Martin Redmond, chairman of Interflora UK, loves to collect old things, he tells Rhymer Rigby, but never feels that he really owns them.
For the man who heads up the UK side of the world's largest flower distribution network, Interflora's Martin Redmond is refreshingly laconic: 'I've done a lot of things in business, none of which have been particularly strategic. It has just sort of happened, one thing after another.' There must be plenty of businessmen out there who would give their eyeteeth for similar things to 'just happen' to them.
Redmond is the first non-florist to chair the UK company in 75 years, but he is no stranger to horticulture. His wife is a florist and his background is in landscape gardening. And his pride and joy is a Victorian rose garden, behind his original arts-and-crafts period home near Bedford. 'The garden is very much part of that era and something I'm very proud of,' he says. 'It's lined with yew and has triangular beds in the shape of a Union Jack. It's like a secret garden within my own garden - a valuable place for my family.'
He maintains a healthy respect for the past. His house is a case in point. 'I don't believe in poltergeists or anything else,' he says, 'but I do believe that, in houses, things happen, and that they are affected by the people and personalities who inhabit them. One thing I've always believed is that if you buy an old house, you should never change things too quickly.'
His love of old things, and particularly his lifelong passion for motor vehicles, dates back to his school days. 'I suppose it started at grammar school when our deputy head teacher arrived in an old car,' he muses. 'I had never thought he had any personality. Then he pitched up in this pre-war Austin 7 and, to me, it demonstrated a sense of character and taste I had never associated with this individual. Before that, he was just a boring teacher.'
The charm and charisma of these cars has since taken him to racing tracks throughout the UK and Europe. 'I have a 1938 Alta, which I race at vintage racing circuits,' he explains. 'And I have a collection of pre-war cars and push-bikes. I like them for what they are and because they're as much art as mechanical.'
For him, the 'art' stops around the period of the second world war. 'I don't know why but I've got this mental block around 1940, when I think cars stopped being cars,' he says.
'I'm particularly interested in English-made motor cars from the 1930s. They weren't the most attractive or sound or proficient of vehicles but it is the artisanship and the fact that people have worked on them that I associate myself with.'
Which brings us to a rather curious notion he has. 'I like the idea that they're never actually yours,' he says. 'I have this strange attitude that, with things like cars and houses, all you're ever doing is looking after them for someone else. You have to honour the fact that they existed in a previous generation,' he says. 'You are a custodian.'
For a laconic man, Redmond takes an active interest in everything within and outside work. 'If I stop, I start getting very worried about my motivation to do things,' he admits. 'All the things I do sound laid back, but motor racing, for example, is very concentrated - you can find yourself having to replace a car's gearbox in four hours. I don't find that a relaxation, but then I hate relaxing. If relaxation means stopping, I'm not interested.'.