Out to lunch with Boisdale Life and David Emin: Jonathan Durden

The Boisdale Life Big lunch with David Emin is a regular date where a guest joins him for lunch at one of Boisdales restaurants.


The lunch begins with a Starter for 10, where the guest is given 10 questions to answer, we then move on to the Main Course, and discuss the current role and company in a little more depth and then finish on Dessert, where we look into the future.

The guest gets to choose a whine, (or a whinge) and finally must leave a tip (to someone new starting in the business).

My guest today is Jonathan Durden, one of the three founders of PHD. He’s also a novelist, a Big Brother contestant, and owner of the new male grooming product, "Below The Belt".

Starter for 10

What makes you tick?

I didn’t know I had a tick?

If I could make one of your wishes come true now what would it be?

Can you make me look good in the photo?

Well it wont be the first time you’ve been touched up.

Actually my wish is, can I swop three of your oysters to see if the Jersey Royals from the Channel Isles are better than the Dungarvan Bay from Ireland, which you had.

Of course.

Yours are really good, but mine are better

In PHD, would you describe yourselves as the 3 Amigos, The 3 Stooges or the 3 Degrees?

None of those. We were the three musketeers.

I think there were actually 4 of them though

Was the fourth member John Aying?

It could have been. It was John Ayling that actually put us together. John Ayling wanted to have a second agency. He approached the three of us and asked us to form an agency.

Would it have happened without John Ayling?

Never. He sent me a note recently to say that he had just visited the PHD office in Beijing and there were 288 people working there. He said it was hard to believe that from the chat we had about starting an agency way back then had led to this.

You’re the 'D' in PHD. Were you ever upset not being the 'P'?

My first wife named the company and she put me last as usual.

What was harder? "where’s this going Emin?" Starting it or selling it?

Starting it, because when you start something it’s just you and you’re not representing a company anymore and you think everyone is going to ignore you and laugh at you. We were no longer at WCRS (or Engine group as it is now) and you assume that no one will take you seriously- whereas selling it was celebratory.

What one sentence sums you up right now?

The loin king.

I assume that a reference to "Below the Belt", the new male grooming product you have launched?


Have we mentioned that enough yet?


What makes you chuckle?

My former PA Esme sent out a letter to 120 of our top clients and rather than filling in the mail merge with their names and details, sent out every letter starting with the phrase "Dear Clunt"

Do you consider yourself a "Clunt" now you are on the other side of the fence advertising your own products on billboards throughout London and in the Daily Telegraph?


Main course

What year did you sell PHD?


How much did you get?

I can’t remember but I think it was for £14 million. Then I hung around like a bad smell for another 11 years.

Was it easy seeing your baby being raised by somebody else?   

Yes and No, because Omnicom didn’t give a fuck.

They were interested in the money but they really left us alone, so actually it was brilliant!.. I don’t think they even realised that they had bought us! When they discovered it they backed it and made it their sixth network in the world and now it’s a £10 billion, in 82 countries, most awarded media network in the world etc … and they were very wise to spot it… when they eventually did.

During your time there what were you most proud of?

The people.

The fact that we always hired people better than us, and we weren’t control freaks, and gave people space so that they could fly.

What we learnt from WCRS is that if you hire the right people more clients will come than go.

We also structured the company in a way that encouraged people to be entrepreneurial. We actually had 9 companies that were started by employees in the group that came up with ideas, and this made more money for us than the central hub of PHD.

A number of people grew up through PHD and become industry leaders. Can you name a few?

Naked. the late John Harlow, Jon Wilkins, Will Collin and Mark Holden (who is probably the most talented man I’ve ever met) Morag Blazey. And Tess Alps who is probably the best person I’ve ever met. There’s many more that I could mention.

I’d heard that you gave Mary Portas her first big break. Is that true?

No. Mary Portas was my client at Harvey Nichols and we got on very well.

We gave her some money to start up her business and she started it in our premises and we gave her some support services! To be fair she didn’t need any help from us other than that.

What are you most disappointed with during this period?

I regret leaving PHD but I don’t regret selling PHD.

Do you regret selling the property and the adjoining buildings that PHD was in?

Not really. We got almost as much for that as we did for the actual company.

After you left PHD you then wrote a book.

Yes. Essex Drugs and Rock and roll. I took a sabbatical and decided to write a book. I started off with things I’d experienced then it went off into its own world. It took me 30 days to write which I think is impressive as I’ve only ever read five books my whole life.

Mark Cohen is the lead character. Who is that based on?

Me, of course.

Was there any backlash when the book came out?

Yes. I had to send the first draft to a few people where characters bore an uncanny resemblance to them. I subsequently had to write them out. You’re in it. You’ve only got a small part though.

What percentage of the book is based on real life?


In the book the main character does something rude with his mother in law. Which 50 % is that in?

That didn’t happen. That’s in the other 50%

Just as the book is about to be published someone puts you on Big Brother.

Yes. Something your readers should know. When something crosses David Emin’s path and he doesn’t want to do it, he always says "I like that. I don’t want to do it myself, but I know a twat that will!" I was that twat.

They originally asked you as you are hilarious, witty, intelligent ..(I’ll make that sound better when I write this up).

What was the best thing about being on Big Brother?

The excitement of thinking millions of people were watching me snoring and when I left the house there was a three week period when people would ask for photos etc.

A year later, when it had all died down, I was stopped in the street outside AMV by a homeless person, and he came up to me and he said. "Are you Jonathan from Big Brother" and I said yes I am, and he said "I watched you , 24/7 when I was in prison". So even people locked up, look down and laugh at people on BB.

Did you have any regrets?

Only hurting people close to me. I did enjoy it whilst I was in the house. I didn’t enjoy it when I came out.

Would you ever recommend to anybody else being that publicly on show?

Only if you have nothing to hide.


Finally, Below the Belt… When did you first discover that you needed something more down below?

I’d been in Spain for three years and wanted to start another business that was my own. I had 5 key ideas and my wife Caroline chose this one.

If this one was about male grooming products for your groin , should I even ask what the other 4 ideas covered off?

No, but I genuinely felt that there was something lacking in the market for mens products. Plus I felt that that God had a real off day when he designed our genitalia.

You speak for yourself.

Think about it , its dangling about in hot weather... life is faster, you’re always running about, sweating etc and lets face it, if Apple were designing this, it wouldn’t be there would it?

Where would it be?

Anywhere else. It’s a major design flaw. And it occurred to me there’s a market for improving this area. There’s not enough male grooming products on the market.  The grooming industry thinks we care more about wrinkles than winkles… and they are wrong. Its winkles every time.

Do you ever see it expanding? Eh? Not that. The Brand?

Yes. We have three products now and that will extend to eight over time.

Would you like to pick a whine?

Yes. The smoke and mirrors behind social media. It’s not that difficult. 

Can you leave a tip?

If you have an idea, and you are driven, don’t ever be afraid to start up on your own. Also, try stepping out of your comfort zone occasionally.

I’ve just come back from Uganda, where I’ve spent some time with the charity "Childs I" where I’ve been helping in an orphanage that looks after abandoned babies, fundraising in the local town and helping them with their marketing etc. It was probably one of the scariest yet most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.

Has that made you a better person?

No. I’m still a tosser.

The meal


6 Jersey Oysters £16.50
Scottish Scallops £13.30


6 Dungarvan Oysters £17.50
9 oz Ribeye Aberdeenshire steak with salad £19.95

Wine: Boisdales sauvignon blanc.

If you have the appetite to enjoy the same lunch as David and Jonathan go to www.boisdale.co.uk

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