George Bamford is sitting in a matte-white cathedral with a quartet of cameras on him. It used to be the other way round – he used to be a high-profile fashion photographer, a protege of none other than David Bailey. But now, the camera lenses are trained on him. And more importantly, the [watch] on his wrist.
I’m watching him from the green room mezzanine at Iris, his cathedral-like photography studio hidden in a cobbled mews behind a regal West London street. If you didn’t know where to look you might never find it, but it’s worth the quest, and the watch on his wrist – an Aquaracer reimagined in smoked black and vitamin-fresh orange – is worth the wait.
Shoot over, we pulled Mr Bamford out of the spotlight for a backroom conversation. “Do I need my cheat sheet?” he asks. But we tell him there’ll be no cheating today – we’ll be going straight to the good stuff.
The Edge: Do you like having the cameras on you?
Bamford: No I hate it! [he laughs] There was a reason why I was a photographer – it’s because I like being behind the camera, not in front of it! Today has been awesome to do, though.
There’s an ebullience that bursts out of his trademark bomber jacket. He’s serious yet not serious, in the right balance. He’s wearing a blue bandana – the only face covering, he tells me – hot tip – that doesn’t make one’s glasses fog up. As we pass a table full of snacks, he recommends the chocolate brownies. Says they’re awesome.
The Edge: We’re going to keep it kind of a little bit away from the collaboration, but for readers who might not know the full story, can you summarise the watch in three words?
Bamford: Clever question…
The Edge: Don’t use up your words!
Bamford: Ok, ok. Ultimate, tool, watch.
The Edge: Speaking of which, it’s an underwater watch, how deep have you ever dived, or are you more tempted to do an Icarus and fly close to the sun?
Bamford: Oh, diving every time. I love the freeness of it; the way you feel like you’re floating in space. How deep have I gone? I’ve gone deep enough that I could only spend two, three minutes down there. That was when I was trying to clock up everything from Night-Time dives, to wreck dives, to shark dives. I was one of these diving junkies – special mixtures of oxygen and all that stuff. But…I haven’t gone diving recently because I’ve had three accidents scuba diving…
The Edge: So a kind of underwater Icarus in some ways then?
Bamford: Exactly. Perhaps I pushed myself a little too hard on that front. Now I’ve toned it down a little.
The Edge: In general, are you a sporting man?
Bamford: Yes. But these days, more of the running, cycling, and climbing variety. Not group sports. I used to be a group person, but now I kind of max out at two, three people.
The Edge: Do you drive fast?
Bamford Hell yes.
The Edge: Go on then – what’s the average speed on your dash?
Bamford: Well, officially, the average speed is exactly what the speed should be at the speed limit, of course.
The Edge: But in a safe space, what might one say?
Bamford: Well if I’m on a racetrack, then I go… well, I go as fast as I humanly can. You’re always competing with someone when you’re on a racetrack, so it’s only right to put your foot down.
The Edge: Your creations are known for their imagination and reinvention – that must bring with it a certain kind of pressure to keep it fresh. On top of that, there’s also the pressure of entrepreneurship in general. Is pressure something you enjoy?
Bamford: Honestly? Yes. I’ve got a quote from Winston Churchill on the wall of my office – “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” For me it’s about every single day getting up and saying, are we enjoying the day? Am I going to get up and just do it? When you’re a photographer, you’re only as good as your last thing. Same with watches – I’m only as good as the last watch I’ve created. But that’s a good thing – it makes every day different.
The Edge: And you’re never concerned that this kind of creative force or energy will diminish in any way?
Bamford: Inspiration changes! You’ve just got to play with it. Enjoy it. At the moment, no one’s travelling, so my inspiration has come from different places – books, TV, social media, conversations and things that are more insular. It’s given me a bucket list of things I want to do next. When we’re out of all this, I want to take this watch, and I want to go to Lalibela. They’re the most beautiful – the most, most beautiful – churches in Ethiopia. They’re up in the hills, and on cliff faces, and cut out of the ground and just hard-to-believe beautiful. And I have to go there. I don’t know why. It’s just drawing me – the colours, the whole. I want to go and climb. I’ve seen photographs and now I’m just desperate to see them in real life.
