Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

How Sheikh Mohammed inspired two English brothers to sell camels to the Middle East

Marc Stevenson, the renowned royal rocking horse-maker, tells us how a trip to Dubai inspired his latest creation

British twins Marc and Tony Stevenson have been making bespoke rocking ­horses from their workshop in the rural village of Bethersden, Kent, for almost 40 years. After watching their uncle, shipwright James Bosworthwick, make horses for years in his spare time, the brothers asked him repeatedly to teach them the craft.

“We watched him make them, but we never actually got one ourselves,” Marc Stevenson tells The National. “He said: ‘Don’t be so silly, no one wants rocking horses now. And you two probably couldn’t do it’.

So that was like waving a red rag to a bull.”

The brothers agreed to pay their uncle £1,000 (Dh4,791) to teach them how to make the rocking horses, and the pair more than rose to the challenge.

Catering to a different audience

After opening their business, Stevenson Brothers, on October 20, 1982, Marc and Tony now sell rocking horses to children and adults across the globe. The horses, which take between three and four months to make, are handcrafted to order by the brothers and their team.

With prices starting at £1,000 for a miniature horse replica, the team make horses of up to about 1.5 metres tall using oak – meaning even a portly adult can enjoy a ride without fear of damaging the horse. The larger sized toys begin at £4,000.

While, to begin with, the brothers created horses predominantly for children, they now cater mainly for the grown-up market. “It’s adults that didn’t get one when they were three and four years old,” Marc says. “And often we’re asked to copy people’s real horses, which is what we love doing. We’ll use some of the animal’s hair.”

In her office, saddler Claire Smith is carefully constructing a leather tack based on pictures of a black horse. In another room, artist Matthew Clift has finished painting the final details on a dapple grey, using a photograph of a customer’s beloved companion. Clift has even recreated the intricate markings on the horse’s rear left leg. One replica standing in the workshop was modelled after Valegro – the gelding ridden by British dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

Connection to royalty

Among the brothers’ horse-loving clients are members of royal families from across Europe and the Middle East. “We’re very lucky to have been commissioned by many royal families over the world and at home here in the UK,” Marc says.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is a loyal customer, having purchased six horses from the twins. A photograph from 1932 that shows the Queen aged six with her sister Princess Margaret on a rocking horse, hangs proudly at the top of the stairs in their workshop. “That’s been there forever,” Marc says. “It inspired us to start working with the Queen.”

Pictures of royal family members adorn the walls of the craftsmen’s palace. Sarah Ferguson, the former wife of Prince Andrew, had all of her photographs from her 40th birthday taken with a horse created by Stevenson Brothers. Downstairs in the showroom, there is a photograph of the Queen receiving a traditional dapple grey, complete with a saddle cloth in her racing colours, from Marc, in honour of her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Inspired by Dubai's racing camels

But it was Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who planted the seed for Marc and Tony’s new pride and joy – Humphrey, the rocking camel. The Dubai royal family – many of whom are keen equestrians – have long been customers of Stevenson Brothers. Sheikh Mohammed’s wife, Princess Haya, was given a rocking horse by her father, the late King Hussein of Jordan.

“Princess Haya has since bought horses from us at Windsor,” Marc says. “We’re going third generation into that family, which is really nice, a real accolade.”

The idea was there from many years ago. And finally, we’ve produced Humphrey, our first rocking camel, which is just delightful.

Marc Stevenson

Marc and Tony met Sheikh Mohammed in Dubai, while the brothers attended an exhibition about Britain’s history in the Gulf. “We were asked by Sheikh Mohammed to go to the racetrack one night, where we saw horse racing and camel racing. I’d never seen camels race before and it was so exciting,” Marc explains. “I said to Tony: ‘We’ve got to make a rocking camel’.

“The idea was there from many years ago. And finally, we’ve produced Humphrey, our first rocking camel, which is just delightful.”

The brothers have previously dabbled in creating rocking tigers and rocking zebras. One of the zebras, which is covered in 82,000 Swarovski crystals, is currently on sale at Harrods in London for £130,000.

But Humphrey is the only camel the brothers have made so far. Marc created the replica for himself, but he hopes it will pique the interest of his buyers in the Arab world. “We’re very excited by the launch of dear Humphrey,” Marc says. “I’m an Englishman selling camels to the Middle East.”

Updated: April 2, 2019 09:05 AM

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