Through the pandemic adventures of an intrepid entrepreneur, his business has grown more than 6,000 percent – despite being 8,659 miles away and nine hours behind his employees, cheating twice to death, becoming homeless on two continents, and finding love.
Philip Ridyard, 62, flew back from Tasmania, Australia, where he lived and worked in March to arrange the cremation of his mother Marie in North Wales. However, the restrictions of Covid-19 and a series of disasters prevented his return.
Unimpressed, Philip worked from the storeroom of a stranger from the Good Samaritan whom he had met in the town of Buckley, Clwyd – who would later become his partner – and hired 22 new employees, sorted a new Australian factory for his gin and vodka company and gained new suppliers and markets all over the world.
And he achieved all of this, even though the time difference means that it will be midnight here when his employees start working Down Under.
Philip, from Sale, Cheshire, who was also hospitalized and nearly died twice in the UK and made homeless here and in Australia during the pandemic, said: “It was an absolute nightmare!
“I tried to start a business in Tasmania from a vacant storeroom in North Wales with just a phone and printer bought online from Argos.”
He added, “But I did it by working all day and then most of the night when Australia woke up. I thought I was only in the UK for a week!”
Sometimes he worked 37 hours without a break when the rest of the household slept and moved his “office” to the conservatory at night so as not to wake them.
He said, “I met a kind woman and she and her family invited me into their home as a stranger.”
Philip continued, “I’ve been under her feet almost 24 hours a day since I moved in last July because I worked at home. But I wouldn’t have survived without her, that’s for sure.”
Philip was at home in Exeter, northern Tasmania, when news reached him on March 5, 2020 that his mother Marie, 82, had died of cancer.
To arrange the cremation and manage its affairs, he soon got on a plane to Manchester, armed with a pair of shirts and pants – only to be stuck in Wales for over a year.
The demand for once every two weeks flights with a maximum of 120 passengers to Australia was ridiculous.
The first flight he found with an empty seat a few weeks ago cost £ 11,500 one way – the equivalent of an average Tasmanian salary of half a year – and was way too expensive.
Soon after, he was missing his only other chance at a ticket when the alarm went off while he was taking an early morning sleep break.
He finally secured a seat for £ 1,500 this month on a flight that took three days via Germany and the United States to Sydney, Australia, where passengers had to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel for an additional £ 1,500.
He dismantled his “office”, paid an American visa for £ 160 and took a compulsory Covid test for £ 180.
But when he reached Manchester Airport on April 1st, like a cruel April Fool’s joke, Lufthansa wouldn’t let him fly.
Unfortunately, US President Joe Biden had introduced a new visa complication that even prevented his transit there, and the British had been banned from being in Germany 48 hours earlier.
While sitting in Manchester, he told a stranger about his suffering, who offered him £ 50 and suggested that he crowdfund a new ticket on GoFundMe.
Philip was unable to reconnect to the Internet at his Premier Inn. Philip’s new partner – who can’t be named because of her sensitive job – and her daughter started the site, and generous strangers and friends donated or lent over £ 5,000 over Easter via crowdfunding and Facebook link.
The last time he booked a one-way flight from London’s Heathrow Airport via Japan for £ 2,950 one-way, the donations also cover excess baggage charges of £ 270, an additional flight from Manchester to London and six nights in a hotel in Manchester to allow him to travel to may be close to the airport while his travel agent was looking for another last minute opening and £ 200 for another Covid test before boarding.
If all was well, he expected to land in Sydney at 6 a.m. on Friday morning – 9 p.m. the day before UK time.
He said, “Even if my feet hit the ground in Sydney, I can’t believe it happened.”
When Philip first arrived in the UK, he had no idea what drama he was going to face.
When Covid flight bans effectively grounded him, he was forced to live in their Ruthin, North Wales meetinghouse until July, before emptying it.
He was unable to get money from Australia due to banking problems, and when he was considering being homeless, he started a conversation with a friendly shopper in a supermarket in April.
Since there was only one bus back to Ruthin a day, she offered him an elevator home and then delivered him some shopping supplies.
Not only did the single lady offer him her guest room in Buckley by Mold, but her friendliness later led them to fall in love.