The Edge: So lockdown has been a research period. That sounds like a very good use of the time!
Bamford: What do you want to do? Do you want to come out of lock down either like Thor that’s been sat home with a big belly, or do you want to come out as super fit Thor? I know which one I’d like to be…
The Edge: Speaking of indulgences though, do you have any? It’s coming up to Christmas, so maybe that’s something for the gift list of the man who has many things.
Bamford: This watch. Honestly, if I was going to have a gift to me – this would be it. I made it as my kind of ideal thing. Other than that, it would be the indulgence of time with my family. Being with them. Cooking for them.
The Edge: What’s your signature dish?
Bamford: My kids will say Bolognese. My wife will say Marmite Bread.
The Edge: Marmite bread? Is it kind of threaded through? A little marbled?
Bamford. Exactly. But my real signature dish is homemade ravioli with a little egg.
The Edge: A yolk in each one? And what sauce are we doing – sage and butter?
Bamford: Yes something like that, because it’s just got to pop through, I’d keep it simple. Fresh cut tomatoes.
The Edge: You can tell we’re hungry. We’re like – tell us more about the ravioli! But anyway, back to business. Your family motto is “Jamais content”.
Bamford: Yes. “Never content”. Or always find a better way.
The Edge: We were going to ask, on the basis of that: what does it feel like to live inside your head? Do you see the world as full of objects to be optimised? Is it a kind of penetrative night-vision?
Bamford: I’ve had friends say to me – about my music taste amongst other things – that living inside my brain must be nuts. And I would say “no, it’s not”. I’m not one of these people that needs to change everything, but I can just look at something and think, “oh, my God, I want to do it like this instead”. I rely on my gut. But the truth is – if I’m toughest on anything, it’s on myself.
The Edge: What to you – in terms of like design objects that exist – is already perfect. Kind of un-Bamfordizable, shall we say?
Bamford: That’s a good question. You know, if you’re an alien looking down on this world, you’d think about humans and how perfect they are. We really are exceptional pieces of design. On the watch front, I have a huge love for the Heuer Skipper. How do you get more perfect than that?
The Edge: Agreed. It’s a glorious watch. What is the strangest thing you collect?
Bamford: The strangest? Hmm.. vintage stopwatches – but I guess that’s still a little on brand. I get these boxes made for each one and put them up on the wall in my office….
He gets out his phone to show us. The framed stopwatches – the majority vintage Heuer – are handsome, inset.
The Edge: There’s something about them that brings to mind miniature platinum records…
Bamford: Exactly. They shine in just the right way. Oh and vodka! My other strange collection. When I used to drink occasionally, I collected Vintage Russian vodka from before the war. It had to be before the war! Because there’s different tastes, you see.
The Edge: What’s your career in a parallel life? Your Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda.
Bamford: I never regret anything.
The Edge: Mic drop.
Bamford: Honestly, I believe that whatever failures and whatever successes I’ve made, it’s taken me to the point where I am today.
The Edge: So you’re not harbouring a secret desire to be an opera singer or anything like that?
Bamford: I wish I could play the piano. In that totally fluent way, you know? There’s an amazing man that taught himself how to play the piano in a year in his free time. On Youtube of all things! You hear him playing and you’re just like: Wow. How the hell did you do that? It’s nuts.
The Edge: When it comes to things that you want to do but haven’t yet done. Does that feel good to you? Do you feel restless, tormented, excited?
Bamford: Constantly restless. I look at every day and think, how can we do better?
The Edge: What time do you wake up?
Bamford: 5am, of course.
The Edge: That’s a decent start. How do you know when to stop?
Bamford: Work wise I never stop! But when it comes to customizing, I follow my gut. When I’m designing something like this watch, I throw everything at the kitchen sink. I get all the ideas, whack them all up at the wall – boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And then then we start paring down. And it really is the refinement of edits. Edit, edit, edit. Until it becomes reality.
The Edge: Do you prefer the throwing of the kitchen sink, or the editing?
Bamford: For me it’s that moment where I go – “Oh, my God, that’s the thing!” The thing that makes me want to steal it.
