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For a man who is called the King of Bling in certain circles, who once sang on stage with Sting and George Michael at Royal Albert Hall, and who happens to be the father of an Oscar-winning writer, filmmaker, and actress, Theo Fennell is exceptionally down to earth. Consider the very first line of his debut memoir, I Fear for This Boy: Some Chapters of Accidents, which came out this spring: "You will probably have no idea who I am," he writes.
It's quite the contrary, and not just because that aforementioned daughter of his is Emerald Fennell, who has had a stellar few years—she was the showrunner of Killing Eve's sophomore season, for which she was nominated for two Emmys, then had an Emmy-nominated and SAG-winning turn as Camilla on The Crown, then made her feature film directorial debut with Promising Young Woman, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay along with nominations in the Best Picture and Best Director categories.
Long before his kids were born—he shares Emerald and her sister, Coco, who is a fashion designer, with wife Louise, a screenwriter and novelist—Fennell Sr. was a dashingly eccentric man about town. And since founding his eponymous jewelry line 40 years ago, he has adorned the likes of Sir Elton John, Elizabeth Hurley, Madonna, and Lady Gaga in his signature cheeky creations (for the birth of Prince George in 2013, he famously created a £10,000 charm bracelet that could double as a diaper cream holder).
Now, at age 70, he is a published author, too, which all came about by accident. During Covid-19 quarantine two summers ago, Fennell decided to write a book meant for his family's eyes only. "I'd always wished my father had written down some of his stories from before the second world war and that kind of stuff. He never did, and I've always regretted it," he says, echoing a near-universal sentiment. "I thought I would write a bunch of what I thought might be amusing stories for my daughters and my wife." The original plan was to get a couple dozen copies published to be distributed to close relatives and friends. Then one friend, who Fennell had asked to take a look at his draft, passed it on to a publisher, who realized the material was too good to have read by just 50 people.
Indeed, I Fear for This Boy, a title that comes from a school report Fennell received in his youth, is a charming compilation—more a "how-not-to book" as he calls it—of laugh-out-loud vignettes from a colorful life that exude self-deprecating wit, a bit of gallows humor, and a poignant sense of perspective that comes with age—not to mention having experienced many a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction episodes and lived to tell those tales. Among the book's gems: There was that time thieves broke into his London atelier and made off with not just the entire safe, but even the guard dog. Or when he cold-called 20th Century Fox and secured the rights to make Star Wars jewels, which turned out to be less a lucrative venture than a painful business lesson.
For all of its juicy tidbits, though, the memoir is nearly devoid of dirt. "I didn't want to have famous people involved because those "famous people I have known" kind of things are incredibly dull," Fennell says. "Secondly, no sex, obviously, because my daughters were going to read it. Thirdly, I didn't want anyone to be hurt. There's no sense dragging people down or trying to settle scores—I find it most unproductive. I just wanted it to be really a bit of fun and the only person who was going to come out badly was me."
Fennell came upon his career as a jeweler by chance, too. He went to art school, like he had always wanted, but by the end hadn't yet settled on a specific discipline. Still, he had to find a job and the first person to offer him one was from a silversmithing company. "By pure kismet it turned out to be the perfect solution," he says. "It was something in which I could combine all the things I loved, whether it was allusions to music, to pictures, to architecture, in a way that I never thought possible."
In spite of an A-list clientele, Fennell has always sought to keep a low profile and maintain a certain IYKYK quality to his work. Branding was never the goal, though that changed the minute he handed over his business to investors a long time ago. "Very stupid," he says. "It's become a very ordinary state of affairs for a young creative to spend twenty years battling to get his name back."
He finally reclaimed full control of his company nine months ago and has reverted back to the original mission statement, where craft takes precedence over mass production, and bespoke and one-of-a-kind creations make up the majority of his oeuvre. "It's been very cathartic. It's suddenly like being 25 again, other than my body doesn't work," says Fennell, who now spends time mentoring students and designers so they can avoid falling into the same traps.
To put a ruby-encrusted cherry on top of what is turning out to be a fantastic 2022, Fennell has another personal milestone to celebrate: it has been 25 years since he quit drinking. And while he has no regrets about the wild behaviors of his youth—they have made for great literature, after all—his capacity for hindsight clarity, and living in the moment, and not caring what people think, and taking things in stride would have never come had he not sobered up. "Giving up drink gave me much more self-awareness and allowed me to look at what was really important," he says. "Family, friends, and fun. I've just invented the three F's. Maybe there's a fourth F but I'm too old for that now."
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