Steve Benbow is a professional beekeeper who runs the London Honey Company. He runs courses for beginners, sells high-end honey and beeswax products and looks after hives for prestigious companies around the capital, the likes of Fortnum and Mason and Tate Modern.
Successful people are rarely popular with everyone, and Steve does appear to be a contentious figure amongst London beekeepers. I’ve heard him described as a ‘wheeler-dealer’, while some question how much of the honey marketed as ‘Fortnum and Masons’ and sold in the store is really produced on the rooftop – and whether bees should be kept high up on urban rooftops at all. (Edit 12/10: Steve has sent me a tweet to say “Thank you for my book review.. just for the record every jar of Fortnum’s rooftop honey is produced on the roof on their store”).
Others greatly admire Steve’s charisma, charm and entreprenurial spirit. Deborah DeLong at Romancing the Bee has a fab blog post on her tour of Fortnum’s hives this year, ‘Tea With Fortnum’s Beemaster Steve Benbow‘. Check out the comments too for an interesting response by Angela Woods, secretary of the London Beekeeping Association.
I tried to keep an open mind as I read on, and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was drawn in by Steve’s laid-back, humorous writing. This is not a beekeeping manual, but more of a diary of life as a professional beekeeper on the road, moving hives up and down the country in search of the perfect forage, racing between roof tops trying to prevent bees intent on swarming from doing so onto a nearby lamppost. Plenty of useful tips are passed on along the way; for instance, don’t inspect your bees at night because bees crawl up you rather than fly in the evenings.
It’s clear that he’s not your average beekeeper – at one point he has an actress girlfriend whose name he later sees lit up in lights on a West End theatre. Dates are fitted in-between hours of heavy lifting, so that he often turns up scruffy and stinky – yet still it doesn’t seem like he has a shortage of interested ladies! But he does share with many beekeepers a passionate love for cakes, so much so that he lists his top five… and ‘cakes’ has an entry in the index. So, Steve’s top five cakes are: Battenberg, Jam tarts, Ginger cake (“can be moulded into balls and smuggled in through a tiny gap in the zip of the veil”, Eccles and Welsh cakes.
I disagree with the book’s back cover claim that it “tells you everything you need to know about keeping bees”, but recommend it as a fascinating insight into a way of life that very few of us would have the stamina to lead.
By the way, if you choose to buy this book or indeed any other items from Amazon, please consider going through the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Fundraising page. Each time you access Amazon.co.uk via their link and make a purchase this brilliant charity receives a donation worth 8% of your total purchase, at no extra cost to you.
More about Steve:
- Steve Benbow, Beekeeper at Tate Modern
- The Bees of Buckingham Palace – photos of Steve and his bees at Fortnum & Mason
- The Urban Beekeeper – book review by Telegraph writer & beekeeper Ian Douglas