I went on a dinner tram in Melbourne about 15 years ago and thought, ‘how could I replicate this at home?’. I tried to set it up in London, but I couldn’t get the various boroughs to agree. I was working at Virgin Atlantic at the time, looking after food safety and quality all over the world, but I’d always wanted my own coffee shop. About five years ago, the one on the corner of Wilbury and Church Road came up, so I opened Baked. But the bus was always at the back of my mind. One night, after a few gin and tonics, I looked online and saw this Routemaster bus for sale. I woke up in the morning and saw ‘your order has been confirmed’.
The bus had been off the road for 15 years and was then a mobile beauty salon and a sales office for a used car garage. Someone put me in touch with Southern Transit, who specialise in Routemasters, and they looked it over for me. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing getting the funds together, then I had it towed down to Brighton.
We stripped the inside and took it right back to the metal. It took about 16 months to rebuild and fit out. I wanted it to feature typically Brighton colours, so we’ve used teal, blue and gold in the interior, but it’s an original London bus so we went with the traditional red livery outside.
There were a lot of regulations to get through. I had to get a change of usage certificate, register as a bus operator, and become a transport manager. Everything from drivers’ hours and bus maintenance, to the carriage of passengers is regulated. Brighton Council were brilliant. I didn’t have to become a driver, but I wanted to, so I went from driving a smart car to driving a bus! I’ve become a real bus geek.
There are eight tables on the upper deck and four downstairs. We can seat 42. In the summer we run two tours a day from Thursday to Sunday, picking up the passengers at Pool Valley and taking them on a 90-minute tour of Brighton, out to Saltdean and back. Along the way we serve afternoon tea with a choice of four sandwiches, five cakes on a cake stand, and scones with cream and jam. We also do Brighton Gin and Prosecco afternoon teas, and, once a month, we do a tour out to Albourne Vineyard and another up through West Sussex villages to Horsham.
Now I run the coffee shop and the bus, my airline background has really come into its own. I used to be responsible for everything from the teaspoons to toilet rolls on an aircraft – so I was used to a lot of planning. It’s also helped me with serving on the move: you have to walk a bit like a penguin for balance.
£38 for the classic and £48 for the Brighton Gin and Prosecco tours. The bus is also available for private hire. brightonregencyroutemaster.co.uk