A bird that flew – JD Wetherspoon’s founder

A bird that flew
A bird that flew

Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of highstreet pub chain JD Wetherspoon, is discussing the ambition and dreams of youth.

First the unmet aim from the distant days of the late 1970’s, the one that got away. “I was 22 years old studying law. I had already chucked it in once to spend six months in a pork pie factory,” he recalls. “What I really wanted to do was to be a great squash player.”

The 6 foot 6, roughly 16 stone, Martin laughs loudly at the idea. “I gave up being a second row in rugby, something I was really good at, to realise my squash dream. It was a mad thing to do. I might as well have said I wanted to be a professional jockey! It was never going to happen. I had to face reality.”

Presumably that meant buckling down and going back to the law books? “No, no,” Martin laughs again. “I never had any intention of practising law. I was even worse at law than I was at squash!”

The second youthful aim came in the early 1980’s when he had only a few pubs under the JD Wetherspoon name. “I went to the bank manager and told him that I could operate 1,000 pubs. He looked at me with that kind of look which means ‘Oh-oh. I’m dealing with a nutter here.’ He said to me ‘Don’t tell anyone else about this or I will withdraw your facility’,” Martin smiles. “But really early on I thought we could get to a 1,000.”

He looks around the Shakespeare’s Head pub in Holborn, London. It is one of the current 936 JD Wetherspoon pubs throughout the UK. Martin is almost at that magical number.

“We can do more,” he says. “We’re looking at 20-30 pubs opening every year. The demand today is similar to the demand then. The echoes are there. People want pubs with a wide variety of beers at great prices.”