All of this was happening as his specialist vodka and dry gin company, Strait Brands, was building a new, larger capacity manufacturing facility after leaving a small rented facility when he left Australia.
So he swapped his office in York Town, Australia, with a wide view of the river and the vineyards for his new friend’s guest room and managed to expand the production and sales operations by 65 times.
He said, “I would work in the UK during the day and then deal with people in Australia at night when they come to work.” This meant working until at least 3:30 a.m. and sometimes until 10:30 a.m.
“I often worked 37 hours without a break, with no sleep or a break.”
He continued, “Of the previous 200,000 bottles my company produced per year before Covid, we can now produce 250.00 per week, and this year we expect that to increase to 11,000 per hour. We fill a shipping container every six hours.
“In five weeks we should be able to complete the construction of our new production facility on 13 hectares.
“I had four employees before the pandemic. But last July I recruited another 22 Tasmanians in the UK. Three then found other jobs while I was away, but they decided to join me anyway. “
Philip added, “In an ideal world, I should have met a lot of business people and oversaw production in Australia. I was even supposed to do a trade mission with the Deputy Prime Minister of Tasmania. Instead, I’m tied to a keyboard.
“But while I was in the UK, I found a new distributor to start a new brand in the UK, and established new suppliers and business partnerships in Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Poland, Italy, France, New York, California and Frankfurt.
“I have a new line of brands now, Badger Head because the factory is on Badger Head Road in Tasmania and the British called the wombats badger – and I’ve found new fruit and vegetable suppliers for the flavor.”
He added, “I’ve designed new bottles, packaging, labels, cups and stoppers, and sorted out supplier listings.
“And I’ve consolidated markets in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines.”
Somehow, in addition to his busy work schedule, Philip found time to fall in love with his new host, a single mother of three, and their daughter gave him two clocks for work as a Christmas present – telling the time in the UK and UK Australia.
As their feelings deepened, they discussed how she could make the most of her long vacation from her leadership position to return to Tasmania with him.
Philip said, “It was all set – then Covid travel bans meant she couldn’t come with me.”
Philip remembered their chance meeting that saved him in April and said, “It started when I was talking to her in a mold supermarket when I was in my mother’s bungalow.”
He continued, “It was a 40-minute walk to my nearest supermarket and I didn’t have a car, so she started delivering ‘Red Cross packages’ to my mother.”
And when he became homeless, she gave him her guest room.
He continued: “We really got along. We were two strangers who worked from home and were thrown together under one roof for almost 24 hours a day. “
He added: “She was a bit emotionally concerned that I was coming back as we got together at the waist and our feelings go deeper than we thought.
“I’m joking that she showed up in a white chariot to save me.”
His partner’s family even started Phil’s GoFundMe donation with an incredibly generous £ 1,000.
He said, “Amazingly, another anonymous donor gave £ 500, an Australian customer friend gave me £ 275 and another loaned me £ 2,000 because I had a tight 36-hour deadline over a public holiday to send money for the booking very quickly. ”
As if all of this wasn’t enough drama for a year, Philip also had two near-death experiences during the pandemic.
He said, “The first was from a severe asthma attack that left me in the hospital for 36 hours. Then, in September, I developed urosepsis – a life-threatening reaction to a urinary tract infection – and the family doctor said I should have been dead. “
He continued, “I ended up in the hospital in nearby Wrexham, where I received heavy medical care for about three weeks.”
After a memorable 12 months, Philip does not expect an easy life when he ends up in Tasmania – where he moved with his ex-wife in 1999 and founded Strait Brands – as he has to find a new home.
He said, “My landlord sold my house while I was away and I have nowhere to go.”
But his experiences during the pandemic have more than taught him how to deal with adversity.
He said, “I left Tasmania when I was 60 years old. I turned 61 the day after I arrived in Sale and 62 on March 14th. By the time I landed in Australia I thought I would even hit 63 and get stuck in the UK.
“When they say people can work from home now, I’ve proven it the hard way. I built a business and found the new love of my life in a borrowed storage room.”
And Philip said, “All in all, I should be back in the UK later this year to see her again when I come back to promote the products that support the new UK distributor.
“Although I’m a little nervous about going to the UK after last year in case something unexpected happens!”