Sandi ToksvigSandi with some of the Tea Shop staff. Photograph: Pete Gardner
Catherine Whyte quizzes radio and TV regular Sandi Toksvig at the official opening of the new Tea Shop at the Watts Gallery, Compton
Visitors to the delightful Tea Shop at the Watts Gallery will be happy to hear that the most recent round of renovations has now finished, and that the extension to the cafe – along with the new toilets! – is open for business. Broadcaster Sandi Toksvig – a regular devotee – took
a break from her busy schedule to open the new-look tea room.
“I am currently Chancellor at Portsmouth University and the tea room is about halfway to London. So when I’m done for the day, I pop in for a cup of tea.”
No qualms about going alone, then?
“No! The place is always busy, that’s what I love about it – it’s so energetic” she says, enthusiastically. “I always meet somebody who’s very pleasant and chatty. Without wanting to sound pretentious, I’ve been in the public eye for about 30 years now so people have a sense that they know me, and I think that’s very nice.”
Turns out Toksvig first visited the Watts Gallery at the age of 18 – not to see the work of GF Watts, but to find out more about his wife, Mary.
“Women’s art is so often overlooked,” she says, sadly. “I felt that Mary was really the unsung heroine of that partnership. She had a great sense of community.”
Mary, apart from building the glorious mortuary chapel, founded Compton Pottery on the site in 1901. In fact, the present cafe used to house the pottery’s showroom. The connection endures: all the china used in the tea room comes from nearby Grayshott Pottery, which can trace its roots back to Compton.
We chat for a while about the lack of recognition faced by women in the art world.
A serious subject. How, then, do I steer the conversation in the direction of tea without sounding trivial?
“Oh trivialise away!” insists Sandi. “I live my life under a veneer.”
Is she a tea person? Or does coffee hit the spot?
“Tea, scones, cream and jam,” she continues – without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
No Victoria Sponge? How about a slice of Coffee and Walnut?
“Nope. I always survey the entire menu and then have the same thing each time. I ought to branch out, give something else a go. But I don’t like things that are too sweet. With a scone you can judge the jam yourself, you see.”
On to another question of import: cheese, plain or fruit?
“Ah! I’m loving this. Fruit.”
Raspberry or strawberry jam?
Clotted cream or no clotted cream?
“Er…hello? I can’t believe you even asked the question. I’m shocked! I’ve been asked many things by the press, but that takes the biscuit!”
The tea room is open Tuesday to Sunday (and bank holidays), 10.30-5pm