At my dear friend Nigel Barker’s 47th birthday, celebrated at Monkey 47 Gin’s gorgeous New York pop-up, I chatted with his best friend Tom Astor along with Nigel himself about their newest collaboration, a podcast called Shaken & Stirred that combines cocktails with interviews and some of the most interesting people they can find. See what they had to say below!
Grace A. Capobianco: Tom, will you share one thing about Nigel that has remained “status-quo” over the many years you’ve known each other?
Tom Astor: Nigel and I have managed to maintain the ability to remind the other that we are not as important as we think we are or might think we should be. Thus, humility has remained throughout our friendship. I would like to think that at the same time we have kept the same level of affection for each other and our families and have nothing to prove to the other. We are, after all, just long serving best friends who have hopefully enriched each other’s lives and will continue to do so. Even him having an affair with my ex-wife wasn’t enough to ruin our friendship!
GC: For Shaken & Stirred, is there a script with each guest or is it truly off the cuff?
TA: We emphatically do not script our interviews/podcasts. Each podcast is ‘off the cuff.’
Nigel and I research our guests’ lives and careers thoroughly, which is key to steering any conversation once it gets going. Scripting our interviews would ruin the point of allowing our guests the freedom to go wherever they want in an interview.
GA: How do you choose the type of cocktail for each episode? Does it have anything to do with the guest?
TA: The cocktails are chosen for each show for any number of reasons. A guest may have been asked for a preference, in which case we will happily oblige, or I might have arrived at the studio with a hangover and be trying out the ‘latest cure.’ What we look for in all of our cocktails is their history and backstory. The history almost always makes the drink more interesting than the actual drinking…almost.
GA: Who makes the cocktails?
TA: I make the cocktails. Nige is too lazy to get involved. He prefers to pretend to iron the flags behind the set with his state of the art steam iron whilst checking himself out in the mirror.
GA: Do you, Nigel, and your guests actually drink during the show?
TA: Of course we drink during the show. It loosens up the interviewers (and the guests sometimes).
GA: Where is the show produced?
TA: At the moment, the show is produced at Univision Studios in NYC. The joy of the podcast is that we can pretty much produce them anywhere from a bar and studio in any city in the world. Given the fact that not everyone we might be interviewing lives in New York we expect to be hitting the road in the future and have started researching some pretty amazing venues.
GA: We know a lot about Nigel, tell us a bit more about your career and personal life.
TA: I live on my family’s farm in the Cotswolds in England with my three children. Merriscourt is a beautiful place to live, and I have converted some of the old barns into a wedding and events venue. My career has involved a stint in the art world, banking, buying and selling classic cars, and squeezing as much fun out of life as I possibly can for myself and kids!
I have always had a love for New York and have visited on too many occasions to count. I feel a strong family connection with the place which runs deeply through my veins. There really is not another place like it on the planet.
GA: Have you ever had a podcast before? What are some of the challenges you and Nigel experienced?
TA: I have never done a podcast before! Nigel had to initially explain what they were. I cannot say that I have found any of the process a challenge as such. It has been a fascinating journey and such a great way of finding out about so many things one would really never know about. I suppose the real challenge is making the guests open up which has so far worked well.
GA: How’s it going so far, any feedback from listeners or guests about the show, and what if anything would you do differently?
TA: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, both from our guests and listeners. I think the formula we have adopted/created works well and I cannot think of any reason to change things. Obviously we are open to criticism and should anyone feel we can improve our show we will sit down, listen, mix a drink. and either ridicule the suggestion or take it seriously…
I very much hope to continue to be able to do these podcasts with Nigel. There are so many interesting people out there whose views and feelings are worth listening to. I feel that we are at the beginning of doing something quite useful as well as fun. Useful in the sense of opening others (and our own) eyes to a raft of issues, fights, passions, experiences and life. I hope the listeners enjoy listening to the podcasts as much as we enjoy making them!
GC: Nigel, how and when did you meet Tom Astor?
Nigel Barker: Tom and I met when we were 13-years-old at Bryanston School, Dorset, England. It was a boarding school, and when you meet kids at that age and basically live with them force majeure, you quickly find the ones you really get on with and often times you grow up together like siblings, but ones you pick!
GC: When did you know you would be lifelong friends?
