Olly Smith: TV Presenter, wine expert

Jersey Connections

As we launch the platform, and in the first of a series of introductions to members of the Jersey overseas community, the Jersey Connections team is delighted to introduce Olly Smith - TV presenter and wine expert, who lived on the Island until the age of 25.

Hi Olly!  What was your experience in Jersey, and what's been your journey since leaving the Island?

My family lived on the Island from when I was three until I turned about twenty-five, when they moved to UK. I have wonderful, fond memories of the natural world in Jersey, in particular. I was lucky enough to live very close to Green Island Beach, so I spent an awful lot of time exploring that stretch of coastline and enjoyed having that free stretch of water, and particularly the sunsets and moon rises gave me a lot of inspiration. Also the history – I remember often sitting on St Clement's Beach by the granite wall overlooking the harbour and, in the distance, onto Elizabeth Castle. I’d think of Sir Walter Raleigh and all the key things that have happened on the Island, including the Nazi Occupation and enormous, seismic social events. I felt like I was connected to a much wider world by being at the edge of the ocean, while also part of an intimate community. 

Notably, I had my first wine job in Jersey Orange Co. Vintners and the Weighbridge, so obviously this had a huge impact on my life - but I also had great fun working there! I had many part-time jobs in Jersey in my youth, working in the banking sector for a while, picking potatoes, at the Social Security department, even at the Tie Rack. There was always something to do, whether it was flipping burgers at Havre des Pas in the summer, or painting houses, or working up at St Michael's. I had such a broad range of positive experiences growing up and a good social set of young friends to grow up with as well. 

What are your three favourite things about Jersey?

1. Green Island – I got to know the coastline behind the island so well. I used to enjoy taking my little inflatable boat out and exploring the rocks and embracing the epic nature of the coastline. At once grand and rocky, and strewn with lots of inlets and secret beaches to discover. That’s definitely a big favourite. 

2. Rozel Bay – absolutely love that. Can’t beat a bacon roll at the Hungry Man (anyone will tell you!). I love the picturesque nature of the harbour with lots of fun family memories there as well. 

3. That’s a tie between doing a bit of body surfing on the beach at Plemont with the rising tide, and pier jumping at Bonne Nuit Bay. I miss the coastline most, and the freedom to explore endless beaches and nooks, as well as keeping fit, swimming, coastal walks and hikes, and the nature that goes with it – something I love to this day. 

How has growing up and living in Jersey influenced and shaped you?

Growing up in Jersey has given me a sound bedrock in a love for the natural world, particularly seeing things at different times of the day – like the vast ocean of St Catherine’s on a moonlit night, or Gorey in a full storm with a rising tide – you really get a sense of how much we rely on the natural world and how changeable things are in the current climate. I learnt so much about living alongside the natural world – for example, with the Jersey Royals, which are so unique and come so early. I also remember the really heady aroma of stocks and flowers in the garden. They really seem to leap out of the soil – it struck me when we first moved there at the age of three, and I remember it very clearly. That definitely shaped me. 

I also remember learning to be part of a closely-knit community. I loved it, and learnt about being respectful to other people and about how interdependent we are, whether it’s feeding someone else’s dog, looking after an old relative, or contributing to a local charity. There’s a lot of good intention in Jersey, so I would say growing up there taught me good social values too.

Growing up in Jersey has given me a sound bedrock in a love for the natural world, particularly seeing things at different times of the day.

What are the defining features of Jersey and its people? 

The people of Jersey are incredibly kind, very curious, and outward looking. Curiosity is something the island has in abundance – people are always intrigued by what’s going on overseas, so it’s a place of great scope with its international commerce and outward-looking nature. But it's also fiercely proud of a strong local tradition. I remember going up to the Farmers Inn and hearing Jèrriais being spoken, and the unique flavours that you couldn’t taste anywhere else, like the ormas or the black butter. I remember just going to the market in St Helier, strolling through and seeing the camaraderie between the sellers selling fresh produce, fruit and veg or the fish that’s freshly caught, seeing live crabs - all these things that are part of the everyday social fabric of the island. A love of natural produce, a real passion for supporting one another in local industry and a sense of vibrant strong community: this defines the people of Jersey. 

With music, Jersey is where it started for me. I started singing in Jersey and was picked out at school as a singer and given some extra coaching. It led me to get a music scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge, when I was ten. That was a pretty life-changing event, which in turn led me to winning the top music scholarship to Charterhouse. None of that would have be possible if I hadn’t been beckoned forward as part of the school choir and told I had an aptitude and to be encouraged. So yes, a big change for me. 