The Edge: Nickability –
Bamford: That’s the sign of a good watch. If I want to steal it, if I want it on my wrist. With this new Aquaracer, for example, I hate that the watch is downstairs. I hate it that it’s not on my wrist. it genuinely annoys me.
The Edge: As a kid, you used to love to take things apart and put them back together. Is there anything you couldn’t take apart or couldn’t put back together?
Bamford: There’s a hell of a lot of things I couldn’t put back together….
The Edge: What was the one that you got the most in trouble for?
Bamford: Maybe our TV at home? I was eight or nine.I took the whole thing to bits.
The Edge: Any electric shocks along the way?
Bamford: No, because I used to know most of that. It was an old kind of tube TV –
The Edge: This is pre Youtube, folks! It’s how they got the name.
Bamford: Yeah. But I whacked one of the things and shattered the back of the TV. We didn’t have a TV for a while after that…
The Edge: So you paid the price…
Bamford: And I still don’t learn! Even during lockdown, I took a radiator out of a car and I put it back in, and it works. But do I trust it? I want a second opinion.
The Edge: That shows a decent level of humbleness…
Bamford: I’d be quicker at stripping a watch than my watchmakers, and I’m quicker putting it back than them. I’ll be honest – I don’t have their technique… But when we have a race, in terms of pure speed, I’m still faster.
The Edge: A little bit of competition will always do it… Which brings me to this magazine. What does ‘The Edge’ mean to you?
Bamford: You know what it makes me think of? Ridge riding in Utah. You’re on horseback and you’re high up on the edge and there’s nothing to protect you and it’s mind blowing. Edges are something I always think about. The fine line between sanity and madness. Same with life and death. Skiing, scuba diving – I was always at the edge. You need to be at the edge – right at the edge and pushing at it.
The Edge: You once said “the only way to predict the future is to create it”…
Bamford: It’s exactly that. You have to push the future, you have to create it yourself. Luck is a huge part of it – but you have to make luck as well. You have to be active in life. Otherwise you will not find what you’re looking for. You won’t find a partner, you won’t find a business. If you’re sitting at home not doing stuff, what the hell are you doing? You’re wasting your life.
The Edge: We’ll give you an elbow bump on that one. We’re going to wrap this up, but lastly – you’re a man who’s been interviewed a lot. Is there a question you’ve been dying to be asked , that you haven’t been asked yet?
BAMFORD: It’s a question I always ask others. It’s about the core elements that define a person. We’ve mentioned a couple of my key mantras, but I always think about that. What is the quote that defines a person, and makes them who they are. If you cut me open, for example. what would you find?
The Edge: I’ll get my knife –
Bamford: And on that front, I have a new quote…
He reaches into his pocket and hands us a card. A paper card that might be a different type of person’s business card – but Mr Bamford’s real business card is made of metal, a solid, pleasant weight that you’d notice in your pocket. This card has a different purpose. We turn it over. “If I were everyone’s cup of tea, I’d be a mug”
The Edge: That’s excellent.
Bamford: I have loads of cards…
The Edge: All with different messages?
He hands us another. It says ‘That’s sick’.
The Edge: This is incredible. You have a full George Bamford playing card set…
Bamford: I’ve always liked the idea of handing somebody something that makes them smile. I’ve got swear words in here, funny things, all sorts. I just think, if you can give someone something that they weren’t expecting, it makes a moment memorable…
The Edge: And what a wonderful place to end that, George. Now we’ve liberated you of a card, you’re free to go.
Bamford: A free man at last! Thank you. You’re free too. Do you want to come and see my vintage watches?
We go downstairs. From a leather holdall he pulls out two leather sheaths, butter soft. They unfold to reveal a collection – not all his collection, mind – of vintage Heuers and TAG heuers. A curvaceous, brushed-steel Heuer Ferrari chronosplit, Monacos, Carreras.
We joke that he could almost, almost be a door-to-door salesman. Albeit a very high end one. But no, these are sticking with Mr Bamford. He isn’t quite sure what he’ll be wearing this weekend, so it’s a remnant of scout’s honour, and another neat little quote: Always Be Prepared.
Revealing the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Bamford Limited Edition