With the return of Jazz on The Pantiles and a specialty food festival taking place this month on the city’s famous promenade, we speak to lead events organizer Julian Leefe-Griffiths, who also owns the Tunbridge Wells Hotel, what he likes to do in Tunbridge Wells…
Where do you live?
We used to live right in the middle of Tunbridge Wells, just off the Common, but have recently moved to a beautiful country location just outside Rotherfield. I loved living in town because it was so easy to get to work and enjoy all the amenities Tunbridge Wells has to offer. But now I enjoy the peace and quiet of an empty field and a view of the South Downs.
How long have you lived in Tunbridge Wells and what made you move there?
We had been in town for about 12 years and moved a little over two years ago. Hungershall Park was an amazing place to live because it felt like the countryside but a short walk down Cabbage Stalk Lane and you were right in The Pantiles so it was a fab place. We finally moved because we really wanted a bigger garden and a space to relax…. So now a farm in the countryside is our home.
What is your favorite store locally?
That’s a tricky question… without disturbing half the town! I go to Sankey for fresh fish and Bicycle Bakery for bread and pastries and Fuller’s farm shop is on the way back! They are all excellent. I still have a fondness for the men’s department of Hoopers and Fenwick. I also think Walsh Brothers jewelers are a great asset to the city. If you need a watch strap repaired, they are fantastic! I know it’s not an everyday thing, but it’s great service.
Where is the best place to go for a Sunday walk?
Why The Pantiles of course!
And the best place to have a cup of coffee?
Well, I’m biased, so as the owner of the Tunbridge Wells Hotel, I have to say there. There is also excellent full English to enjoy too.
Where do you take people when they come to visit you?
We start at The Pantiles, then head up the High Street and end at The Commons.
How is the nightlife where you live?
I now live in a dark field but in Tunbridge Wells the Forum is a fantastic place. I may be 60 but I still go there – it’s a gem in town.
I also like, as you might guess, Jazz on The Pantiles, which runs from the first week of May until the end of September. It really is the number one place to be on a Thursday night.
What is your favorite place to eat locally?
Outside of the Tunbridge Wells Hotel, I like to eat at Sankey’s Fishmarket, as does The Ram at Firle. It’s a bit of a drive but well worth it. I also hear The George and Dragon at Speldhurst, which is one of my old sites, which is good again. I would like to go there, but it might be weird after 15 years there!
Are there any nice views nearby?
My back garden has a great view of the southern downs. It’s especially special when my wife is in it.
If you are looking to relax and unwind, what is your favorite place?
I actually ride a Husqvarna 350cc dirtbike to relax! I usually go to Action Trax in Tunbridge Wells and Dessert Rose in Battle. I love it! And it’s weirdly so relaxing because you can’t think of anything else when you’re cycling at this speed.
What do you do when you spend a weekend or a day off in the area?
If I’m not at work, I love to play tennis at the Nevill. It’s a brilliant club with great facilities and courts.
Why do you like where you live?
It’s a combination of things. It is not only the city itself that is beautiful, but also the people who live there. Although hospitality is quite competitive, you might be surprised to learn that many of us are very good friends outside of work. Antony Scragg (The Spa), Nick Moore (Salomons), Matt Sankey (Sankey’s) and Brian Whiting (WH Pubs) are all fantastic people. It may also sound mental, but I have two families: my work family is amazing. We have been together through thick and thin (especially Covid) for over 10 years. I work with amazing, committed people and also try to be a good boss who supports me. Family is also super important. I have two adorable daughters and a smart, supportive wife. Without it, for me, the game wouldn’t be worth playing.
And besides running the hotel, you’re also involved in a number of other events, aren’t you….
As many people know, I run Jazz on The Pantiles as well as two food festivals and two gin festivals. Without the sponsorship and help of local businesses, this would be an impossible job, so I think we’re lucky not only to have a great city to live in, but also to be surrounded by great businesses and the people who run them. Yes, sometimes things are difficult, but with nice cooperation from people, sometimes you can create something magical and worthwhile.