A chance conversation led to the keys of a Bentley being handed over to this Dubai gallery owner.
A decent proposal
If the mark of a renaissance man is his appreciation of the arts and technology, then Charles Pocock fits the definition. Part-owner and managing partner of Meem Gallery in Dubai, Pocock is an authority on Ancient Islamic and modern Middle Eastern art. "I'm an art historian by trade, but I collect and sell art", he says.
With an MA in the History of Art, Pocock has a keen eye for the aesthetic and the functional, which might explain why his everyday commuter is a classic 1991 Bentley Turbo R. The car came into the gallery's possession when an unnamed sheikh exchanged it for one of the gallery's pieces. "I didn't buy the Bentley. It came from a passionate car and art collector in Abu Dhabi from a well-known family. We were talking about a painting and he said, 'I have to have it. You can have anything of mine that you want - within reason'. And for a joke I said, 'I'll take the Bentley'. He put his hand out immediately and said 'Done'."
The 6.8L V8 monster is a rarity. While there are other Turbo Rs in the region, few are the limousine variant which has about two feet of extra rear space. "And it's got weird grey-black camouflage style dashboard [inlays]", Pocock says of the original interior. "I took the sheepskin mats out for a while, but then I thought, 'You know what, they're really comfy and my feet really do like them a lot'."
Between a house in London, where Pocock commutes to his city gallery in a Subaru Legacy, a family home in Sussex where a battered Range Rover hauls him through the villages close to Goodwood, and a summer residence in the France where a Saab convertible inherited from his mother serves as the family carriage, cars feature prominently in his lifestyle. He comes from a line of car lovers. His grandfather, an engineer at Oxford who designed the wings of the Wellington and Lancaster bombers as well as introducing aluminium alloy into aeroplane construction, was a Royal Automobile Club member, as was his father. Pocock is also a member.
He produces a chromed 1930s RAC emblem from his desk. "This is actually for the Royal Automobile Club itself - the private members' club. The number is 432 which was his membership number. "I spoke to the club secretary's office and asked how many members of the RAC were in the [Middle East] region, and they think I'm the only one," he says. Now he has to find a way to mount the emblem to the front of the Bentley.
The Turbo R is the most refined vehicle Pocock has owned. "I used to have an old MkII Golf that was worth no more than fifty quid - that's what I sold it for", he smiles. "It was a great car but I completely destroyed it. I regret not getting one car at university - the Ford Capri, just like in The Professionals. It's totally cheesy but really cool." Like many young boys growing up on the 1980s, Pocock references his favourite cars through their TV debuts: "I've always loved the Magnum PI Ferrari - the 308. As kids in England we were bought up on Magnum PI and Miami Vice - the Ferrari Daytona!" But he adds that the only reason he wouldn't buy a 308 is because, at more than two metres tall, he's too big to fit in one.
"If you've got to travel then you've got to travel in comfort. It's important not to punish yourself," Pocock continues and, besides, there are the other advantages to driving a classic Bentley. "I always get spoilt rotten at the Royal Mirage," he says. "They make sure it's parked out the front. It's probably the least valuable car in the whole row." Even so, the Turbo R recently survived a Jeep Wrangler driving into the door with just a scratch and an inch-long paint chip. "Any other car and it would have taken the door off completely," he smiles.
Having survived cancer in 2006, skinning his shin bone in a surfing accident when he was 18, burning his arms working in a steel mill in the US as a student and skinning his knuckles on the Cresta Run at 90mph, there may be signs that Pocock is beginning to rein in his wild side and appreciate the serenity epitomised by the Bentley. "The engineering of the car is just breathtaking", he adds. But there is still room for technology. "My wife openly admits that she's not the best at directions. The TomTom [GPS] has saved our marriage." And occasional schoolboy pranks are still amusing: "I programmed my father's TomTom with my voice. And he doesn't like being told what to do by anyone - especially by his son."