In this case, the children were more than on board. Tristram describes their eldest son Patrick, who helped in the Calais refugee camps, as the most socially conscious of their children. “He said, ‘Dad, this is fantastic. You do realize that’s socialism at work, don’t you? Do you think Uncle Jerome has already understood this? I said, ‘That’s not socialism, Patrick; it is stakeholder capitalism.
Talking to the Mayhews over a morning gives you an idea of how they complement each other as a team: he’s the sails and she’s the helm. There are flashes of good-natured, low-level chicanery from any long-married couple. At one point, he says, “We’re 53. Well, Becs isn’t.” She points out, “I am, actually.” And when he says around 15 million customers have visited their UK sites, she says: ‘It’s actually more like 13 million. You are exaggerating again.
They clearly invested their hearts and souls in the business and reinvested the vast majority of profits. The house where we find ourselves is rented, as well as two moorings in sight of the window of their room. Tristram describes them as “the only smart real estate deal I’ve done in my life”.
The Mayhews sold a flat they owned in Clapham in order to build their first Go Ape site in Thetford Forest on the Norfolk and Suffolk border in 2002. Today they have an outsourced call centre; at the time, they ran the business from their kitchen table with a mobile phone number and an A4 diary.
At the time, the couple, who first met at the University of Edinburgh, were both working in London. Rebecca first enjoyed her jobs selling advertisements for a magazine publisher, then marketing for cancer charity Marie Curie. But Tristram had left the army and hated his job. “I realized I wanted to be around the treehouses, teepees, windsurfers, bonfires, mountain bikes and the beach. But, of course, you can’t find a job doing that. Instead, he went to work for the huge industrial conglomerate GE, which he said was “full of 28-year-olds with MBAs playing God.”
Following the birth of their first child, he was also looking for a better work-life balance. Her own father, Sir Patrick Mayhew, was a minister for 18 years of the Margaret Thatcher and John Major governments, including five years as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “I was incredibly proud of my dad but – this is going to sound like free therapy – he was never around because he was always working.”
They realized that the only way to be home for breakfast and dinner with their children was to work for themselves. So after seeing the tree climbing park in France, realizing there was nothing like it in the UK, they commissioned the guys who built the French site to build one for them in the UK United. They then sold in London and moved to Suffolk. “We deliberately burned our bridges because I didn’t want to do it as a side hustle,” says Tristram. “We didn’t do any market research because I don’t trust him.”