Made in Chelsea's playboy entrepreneur on fame, sexy sweets and Boris Johnson

Can 23-year-old Jamie Laing be the Hugh Hefner of the sweet world?

Making my way down Chelsea along the Kings Road, I dart off on a side street for the headquarters of Candy Kittens.

Entering the lobby, I see a large painting of the man I’m set to meet - Chelsea’s bad boy entrepreneur Jamie Laing. He’s depicted in a smoking jacket, doing card tricks as two women drape themselves on him - like a modern day Hugh Hefner.

It may not surprise you to know Jamie Laing carries himself as a cross between Playboy maverick Hugh Hefner and chocolate factory impresario Willy Wonka. He is heir to the fortune of biscuit goliath McVitie’s, with his great-great-grandfather Sir Alexander Grant credited with inventing the jaffa cake, digestive and rich tea biscuit. He carries on the sweet tooth tradition with his entrepreneurial venture being a “sexy sweet shop” with customers served by “Candy Kittens” (think a fun sort of Playboy bunnies).

Unsurprisingly for a mercurial Willy Wonka type, Laing isn’t there when I arrive. His staff doesn’t know whereabouts and gets to work chasing him up. He may be off in Watford, I’m told. Nevertheless, he’s gone off radar. His absence isn’t too odd, with two of the other directors off in Cologne at a sweet convention… a nice research trip if you can get it!

As we wait for Laing to surface, I end up talking to his colleagues. His staff are all young, hip, photogenic types that look like they’ve stepped out of a fashion catalogue - like Jack Wills. They’re buzzing with enthusiasm about Candy Kittens, showing off the jars of sweets, lollipops and assorted merchandise - “Candy” sweatshirts and “Pardy” pants, you name it. I pry into how business is going and they rush to tell reel off the facts.

There’s no light on how they’re doing exactly for things like turnover, profit and all that. But I’m told that Candy Kittens sweets are stocked in all of the UK’s branches of the plush department store Harvey Nichols. They’ve enjoyed a manic Christmas rush - with nearly 200 orders a day being made for Candy Kittens goodies and having to dealt with from their Chelsea HQ. Although they don’t have a fixed shop, the Candy Kittens team are plotting potential events and further pop-up shops, having done so before in places like the King’s Road which led to people queuing “down the street”. They also have “predominantly a large number of girls” as fans, which some may find surprising with the brand’s naughty tones.

Candy Kittens photoshoot

Finally the trill of a phone breaks our chat, it’s Jamie Laing! He has been trapped filming the latest series of the Channel 4 reality show Made in Chelsea and is winding his way back to the office.

After a lull, Laing charges into the office at a lightning pace. He dashes about like he’s the Duracell bunny. A brisk handshake and an apology for being late, Laing curses the Made in Chelsea producers banning the stars from using their phones during filming - as “we’re always on them in breaks”.

“I’m living three different lives at the moment. There’s a Made in Chelsea life, there’ s a Candy Kitten life and then there’s my real life,” he adds.

We settle down to talk Candy Kittens, but our conversation winds through a whole range of topics - from the perks of fame as an entrepreneur to how fantastic London Mayor Boris Johnson would be on a night out in Chelsea.

How did Made in Chelsea impact on Candy Kittens?

Huge amounts! I joined the show from the second season, when the producers didn’t understand how big it was going to be. They didn’t know how big they could make certain companies featured on it. Before I went on the show, I thought “right I’m going to promote my business”, which I did in the second and third season and made it huge. Now what they’ve done is they have cut down and you can’t do any business on the show or they want a piece of it. I was very lucky and got in before that.

You used the show to promote yourself?

Massively. I used the show first because I wanted to go into presenting and secondly for business.

If you don’t go into the show and have a mind-set of what you want to do, if you go into it and just want to be a reality star and look like a d*ck – sure! But I think you have to have credibility and a bit more meat to that.

Jamie Laing

Jamie Laing

Does everyone go onto the show to promote themselves?

Everyone goes on the show because they’d have an inkling of what it’s going to be like and that fame would be fun. There are going to be a few people who don’t do anything but go to different events and get paid for it and promote the show whereas there are a small few of us who go on the show to promote a business.

Ollie Proudlock who is also on the show… he is just upstairs! We work together. You have Francis, me, Proudlock and Amber who has actually left the show who do our own stuff.

What it’s like being a famous entrepreneur?

