Monday 16 October 2023


A picture of author Patrick Gale taken by Daniel Hall

Patrick Gale
jokingly confesses that he's never had what many would consider a “grown up” job but, with perseverance and an instinct for fascinating subjects, he has become a critically acclaimed author. From the BBC drama Man in an Orange Shirt through to his latest book Mother’s Boy, which looks at the life of the Cornish Poet Charles Causley, his seventeen novels have been described as “gripping”, “unflinching”, while at the same time being “playful and wise”. Now based down on the tip of Cornwall, I wanted to discover what scented secrets he would reveal during “Stephan’s Six”.

What is the first smell that you can remember?
Lavender. My mother grew it everywhere we lived and would cut it to dry on tea trays in a sunny spot, before emptying and refilling lavender bags she made herself with offcuts from dressmaking. When I first set up house in my mid-twenties, I set about doing the same until a boyfriend told me lavender was the smell of old ladies. Sadly, where I live now, it’s really hard to make lavender thrive.

An advert for L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci
What perfumes did your parents wear?
My father always wore Old Spice by Shulton, which vividly conjures up the image of his shaving paraphernalia and his silver backed hair brushes - all the stuff that you spy on and are fascinated by as a little boy. My mother was never really faithful to one scent, although L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci was a favourite, but she would always emerge from the bath in a delicious cloud of Floris Rose Geranium Bath Oil, to which she was loyal from her late teens right through until her death.

What was the perfume of your twenties?
The first I bought myself, while actually still a teenager, was Eau Sauvage by Dior. I thought it was terribly daring and sophisticated because of the old school illustration used in the adverts, which gave a saucy glimpse of a man’s buttock as he stood at a bathroom sink. Funnily enough, I had a student fling with a designer who was working for Dior Men. So I spent a couple of giddy years wearing not only his Dior catwalk hand-me-downs but some spectacular pieces of early Gaultier, including some extraordinary lobster claw leather gauntlets that I’ve since donated to the V&A. He bought me my first bottle of Bel Ami by Hermes, saying it suited my skin better than Eau Sauvage, and I’ve remained faithful to it ever since, although you never seem to find it in duty free shops.

An advert for Old Spice Lime fragrance
What was your biggest perfume mistake?
In boarding school, once we were suddenly of an age to need deodorant, I tried to emulate my effortlessly manly father by asking for a can of Old Spice Lime. I had no idea what it would smell like, and it turned out to react particularly unpleasantly with the smell of boys’ dirty socks, so I was routinely humiliated by a master or matron coming into the dormitory, sniffing and asking “what is that GHASTLY smell?” I never bought a scented deodorant again and, for some years now, have made my own using unexpected things like Milk of Magnesia and arrowroot.

You can only choose one perfume?
I think perhaps as I’m a gardener, I’m especially drawn to elusive, natural scents. I’m repeatedly squirting myself with the testers for Eau de Pamplemousse Rose by Hermes, and so perhaps it’s high time I simply hung the expense and finally treated myself to a bottle.

What perfume should I try?
I would definitely say to try Bel Ami, that's if you can find any. It’s sexily musky without being unsubtle, with hints of leather and black pepper. Funnily enough, I think it smells equally good on men or women.

For more information about Patrick Gale you can visit his website at, and his latest book Mother’s Boy is available from Amazon and all good bookshops.

Photograph of Patrick Bell © Daniel Hall

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