Penthouse View

Best of British | Helen Brocklebank, Walpole

Under our theme of ‘Best of British’, we talk with Helen Brocklebank, CEO of luxury institution, Walpole, to find out why 2023 is the year of jobs and skill, visitor experiences and sustainability.

Helen Brocklebank, Walpole

As always, before we jump into the world of Walpole and British luxury, we want to hear a bit more about you and what is feeding your imagination at the moment!

We all strive for the perfect work life balance; how do you get that right?

If you’re fortunate enough to have a job that you absolutely love, like I do, there’s only a very blurry line between ‘work’ and ‘life’, and I’m very happy with that. It works for me.

You joined Walpole as CEO in February 2017; what’s been the best part of your job so far?

It’s impossible to pick just one – every day I wake up feeling so excited about being British luxury’s Cheerleader in Chief.

Given your love of books, what is on your current ‘must read’ list!

I’ve just finished Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus – set in the US of the early sixties, it’s about a brilliant scientist called Elizabeth Zott who ends up with a hugely successful cooking show, but more than that, it’s about power and inequality clothed in a deliciously satisfying, funny, clever story and I would urge everyone to read it.

I’ve also just re-read Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur Des Dames (The Ladies Paradise) about a beautiful Parisian department store in the 19th century – it’s a page turning story of modern consumer culture and its impact on society, customers and the local economy and whilst it’s a novel, it nails luxury consumer behaviour way better than many business books.

In the past you created a wonderful image of being an ex-pat in 1930’s Tangier…does that location still appeal today, where is your current go to destination?

Still in love with Morocco – it’s a magical place and I’m longing to go back – but as I write, I’m on Walpole’s luxury trade mission to New York and the modernity and energy of this city, in luxury’s biggest market, is really blowing my mind.

Helen pictured in New York

Now to the business of luxury brands in the UK…

For those that are not aware of the work that you do can you talk a bit about the mission and why Walpole is central to promoting British Luxury?

Walpole is the United Kingdom’s official trade body for the luxury sector, with a mission to protect, promote and develop British luxury. Our membership comprises more than 250 of the finest brands across a broad range of sectors: from retail to interior design & craftsmanship, food & drink to fashion, accessories to beauty, through hospitality, culture, and the media to automotive and yachting.

Walpole members are united by a common focus on discerning and affluent consumers and a shared mission to deliver world-class products and experiences. We achieve this by: representing our members’ interests at home and abroad, building networks and encouraging collaboration within our community and providing members with knowledge, insight and expertise.

How are you finding delving into the world of politics, is it exciting or challenging?

I’m quite relieved that politics is getting a little less exciting this year. It’s really important to me that Walpole has the British luxury sector’s back in Westminster and in Brussels – the sector can not only thrive but really flourish with the right legislative and regulatory framework and it’s incredibly frustrating when things like Brexit and the abolition of Tax-Free Shopping get in the way of the brands ability to maximise their potential.

So I feel a sense of missionary zeal about explaining to government how much the sector contributes to the country, and why they need to give a £48bn sector the recognition it deserves.

What role do British Luxury brands have in promoting the craftsmanship and manufacturing capabilities of the UK in 2023?

2023 is the year of jobs and skills at Walpole and we will publish a report on this topic, that will bring to life the breadth of the jobs created, the investment made in people and the work that Walpole does to support employment, skills, mentoring and business development.

Central to this piece of work is the crucial role of craftspeople and manufacturers without whom we arguably wouldn’t have a sector at all. We see that in all of the major manufacturing hubs from ceramics in Stoke on Trent, shoes in Northampton, English sparkling wine in Sussex and whisky in Scotland. The success of brands comes down to their ability to create something exceptional and for that you need exceptional people.

Chapel Down

Your membership pulls from all areas of the luxury sphere, from hospitality and jewellery to design and travel, are you seeing any similarities in the way your members are approaching 2023?

Despite economic and political uncertainty, there is a great deal of optimism amongst members. Brands of all sizes are investing in their retail experiences and how to entice and connect with customers. Likewise, our hotel members are reaping the benefits of properties that were upgraded during COVID, with the addition of spas, restaurants, and unique activities from foraging to beekeeping.

We’ve seen many members from The Macallan, to Wedgwood and Bremont add visitor experiences and the idea of putting the customer at the heart of what you do, exploring heritage and innovation is something we’ll see more of this year.


Sustainability is becoming more important by the day, historically it has been no more than a buzz word in the luxury market. Walpole has a clear Sustainability Manifesto, with your help, how are you seeing brands bring their sustainability agenda to life?

We have of course seen a much sharper focus on brands’ sustainable practices in recent year’s and Walpole’s own Sustainability Manifesto, launched in early 2020, has grown from an initial six signatories to now over 120 brands all of whom are taking positive action to embed sustainable practices in their businesses.

At the Walpole British Luxury Awards 2022, Mulberry took home the ‘Sustainable Luxury Brand of the Year’ award, voted for by an independent panel of judges all of whom are experts in their field. Mulberry was recognised for the progress it has made towards its Made to Last Manifesto, showcasing its ongoing commitment to transform the business to a regenerative and circular model, encompassing the entire supply chain by 2030, and to become NetZero by 2035.

Edward Green

What do you think should be on every luxury brands agenda in 2023?

If you’re not thinking about and planning for the return of the travelling Chinese customer in the second half of the year, you should be.

What is your elevator pitch on why a consumer should buy British?

Not only is UK luxury synonymous with quality, heritage and longevity you are buying a piece of British sensibility – creativity, maverick spirit and that’s what sets us apart!


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