If you want to understand what Paddy Renouf does, Google the word flâneur — we certainly had to before speaking to him. The creation of French author Charles Baudelaire, the flâneur, he wrote, was “a passionate spectator,” or a man who wanders the streets soaking in culture at every level.
In Renouf’s case, the streets are London, and the spectating is done on behalf of Sheikhs, celebrities and C-Suite executives from the top brands of the world. And here’s the best part about it: it’s his full-time job, one he began thinking about while in the midst of building a traditional career.
“I had time between jobs to walk around and observe the city I’d observed for years, and it led to all sort of thoughts you wouldn’t have if you worked from 9 and 5,” he told me. “And I thought, ‘If money was no problem, and I had all the time in the world, what would I most like to look at?’ I just developed a love of the environment I’m in, and living in the moment and experiencing in the benefits of serendipity, which is finding things you wanted but didn’t know you were looking for.”
Not surprisingly, Serendipity is also the name of his business and its high-gloss website features some impressive testimonials. When both Frasier AND Russell Brand sing your praises online, you know you’re onto something.
But it’s the path to Serendipity that most fascinated me. Renouf spent the majority of his career working for companies, traveling around the world and staying in five-star hotels. It’s there he discovered how lonely life at a luxury hotel is on the weekends. When friends from his travels came and visited him in London, he vowed to never leave them alone on the weekend. So he picked them up in a Bentley and showed them around.
Having a curiosity that extends from the city’s seedy underbelly to the rarefied air of its private galleries helps, of course. There doesn’t seem to be a person Renouf doesn’t know, or is interested in knowing, or might be just a party away from connecting to.
For example, there was the lauded painter who he was seated next to at a small dinner party who not only ended up tutoring him on his own painting, but asked if Paddy would sit for a portrait. It now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
And as for Paddy’s own painting? From starting with some basic supplies and a book titled Anyone Can Paint, Renouf ended up focusing on landscapes. An eccentric farmer friend of his invited him to show them at his restaurant to see if anyone wanted to buy them. Of the nine he painted, seven sold.
The purpose of this isn’t to relay the story of a man who turns to gold everything he touches — Renouf has made plenty of missteps as well — but rather to champion the idea that it’s not too late for anything really. Paddy was 47 when he took a risk to start a business offering bespoke guide services, and the path to that point was littered not with what-ifs or maybes but unqualified yeses.
“I’d encourage people in every way to discover what it is they love doing, and pursue that,” he told me. “Realistically, if they can’t afford to abandon the day job then they should do both. But the idea is, dare to do it. Just say yes to everything. I’ve said yes to so many things that have led to so many things that wouldn’t have happened.”