When I first became head of Barbour Sporting having finally decided to go into the family business at the tender age of 44, I knew very little about the shooting world. I’d taken some clay lessons with my best friend over the years (but mainly just for fun and something new to do) and had only been along to a handful of game days with Barbour. I was a complete novice. Also I’m a real townie so the ways of the countryside and its pursuits were rather foreign to me.
I met Claire Zambuni one drunken July night last year at the Gamefair. I say drunken - I was totally sober (driving) but she, by no means was. She was being ably accompanied by her lovely friend James who proceeded to make an impression by falling off a picnic bench. I say falling off - I mean he collapsed it. Fair enough it already had ‘previous’ as not 5 minutes earlier another far more portly gentleman had decided to plonk his rather large behind down on it collapsing it much to the hilarity of everyone present. Anyway I digress...That was my first impression of the famous Claire Zambuni – the goddess of shooting and by all accounts a mean shot. Loud, wild, tall, gorgeous and hilarious. She told me about some Covert Girls thing which sounded quite interesting and which I just ‘HAD to join’ so we exchanged numbers and I thought no more about it.
To my surprise, whilst sunning myself on holiday a few weeks later I received a text from Claire asking me if I would like to join her for a private dinner party at a bistro in North London that specialises in weird and wonderful game dishes. She said that I would love it, that I HAD to take up shooting (she gets very enthusiastic) and with nobody other than her, and that I would meet some lovely ‘Covert Girls’ on the night who would assure me that shooting was my thing and who would also be at a shoot she was organising in Norfolk for the end of September.
I decided to take her up on her offer because I thought she was actually quite a good laugh and if she was, then her friends would be too. I also knew that as the new head of Barbour Sporting I really should take up shooting and she was obviously the woman to point me in the right direction! I arrived by taxi and approached her table. She didn’t recognise me at first (nor I her) on account of the lack of wellies and tweed (ie Gamefair clobber) and the presence of makeup and pretty dresses but soon enough I was sitting down at the table and chatting to the most lovely bunch of girls. What followed was a wonderful evening of delicious game, very friendly conversation and lots of wine! As far as I can remember there was a divorce lawyer, ....claire please fill in the blanks!!! .... and none other than the reigning Olympiad Charlotte Kerwood – I was in very impressive company.
So some weeks later I found myself sitting for what seemed like days on the train to Norfolk from Newcastle (where I live) for my first shoot. I had in the meantime decided to take on a private instructor who specialised in teaching women - a very handsome shooting instructor called Simon Britton. As I hadn’t got my act together quickly enough we hadn’t actually started my lessons (eeekkk!) so fearing the worst ie I’d make a total fool of myself/shoot someone/shoot someone’s dog/not shoot anything I decided to kill two birds with one stone (so to speak!!) and took him with me to teach me in situ and also to load as I imagine my cack handed attempts at putting the cartridges in the barrels would take me all day and I’d miss all the birds (not that I had much hope of actually getting any).
I was also a little concerned about actually killing something! I’d never fired a gun at anything living before so wondered how I would actually feel about it. As it was it didn’t bother me in the slightest and on the 1st peg, 2nd cartridge with a 28 bore I got my first partridge - – that’s pretty good I’ll have you know! Although looking back it wasn’t natural talent which I told myself it was, but beginner’s luck – it hasn’t stopped me boasting about ever since though. I decided that I had to mark the occasion (with what has now become a tradition for me) so I decided that I would take my little birdy home with me and get it stuffed. Not with Sage and Onion however but by the taxidermist. I also had to think of a name for him (all pets have to have names don’t they?) so I named him after the most significant person that day...Simon.
Simon now has pride of place in my living room.
My Autumn was taken up with Barbour and my children and other Covert Girls events, but I was very lucky to be invited by Claire to an end of season shooting weekend at Glanusk in Wales at the end of January. My second shoot and what a fantastic time we all had! I have to say (and I know how wrong this sounds!) but the shooting was only part of it. The new friends, breathtaking scenery and fresh air, sense of camaraderie and good natured competition made the weekend so special. My shooting even got better (even though it was minus gawd knows what) and I shot my first cock pheasant (Andrew, my loader) and hen pheasant (Claire, the one and only) which are still sitting in my freezer waiting to be stuffed (much to my children’s horror).
But the fun didn’t stop out of season. Claire asked me to two clay shoots (both in the same week!!! Now that’s keen for you!) One was the DVL challenge which was my first attempt at competition shooting clays (very different from birds – they ‘fly’ differently! And don’t flap around) where I met a whole host of new people and then after that a wonderful driven clay day at Hilldrop Farm. There have been several other very varied events that I could have attended as a Covert Girl, but being so far away and having 3 children, it’s not always possible for me to attend, much to my disappointment.
I was at the Gamefair again this year officially for Barbour as I launched ‘my’ new collection of shooting clothing – is it really only a year since I met Claire? - and all the CG were there and we partied hard! Claire organised a get together for us all on the Saturday and it was so nice to see so many new and old friends. Shooting has a way of giving you a kind of immediate bond that I can’t think any other sport or activity does.
My most recent achievement is that having applied for and been awarded my shotgun licence (thought I better!) I am now the proud owner of a shotgun! I went along to EJ Churchill’s and the very helpful Adam Calvert helped me choose a gun and fitted it to me. Remarkably once I tried out the fitted gun I got monumental 11 clays out of 12. Amazing what a properly fitting gun can do!
It hasn’t only been the new pursuit of shooting that I’ve enjoyed as a now official Covert Girl I have made some wonderful new friends can also now speak with some level of authority as head of a sporting clothing brand and look at our brand with new eyes.
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