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Grand designs for China

LADY Henrietta Spencer-Churchill recently visited Shanghai and the World Expo while exploring opportunities for her interior design business. Yang Jian reports.

World Expo 2010 received a record-setting 505,000 visitors on May 29. Among the visitors was Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, the oldest daughter of the 11th Duke of Marlborough who is also related to late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Spencer-Churchill's great grandfather was a cousin of Winston Churchill and she is also related to the late Lady Diana Spencer, the former Princess of Wales and wife of Prince Charles.

Despite her family history, the interior designer said she prefers to be normal.

"I like to be a normal person," said Spencer-Churchill, who was in Shanghai and China for the first time.

To make her case, the 52-year-old did not use the VIP channel nor was surrounded by bodyguards. She purchased a 160-yuan (US$23.43) ticket, passed security checks like ordinary visitors and entered the grounds with her assistant.

She also queued along with other people and said she was happy to visit only two exhibitions - the Urban Best Practices Area and the Joint-Africa Pavilion because of the large number of visitors.

"People can get a wonderful feeling just by seeing the outside of a lot of pavilions," she said. "The Expo site is enormous. It's much larger than I expected."

Her only Expo regret was being unable to visit the UK Pavilion because the more than three-hour wait time was a little too long for her.

She said she was intrigued that so many people were taking their passports and getting souvenir stamps from every different African country.

"I just thought, 'Why are they doing this'," she said. "I would rather visit the real country."

Her favorite exhibition was the Xi'an Pavilion, a UBPA case from Shaanxi Province that duplicates an Emperor's Palace from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).

"For me, it is more interesting to come and look at Chinese pavilions," she said. "I didn't really come here to look at the European ones. I can see that back home."

Her 10-day China trip also included stops in Chengdu and Beijing, where she hopes to find opportunities for her interior design business.

"China has been on my list for many years, but I am running a business, so time is very precious," she said.

She is the CEO of a highly successful interior design business, Spencer Churchill Designs. She has also written 10 books and hosted four television series on classical interior design styles. She is generally considered the world's leading authority on classical European design. She is also the former president of the International Interior Design Association.

The Churchill family is often regarded as the greatest and most successful family in English history. Family members, as Spencer-Churchill said, have a tradition of careers in either the military or politics.

But she steered clear of politics because "that is quite a difficult job."

"There are other people more accomplished than me doing something on a big stage, but I made my path and career in design," she said. "I think it's perhaps a bit too late for others to make a major change for me now."

Design was what she always loved. She studied art when she was at school and then went to design school in London. She founded Woodstock Designs in 1981, opening an office in London. Spencer Churchill Designs is a subsidiary of Woodstock Designs.

"Design has always been my passion. It's always been a part of my life," she said.

Another reason for her interest in design was Blenheim Palace, her 300-room "home." Considered one of England's finest examples of Baroque architecture, Blenheim was once the residence of Winston Churchill, Consuelo Vanderbilt and many other historical figures.

"It influenced my choice of career - largely because of my exposure to the extraordinary art, architecture and design in my grandparent's home."

Winston Churchill spent a lot of time at Blenheim Palace, where he liked to paint. He also chose to be buried in a graveyard at the palace.

Many young girls dream of growing up in a palace, but Spencer-Churchill lived this dream. Still, she said she preferred a normal lifestyle.

"My childhood was very normal like most people's," she said.

"I went to a local school and made friends with local kids. They used to come by for tea and play.

"We had to work at holidays. We used to work in the garden, picking vegetables and fruit. Or we worked in the gift shop selling guidebooks and ice creams."

As the leading authority on classical European design, she said she was more interested in ancient and traditional culture than modern ideas.

"It is very important to learn the ancient culture so you can understand what's going on after that," she said.

While in Shanghai, she visited the Shanghai Museum, which she said was a high priority.

"When I arrive in a new country, the first thing I like is to explore the ancient part and get a taste for its history," she said.

"There is no doubt I have been inspired by the exhibitions at the museum.

"If I had the luxury of time, I would like to spend months here and travel around. I'd love to go to the countryside and see other areas."

The next stop on her trip is Xi'an, capital city of Shaanxi Province, after being inspired by a video about the city at its Expo pavilion.

"I increasingly see wonderful opportunities in China," she said. "Not just design opportunities, but also on the manufacturing side. China has great craftsmen and I am interested in creating furniture and other objects from here as well."

She said she hoped to do interior design work for people in China interested in having a Western-style house or designing small hotels.

"If I can help it will be fascinating for me," she said.


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