You have loads of options open up to you. If you look at someone like Richard Branson, he’s a famous entrepreneur and loved by a lot of people which only adds to it. If the face and CEO of a business is a known figure who is not hated and people enjoy, then their product becomes much more loved.

Candy Kittens Summer Store

Is it easier to get meetings with people?

Yeah, without a doubt. Strangely enough people want to meet people who have some sort of profile because it’s more interesting. I’m hardly a more interesting person than anyone else but that’s what people think! Because of the profile that Candy Kittens has and me personally, it does make it easier to get contacts and to have meetings to get closer to places.

Like Harvey Nichols?

Exactly. Would Harvey Nichols have taken Candy Kittens if it wasn’t Jamie Laing or Made in Chelsea who had brought the idea out? Exactly that.

But at the same time we’ve separated me from the brand. Previously, the photos of Candy Kittens would just be of me but now we’ve separated that.

Do you have to fend off requests to lend your name to brands?

Of course. A lot of brands have come to me with offers on “if you’d like to do this and do that” and you have to be very careful with what you do because the last thing you want is a lot of PR crap.

You can do everything, you can spend two years doing everything but then you’d be sold out and no one would want you. It’s important to pick things, but it’s also important that – if I did loads of stuff for candy kittens – everyone would just know me as Jamie Laing from Candy Kittens.

Therefore, the chance of me doing anything in confectionery would be very slim because of Candy Kittens.

How did you dream up Candy Kittens?

I never really wanted to go into business, the City or anything like that. I always wanted to work for myself; I never understood the concept of making other people richer. It’s a riddle. People have money in their pockets and it’s finding a way of getting that money into your pockets. Why would you do that for someone else?

Jamie Laing at the Candy Kittens launch party

Jamie Laing with Francis Boulle at the Candy Kittens launch party

If you find a concept of doing it, do it for yourself. I thought that if I was going into business by myself, what do I love? I thought that I love sweets, I love fashion and I love girls. Why not combine the three to make a business?

I believe that 90% of our demographic, or 80% is, girls. Young boys have PlayStation, rugby and Xbox. Young girls – all they have is idolising brands – Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Walt Disney or One Direction. If you create a brand that these girls love and they crave the brand, it’s endless what the brand could do.

Your brand aims for the same appeal as Justin Bieber and One Direction?

That’s the thing. One Direction did a pop up store in America and 40,000 people came for it in the first day, just because it was One Direction brand. The things in there can be complete crap but they’re buying into the brand. That’s what we’re trying to do, to make people love the brand.

What about the idea of Candy Kittens as a cross between Hugh Hefner and Willy Wonka?

It’s difficult because it’s based towards younger girls. But it is a mix between Hugh Hefner and Willy Wonka. Willy Wonka for his sweets, magic and imagination and then you’ve got Hugh Hefner with his sex appeal, suaveness. It’s more Hugh Hefner in the 60’s when Playboy was very beautifully shot and you didn’t see lots of fake boobs like you do now. It was more arty!

Do you see yourself more as a Hugh Hefner or Willy Wonka type of entrepreneur?

I see myself as a 50/50!

Hugh Hefner is a big idol of mine. I’ve got three idols, Peter Pan, Willy Wonka and Hugh Hefner. Two of them are real as well…! Those are my three idols and I love Hugh Hefner because he has always stayed young. If you stay young, you stay fresh, you stay original and you understand what is going on around you.

Jamie Laing Candy Kittens

Jamie Laing at a Candy Kittens shoot

As for business idols, you’d pick Hugh Hefner and Richard Branson?

Definitely. As for the third? I don’t know who I’d pick.

Francis Boulle?

Francis? [laughs] Oh imagine!!

I’d say Branson is amazing. He is a man of the people. I went on a Virgin flight once when he got up and thanked the whole plane at the end which I think is amazing.

How easy has it been starting up Candy Kittens?

We have been very lucky in a sense in that due to the show, I got the huge buzz around Candy Kittens. I launched on a night that an episode also came out and had a very friendly factory in Leicester. We said, “look we don’t want to buy stock because we have no idea of the orders, could we get the orders in first and then give you that?” and the owner said fine. We got something like £25,000 on the first night in turnover.

From there on, we had such a good relationship with the factory owner that we could just say “here are the orders”.