I do think about Jersey often and would love to have a foothold there, whether it’s a business or home. I’ve still got lots of relationships and am very proud of my friends in Jersey. I do miss it, yes. I suppose I can relate to a real sense of belonging somewhere. We are a nation of islands and it is a mentality that is very unique - indeed, it is easy to forget that Great Britain is a big island surrounded by lots of smaller islands, so island community is part of life in the UK in general. But Jersey probably gave me a greater insight into that.

It makes me very proud to think that a relatively small island can be such a leading hub for many sectors within the global community.

How do people in your home overseas react when you tell them you are from Jersey? 

How do you explain Jersey to them?When I tell people that I am from Jersey, they love it; they want to know more. ‘Did you meet Bergerac’? ‘Yes, drove his car once for SK, that was fun!’ I explain it as a place of enormous beauty, whether it’s for holiday or for life. I think it’s a beautiful place – a place of opportunity. 

How do you maintain contact with Jersey? Are you often in touch with people – family, friends – on the Island; do you ever visit?

I work supporting Jersey Hospice events, coming back to the Island and doing wine tastings. I’d love to do more – how about a food and drink festival?! I'm often in touch with people there – I have lots of friends, and I visit two or three times a year, but would love to come more. 

What are your favourite memories of Jersey? Do you have any special memories of Liberation Day, for example, or other special occasions?

Liberation Day was enormous and I think that’s a really important thing to keep hold of. It signifies our values as a free and fair society, and when you see the air display in particular, you are reminded of those islands under the jackboots of Nazi rule, and it really hits home that you can’t take it for granted. There were lots of people when I was in Jersey who would remember Nazi Occupation, and therefore Liberation Day was especially moving. Still now, on Liberation Day, my mother, father and brother and I will make contact, it’s something that definitely stays with us. 

I have many other special memories. When you’re young kids, one of the best things in the world is riding on the Duck when you’re down on the esplanade and driving into the sea - I mean, that’s the stuff of dreams! You’re telling me there’s an amphibious craft that can both go on land and then in the ocean?! Also pootling around in boats – I had mates that had boats, fishing out to the Écréhous and the Minquiers, all of that. Day trips to Carteret - total magic. Exploration, adventure, bright sun, dramatic weather. Love it! 

What do you find most interesting and surprising about Jersey?

I would say the history. Gorey Castle looms deep in my thoughts. It’s an epic construction and when you go round it you can literally smell the spirit of hundreds of years of civilization and a unique culture being brewed. It's an island of fortifications, and you can see the layers of the different threats. Whether it’s Napoleonic or the Second World War, there are so many levels on which the island was prepared to defend what it stood for. I do have a great interest in the historic side of Jersey. I also think most people don’t realise how, on some days, it can feel like you’re in the tropics, on a boat with a few dolphins splashing about beside you - it’s sheer magic - snorkeling and seeing the most wonderful range of wild sea creatures. What would you say are Jersey’s greatest strengths? 

What makes you proud to be from Jersey?

Jersey is incredibly good at projecting a stable environment for leisure, commerce and for cultural aspiration. It makes me very proud to think that a relatively small island can be such a leading hub for many sectors within the global community.

Do you think of yourself as part of a ‘diaspora’ community? Do you ever encounter other people from Jersey abroad? Do you have a message for the wider Jersey diaspora community?

I do think of myself as part of a diaspora community – and I do meet people from Jersey when they’re over in London and the UK, and we make an effort to meet up. It’s a great idea to expand the Jersey diaspora network as it’s a shared bit of heritage. There are so many aspects to the Island, whether it's smelling seaweed on the fields, getting the vraic ready for the spuds, or out on the wild west coast, watching the rollers come in over Corbiere and St Ouen. It’s something that’s in your DNA. I also think about a cold, quiet pint on a hot summer’s day down at a tucked-away spot like Portelet, or the Smugglers in winter. Great stuff. 

My message to the diaspora – let’s keep in touch and let's forge ever stronger links – for starters, let's set up a food and drink festival - I’ll lead the way! 

Thanks, Olly! Stay in touch.

Interested in sharing a story like this about your experience in Jersey or overseas, or just want to chat to someone from the team to find out more? Get in touch at jerseyconnections@gov.je