After her snog with Matt Hancock was exposed, Gina Coladangelo has reportedly called time on her 12-year marriage to Oliver Tress, with whom she has three children. Tress, 54, is the founder of Oliver Bonas, which sells jazzy furniture, fashion and knick-knacks to the middle classes. The chain’s success has netted Tress a cool £12m.
So there’s no real Oliver Bonas?
No. The company is named after Anna Bonas, Tress’s girlfriend when he opened his first shop. She’s the cousin of one of Prince Harry’s exes, model and actress Cressida Bonas. Anna seems to have tried to reclaim her surname at one point – a jewellery and fashion shop called Anna Bonas did business in Notting Hill for a few years. It has now closed, while Oliver Bonas has expanded to almost 80 locations across the UK, as well as one in Dublin.
Tress sounds well connected. How did he start out?
In a manner befitting his shop’s well-to-do clientele. A banker’s son, he was born in Henley-on-Thames, but had what he has called a “blissful” peripatetic childhood, living in, among other countries, Sudan, Nigeria, South Africa and the Netherlands. After boarding at Marlborough College, he studied anthropology at Durham. When his parents moved to Hong Kong, he began giving friends watches and handbags that he’d bought while visiting them. Eventually he began shipping over jewellery in larger quantities – and, spurning the corporate grad schemes his peers were signing up for, he set up the first Oliver Bonas shop in 1993 on Fulham Road.
How did that go?
Pretty well. He bought a second-hand till for £60 and paid his flatmates in beer to decorate the premises, then took £1,000 on his first Saturday. A university friend, Tim Hollidge, came on board in 1999 as the numbers man – they are the company’s only two shareholders. Sales plummeted by 20% in 2008, during the financial crisis – Oliver Bonas doesn’t scream “austerity Britain” – but since then the brand has gone from strength to strength. It made a £2.7m profit in 2019 and employs about 1,200 staff. Tress has used the proceeds to buy a £4m house in Wandsworth, south London, and a second home in West Sussex.
What’s the Oliver Bonas formula?
Tress says it’s summed up by a Hans Christian Andersen quote: “Just living is not enough: one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.” Presumably Tress thinks that’s reflected in the store’s eccentric range of products. Currently available in its online shop are: a £325 rattan drinks trolley; a £135 lamp with a leopard stand; a £19.50 “gluggle jug” shaped like a fish, which glugs when you pour; and a pink, hotel concierge-style bell inscribed with the legend “Ring for rosé!”, yours for the princely sum of £5. Tress puts his bric-a-brac style of retailing down to having a short concentration span.
And who buys all this stuff?
Middle-class women, mostly – an Oliver Bonas opening on your high street is a Waitrose-style marker of gentrification. In her History of the World in 100 Modern Objects, Francesca Hornak sketches out the typical owner of an Oliver Bonas cake stand: “Izzy, who rents a room from Fleur, whose parents bought Fleur this flat in Clapham. Both are 25, blonde, tanned and keen on turquoise jewellery. They met as interns at Channel 4, where Fleur now works. Izzy is still interning.” Radio DJ Lauren Laverne, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Jools Oliver, wife of Jamie, are all patrons.
I doubt Coladangelo will be shopping there any more. What’s her background?
PPE at Oxford – just like Matt Hancock. She met the former health secretary when they were working at the student radio station. She then became a political lobbyist and is communications and marketing director for her husband’s firm. But her most controversial gig was as at the Department of Health & Social Care, where Hancock brought her in last year with a distinct lack of due process. She was earning £15,000 for 15-20 days’ work a year, but she resigned soon after the scandal broke. Coladangelo and Hancock are reportedly moving in together to give their relationship a proper go.
As the comedian Rosie Jones tweeted: “That’s her discount on scented candles and palm tree shaped jewellery dishes gone.”