NB: I just turned 47, and looking at his answer to your first question we may not be friends for much longer!! Joking aside, Tom and I became close very early on and not because we had loads in common but because we both had a similar outlook on life. We both love to enjoy life, poke fun at each other, and are fascinated by a good stories, even when they are just rumors…
GC: Over the years, how have you and Tom kept in touch, and how did you two come back together to create your new podcast Shaken & Stirred?
NB: We were groomsmen and ushers at each others weddings, we made each other godparents to our first born, we take family vacations together every other year, rendezvousing at some exotic locale with our growing families en masse, and we realized that as our kids grow up we needed another reason to see each other hence Shaken & Stirred!
GC: I loved the bit about when you and Crissy had your first child Jack, was Tom really there 3 minutes after the birth? Can you give us a little more insight? it sounds like a interesting and humorous story.
NB: Timing is everything as they say, and there is another character we have not mentioned yet who is Dickie Dawson, the third musketeer. He is also a godparent to our children, and his family also vacations with us, and he was a groomsman/usher etc. We are all very competitive with one another and Tom wanted to make sure he saw his godson before Dickie and jumped on a plane when he heard Crissy was in labor arriving at the hospital 3 minutes after the birth…poor Dickie was an appalling two weeks late.
GC: You say the podcast came about from lots of boozy lunches and dinners, I’m sure that there’s more to its creation than that.
NB: Well there were brunches too! It really all culminated one weekend last year when Tom was visiting at our home upstate in Woodstock, NY. We were having a hilarious time, chatting, plotting, exaggerating, bragging, and joking as we do and thought what can we do to have a perfect excuse to do this more frequently and the podcast was born.
GC: It seems like it’s a little bit the male version of (formerly) Kathy Lee and Hoda, a morning show where alcohol is a prop. Alcohol sort of helps lift the boundary lines for you, Tom, and your guests, would you agree and give us an example?
NB: I have been on the Kathy Lee and Hoda show a few times and trust me, S&S is very different. We do indeed enjoy a cocktail or two on Shaken & Stirred, but as the name suggests the drink is a character throughout the show. Most of us have a story about the first time we had a drink, or what we were drinking when we met someone special, and every cocktail has a historical story of how it came about. For example, when I first met my wife Crissy, I took several girls to a bar in Milan, Italy and I asked Crissy if she would do a tequila body shot with me. Crissy being the good (clever) girl from Alabama declined but this other model from Canada piped up and said she would. So I applied the salt to her neck, placed a lime between her lips, then licked the salt from her neck, took the shot and bit the lime out of the girls lips…Crissy immediately changed her mind and said she would do one too. So I set Crissy up with salt on the neck and lime in the mouth but this time when I went to bite the lime out of Crissy’s lips she pulled the lime into her mouth and I had to give her a proper kiss to retrieve said lime. That tequila body shot was our official first kiss.
GC: What do you hope that your audience learns from Shaken & Stirred?
NB: We are fond of rumors, legends, and stories on Shaken & Stirred, but ultimately it’ss the truth and not the well rehearsed Hollywood publicist’s version.
GC: How do you and Tom choose your guests?
NB: So far (we have recorded 24 episodes) they have all been friends, but we designed it in a way that it really doesn’t matter what the guest is known for or what they are currently trying to promote. Rather, we think of topics we want to discuss and then our guests join the conversation. The only prerequisite is they need to be good raconteurs.
GC: Any exciting up and coming guests? And who would be your dream guest?
NB: Lot’s of great guests like Miss J, Coco Rocha, Michele Hicks, David Mixner, The Jauncey Brothers, Fern Mallis, Hugh Evans, and Hugh Jackman and Deborah Lee Furness are scheduled for our next taping.
GC: Many people attempt to become entrepreneurs, and those who are, know it’s certainly NOT easy. You shared with the audience that you have always a ton of balls up in the air, how do you juggle them, and when one drops, how do you handle it?
NB: I never really think of myself as an entrepreneur, I just liked to get involved in whatever interests me and don’t pigeon hole myself. Of course, not every idea or business is going to work perfectly, but if you don’t try you’ll never know. I look for opportunities that I am personally interested in and have some knowledge about already. I don’t need to be an expert but once I commit I am in 100% and try to become an authority on the subject for my own peace of mind. Just because I am a photographer doesn’t mean I can’t be a TV host, an author, movie producer and director, furniture designer, or gym owner!