Meet the man putting the Bee into business

Curtis Thompson gave up a lucrative career in investment banking and followed in his uncle’s footsteps to become an expert beekeeper.

Now the 33-year-old father of two runs Local Honey Man and employs a staff of 15. The East London business is London’s biggest producer of raw honey and, with their number of hives doubling this year, they look set to become the biggest raw honey supplier too.

He’s set to star in a rerun of The Farmers Country Showdown on BBC One on July 23. It’s not his first TV appearance – as a child he appeared as an extra on The Bill and his business has already featured on Channel Four’s Food Unwrapped.

The turning point in Curtis’s career came when he worked for City Group at Canary Wharf. During lunch with his boss one day he asked what it would take to get to the top and what life was like in such a senior role. Curtis said: “I realised it was all about work and money and the standard of living was actually quite low – there was very little time to spend with the family and he didn’t have much time to enjoy the money he made. That one conversation was enough to convince me it wasn’t the job for me.”

Curtis attended business start up seminars and realised the key was to do something you’re passionate about. His passion was beekeeping, having been taught by his uncle from the age of 15.

“The calmness of being with the bees was such a contrast from the stressful banking world. When you go down to the bees you have to be slow and methodical. When my uncle went back to Jamaica I took his three hives off his hands.”

The Local Honey Man is among the 100+ businesses offering discounts to members of the Local Buyers Club. Members save 10% online and in their Walthamstow store. (Click for info or to join)

Gradually Curtis bought more hives, he opened a shop in Walthamstow and a market stall at Borough Market and began supplying shops, such as Harrods and businesses such as Youngs pub group, Bellagio and W Hotel.

Today the Local Honey Man has 250 hives in and around London, housing 12.5 million bees. That figure is set to double this year.

Curtis added: “Farmers love having our hives on their land – they’re good for the land; having bees improves the crop yields by 25-35%.

As an ethical bee keeper, they’re making use of wax (usually a waste product) to produce candles and protective food wraps as an alternative to plastic cling film. As well as teaching beekeeping, they sell bees and hives and breed queen bees.

Asked if he’d ever been stung, he replied: “Yes 15 times once, which sent me a bit delusional, but I didn’t have to go to hospital. My uncle taught me beekeeping the natural way, which means being at one with the bees and not wearing protective clothing. You can only do that when the conditions are right – the wind, the sun etc so the bees are calm. If you go in without the conditions being right the bees can become very defensive. Of course, our staff all wear protective clothing.”