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My life: Ed Olver

The 32-year-old, Hong Kong-raised entrepreneur talks to Mark Graham about a childhood on The Peak, being at war and horsing around for a living

 

NO PLACE LIKE HOME I went to the Peak School, a very British school, and the influence was massive. When you grow up as an expatriate, you have a very clear concept of what it means to be British, your sense of "home" is much stronger, and I think that was a factor in me wanting to join an army regiment that rides up and down the Mall (in London) in fancy uniforms. I saw that as being very British. I think all around the world expatriates are more in touch with their sense of nationality. We lived on The Peak, so we had the most amazing 360-degree views of Hong Kong. The Rugby Sevens was an annual gathering everyone looked forward to, it was a very small and personal event when it started. I played in it three times for Stanley Fort. We also used to do early morning swim training and tennis at the Ladies' Recreation Club. Our swimming teacher, Mr Wright, used to drive us incredibly hard and some of the habits I established there are still with me.

BACK TO THE LAND My father, Jake Olver, only ever worked for the Swire family. He married my mother at Cambridge (University) and they left on this international adventure; they lived in 21 different houses during their time with the Swire Group. But I think dad always wanted to farm, so after 20 years in the Orient, he came back to Gloucestershire, where he now farms at our beautiful house in the country. I have two brothers: Charlie is in the London property market and George is an entrepreneur who started a digital agency and makes all of our films at British Polo Day (a travelling event showcasing the horseback sport).

ON THE LOOKOUT I believe everyone is a product of their experiences and I feel most comfortable in transit and on the road, where there are always new sights, sounds and interesting things to absorb, just like the Hong Kong of my youth. As a child I used to sit staring out of the window and my parents called it being "on observation". I think living in Hong Kong also helped me develop my entrepreneurial side, the can-do culture is amazing to grow up with. When I was at university, I started running nightclubs in Bristol. We used to give students free tickets in exchange for them filling in marketing reports. It was a very interesting business to be a part of - my partner from that time now lives in a £5 million (HK$60 million) house in central London.

INTO BATTLE My career took a different path: I joined the army and served in Iraq. My role was reconnaissance; we were in the desert preventing the Iranians from penetrating the Iraqi border. We would be chased around by people mortaring us and trying to stop us. You are the eyes and ears, which is another gift I have taken with me from the army. I can soak things up quickly. It was pretty brutal at times. We were in Basra at a time when it was really intense; we would get nine, 10, 11 salvos a day of rockets. you would live in these tomb-like concrete spaces.

NATIONAL REBIRTH After leaving, I founded British Polo Day with a business partner, in 2009. Britain was still considered a bit fusty; it was before the national narrative had been reinterpreted. But what happened was that you had three huge national events, the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the diamond jubilee (of Queen Elizabeth) and the Olympic Games. With the Olympics, what was fantastic was it did not play to the traditional suits. The opening ceremony was magic, it was inspiring and the whole mentality of can-do culture was a real boon. And, of course, it benefited us with British Polo Day events around the world. We have now had two in China.

BACKING THE RIGHT HORSE The horse is a special brand in China, you just need to look at the billboards and the jewellery and fashion companies. In China now you have to have money to be involved in polo; they are the people who liked tennis in the 1980s and golf in the 1990s because only the very wealthy could play. In a country of a billion people you want to distinguish yourself; having a polo team beats having a Mercedes-Benz. The wonderful conundrum is that you can have a couple who went though the Cultural Revolution with a grandson who has a collection of Lamborghinis. I think the government deserves enormous respect for its achievements.

GAME ON British Polo Day is held at the Sunny Times Polo Club, near the Great Wall, which is owned by an entrepreneur who loves the game and its history. From my point of view, organising the event is not much different to being in the army, taking 12 men to the hinterland of Beijing and making sure timing, organisation and communication are all effective. I love what I do. I don't split leisure and work; to me they are the same thing. I am not driven by cash: I like making money with successful content and hard work. I want to look back and think: did I live my life to the fullest? I want to push the edge of the envelope at every opportunity.

 

The next British Polo Day event in China will take place on October 19. Singapore will see the event on September 28.

 

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