchen gear her demeanour disproves any insinuation that Jodie is solely there to provide a dose of supermodel glamour. From selecting appropriate tunes on the pub’s music system, to fretting about the numbers set to taste the northern Indian offerings she has cooked it’s clear she is involved in all that is happening at the pub. “I thought we would get 20 to 30 people coming out for the first night,” she confesses as we walk outside to take some pictures in the failing light. “We’re having to turn people away – it’s a bit scary, but amazing too.”

Her association with the pub goes back many years – she celebrated her 21st birthday at The Half Moon. And her influence can be seen both inside and out. Jodie’s old polo sticks are crossed over the inglenook fire. A long bench near the front door is dressed with cushions made from the hessian material used to make horse feed sacks, held up with brass D-rings and leather straps straight from the tack room. Elsewhere on the walls are wood carvings made by volunteers from Help For Heroes, where Jodie is an ambassador. Her mother Wendy has planted the herb and vegetable gardens, which currently supply about 20 per cent of the food on the menu, as well as infusions for the cocktail menu. And Jodie is keen to keep everything as green and environmentally friendly as possible – reducing food miles, banning plastic glasses and composting kitchen waste for example.

News of Loxwood-based Jodie taking over the 15th century pub seeped out in May, but in fact she first took it on in January, launching six months of personally overseen refurbishment work ahead of its opening in June. The idea came when she and her business partners – “racing car friends” Chris Lee and Dan Elson – were heading out to Goodwood. “We had met in Chris Evans’ pub,” she says. “They were saying wouldn’t it be amazing to own a pub – so I said that funnily enough my local was up for sale.” The three popped in to have a look en route to Goodwood. “I had always been in love with it,” says Jodie, who is keen to point out this isn’t a vanity project. “This is a beautiful pub in such a beautiful village. It would have been such a travesty for the village to lose its pub.”

Decision made, she enlisted the help of her friend Tim Skinner from The Three Crowns in Wisborough Green to take her through the basics of running a pub – “I had no idea how to even order a keg.” He put her in touch with the pub’s project manager Gavin Roy, who together with his partner Louise comes from a hotel background. Gavin’s pride in what has been achieved already at the pub is obvious as he shows us around. “We’ve had a growth of 40 to 50 per cent of diners,” he says. “Our head chef Ben Varley comes from Gravetye Manor where he was the sous chef. And our executive head chef Andrew MacKenzie was head chef at Drakes Hotel in Brighton and recently moved from Handpicked Hotels. Ben is an up-and-coming chef, while Andrew has been around for a while.”

Outside has been transformed, with a large paved terrace populated by Alexander Rose furniture, a rebuilt 22ft deep well, handwoven willow fence and hardstanding on the former petanque court to host summer marquees. Inside the layout of the pub has been reimagined to emphasise not only the gastronomic side of The Half Moon, but also provide somewhere for drinkers to kick back without feeling like they have to buy a meal. “Before we changed the bar the pub was all restaurant – split into big tables,” says general manager Ed Nelson. “We wanted to make it so you could have a drink.” There are high tables, long benches and lots of small tables around a rebuilt oak bar. The copper finishes on the pumps and on equipment around the bar reflect the copper light shades already in place. The bar was shifted to allow more room for seating and easier access from the kitchen to different parts of the pub for staff.

The new oak bar at The Half Moon in Kirdford near Billingshurst (Photo by Jim Holden) The new oak bar at The Half Moon in Kirdford near Billingshurst (Photo by Jim Holden)

On the bar, alongside some guest ales including Long Man’s Jodie-referencing Long Blonde, is a signature ale – the Half Moon Eclipse made with five Sussex hops by Brolly Brewery, based only two miles away. “We are keeping everything as local as possible,” says Jodie. “We have a very strong undercurrent of doing what we think is right for the countryside and for the local pub. A pub is the British countryside – it’s where people can get together and have a moan, or a night out. It’s our social hub.

“It’s a very difficult industry – there are certain things and taxes that make it really difficult to make a pub profitable. There are a lot of moving elements – it’s about trying to find the right balance and ensure it’s going to run itself. To make it profitable in the pub world is a very tough thing.”

Jodie is keen to make the pub very family-orientated – creating a homely feel where people can come and have a cup of tea and a bar snack or book their Sunday roast. “We looked at the local pubs around here,” she says. “You’ve got the Lickfold Inn and The Leconfield [in Lickfold and Petworth respectively] which are amazing restaurants with high quality food. And then you’ve got the lovely proper pubs. We want to slip into the middle. We have a dining area where you can get dressed up and have a celebration, or you can come in with your dogs and still have some food.”

Jodie describes herself as Sussex born and bred, having been schooled in Midhurst and St Michael’s School in Burton Park, near Petworth. “I went to Wiltshire and Gloucestershire for a bit, but this is home,” she says. “Wherever I am in the world I have a yearning and magnetism to go back to the Sussex downs – it’s so beautiful. It’s home and where I belong. I love Goodwood and what Lord March has done there with the Revival, Festival of Speed and the golf courses and race tracks. You have Cowdray with the polo and farm shops – it’s such a magical place. My great friends run Hickstead too, so I

love going to watch showjumping there, and you’ve got so much else going on, from Petworth Literary Festival to concerts. Everything is here – but you’ve got to know about it, you have to read and research otherwise you don’t really hear about it. I like the idea of all of us getting together and supporting each other – experiencing the best of southern England.”

Being based at The Half Moon means she can also be around for her six-year-old son Indio, whose father is the Argentinian polo player Andrea Vianini. Indio now goes to school just down the road. Jodie’s only concession to her former jet-setting lifestyle is her charity work. It has seen her climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Help for Heroes, paddle the 70-mile journey of the Cockleshell Heroes from the Gironde estuary to the Bay of Bordeaux 75 years on for the Special Boat Service Association and captain a celebrity team around the new Crystal Maze in aid of Stand Up To Cancer. Later in 2018 she will be part of a three-boat team rowing 900km down the Zambesi River to support the Kafue River and Rowing Centre and Village Water highlighting fresh water issues in Africa. “I start training in January,” she says. “It will be hardcore. As well as rowing we will be studying the water quality and doing tests along the river, building wells and giving new water facilities throughout the area. It’s going to be fun, but I’m not thinking about it until the New Year.”

She’s not afraid of new challenges. “I very much think you have one life and I want to live it,” she says. “I also want to make my son proud and help other people. It’s in my heart and soul to try to give back. I have been very lucky in my careers, I’ve been very successful and if I can use my profile for positives that’s brilliant.”

The phrase which is normally attached to Jodie is “former model”, but now she describes herself as “pub landlady and television presenter”: “Modelling was a huge part of my life. I’m almost 40 now, it was in the past, part of my wonderful crazy world and career I had. I’ve moved through racing cars, polo and now I’m a pub landlady. It’s a very confusing life!”

The Half Moon, in Glasshouse Lane, Kirdford, is open from noon Tuesday to Sunday, until 11pm Tues to Fri, 11.30pm Sat and 10.30pm Sun. Food is currently available between noon and 3pm and 6pm to 9.30pm Wed to Sat, and noon to 4pm Sun.

Upcoming events include an epicurean night on the first Tuesday of every month, quiz night on the second Tuesday of every month and curry night, exploring different regions of India, on the third Tuesday of every month. There are also regular gourmet events, masterclass luncheons and special events for Valentine’s Day, Mothering Sunday and Easter, plus plans for a summer solstice party.

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