I haven’t had to raise that much capital until we did this Harvey Nichols deal. Fortunately I’m in a great situation where because of my background and thanks to my parents, I have been left a little bit of money with which I can fund the business. I personally invested and have had no other help, I’ve done it completely on my own.

Jamie Laing at a Candy Kittens photoshoot

Jamie Laing at a Candy Kittens photoshoot

Have you had approaches from investors?

I’ve never really needed the investment at the moment. We’re looking to get a permanent shop, that’s the dream. When we get a permanent shop, we’ll probably have to look for investment.

What’s the target for getting a permanent shop? A year?

I’d like one in the next few months. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but that’s the dream.

On my shop, I want two floors and a slide going from one floor to the next. I want crazy things, popcorn and candy machines everywhere. Willy Wonka’s emporium but with a London urban…

Would it be like the Google HQ which comes with a slide?

Google's California HQ

Exactly, like Innocent Smoothies having grass and hammocks everywhere.

If you create a store that has an amazing vibe and colour and energy, people go even if they don’t know what the brand is. A bit like Google and Facebook’s HQs.

Is the idea to have it in Chelsea, on the King’s Road for example?

It’s important to remember your roots, with Candy Kittens born in Chelsea.

King’s Road is a difficult one. You’ve got Jack Wills up the road which is a big brand. Rent on the King’s road is hugely overpriced, that’s why a lot of shops come up and then close down again.

It’s important to find a place that has the right demographic but isn’t too crazily expensive that you end up losing money each year.

Like Carnaby Street?

Carnaby Street would be good but I think it’s a bit older, a bit cooler. I’d love to do Oxford Street, Green Park, Kensington, Notting Hill, somewhere like that.

I’d love to put it next to a girls’ school, if I could find one. I’d do it! I’d lure them in with sweets! [laughs]

What’s your ambition for Candy Kittens over the next few years?

I’d love to take it around the world. It’d be huge in America due to the English vibe. I want to have shops in London, New York, L.A and all over the place.

I want to have 100 different gummy sweets, Haribo have 40 to 50 different packs of sweets. I’d love to be a mix between Victoria’s Secret and Haribo.

Bigger than Haribo?

I’d love to be bigger than Haribo. I’d love to be bigger than Facebook, YouTube and Google combined.

That’s great! On a personal note, where do you like to go out in London?

All over. The great thing about London is that there are so many different places and nothing compares with London. I go out wherever I can. I stay in this area, I go to the West End. If I had to choose clubs I’d say Salon, The Cuckoo Club, The Box, all of those kinds of places.

My friend circle is big, everyone knows everyone.

I don’t think I’m special at all. If anything, I’m untalented. I’m not a musician, an artist or an actor. I’m someone who has lucked my way into fame.

I don’t think everyone else on Made in Chelsea would say that…!

No they wouldn’t! But it’s important to realise that we’re in a society and we are not amazing musicians. We are reality stars.

Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch complained of mockery for being posh, do you find that as someone from Made in Chelsea?

It’s true! When I wanted to go into presenting, I have a great friend whose mum is very high up in Sky TV and I said ‘can you help me in presenting and get me onto TV shows?’

She said the problem was I was too posh and ‘no one can relate to you’. I said, “What do you mean I’m too posh?”

And she said, “If no one knows who you are and you appear on the telly and you’re a posh young boy, no one will like you. But if you get some sort of profile then they realise you are like that and it’d be fine.”

I think people now know what I’m actually like so it’s ok.

Being a London entrepreneur, what do you think of Boris Johnson?

I love him, I think he’s amazing. An old Etonian, hugely flamboyant and hugely posh but he has cut through the stereotypical public school boy image and is a man of the people. He will play sport and rugby tackle people and just be loud, which is great.

Boris Johnson rugby tackles a German footballer

Did you vote for him?

I didn’t vote for him. I actually have never voted… stupidly!

Do you think Boris would be a good laugh on a night out in Chelsea?

I think he’d be amazing! Have you seen his rugby tackle on the football pitch? When he hit that guy with his head! He’s hilarious! He doesn’t care either.

Lots of politicians care so much about their image, but if you remember that Boris got stuck on a zipwire, he doesn’t care what people think of him. That is the best way to present yourself.

Would Boris be even better as a Prime Minister?

I think he’d make a great Prime Minister. I think he’d be unbelievable. I think he has the spirit of Britain, he loves Britain which is why in the Olympics he did so well.

Thanks for your time Jamie and good luck with Candy Kittens!  

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