Alice talks to the celebrity florist about her business and her love of dogs, the strays, the downtrodden, left to fend for themselves in foreign lands.

Alongside flowers, Nikki Tibbles’s greatest passion is dogs. Not just your average puppy mind you, raised without a care in the world by the glowing range of the Aga, but the strays, the downtrodden, left to fend for themselves in foreign lands. This entrepreneur has made it her mission, alongside running one of the most elegant and aspirational floral brands in the UK (and overseeing thirty staff no less) to save and rehome dogs by the hundreds. Which is how we find ourselves in her beautifully decorated home just the other side of Hyde Park discussing The Wild at Heart Foundation, her charity, a veritable saviour for those lost souls roaming the back streets of Europe and farther beyond.

Tibbles is an old school florist, one who revels in the skill and artistry of working with flowers. She looks back somewhat bemused by the seismic shift in the industry, flowers popping through your letter box, subscription models charged monthly to your bank account, yes it’s been a paradigm shifting few years for the industry. ‘When I started we were known by word of mouth and original press, articles in magazines. I’m pretty sure that’s how companies like Interflora succeeded for so long, because no one really knew what was being sent. This technological world we live in has allowed anyone to be able to build a brand on instagram. As a florist who’s been working with flowers for over twenty years that’s the downside of social media.’

Nevertheless the flip side is that the Tibbles aesthetic, a gloriously English melange of in seasonal blooms has become incredibly well known. With outlets at Liberty, a store in Notting Hill and a dedicated events arm, Wild At Heart has become the go-to brand for the upper crust hostess, evidenced by an increase in online sales year on year of 20-30%. ‘The internet has allowed us to tell stories,’ Tibbles says. ‘We’re a lot more involved with our customers. The flower industry has been dominated by dot com subscription flower companies, Flowerbx, Bloom & Wild etc. We are a florist with history and a sense of being, we want to be able to reach the same market.’

As for advice for other would be entrepreneurs, 'always employ people who are better than you and listen to them,’ Tibbles instructs. ‘You need a good finance person. Everyone is good at something. Do what you do best and leave others to do what they do well.’ Sound advice indeed.

‘I’m good with flowers,’ she laughs, ‘but I’m not good with numbers. Let people do what they do best.’

For the skilled floral upstart, Tibbles is adamant there is no need to way lay one’s career with the expensive courses so beloved of the industry. ‘You need to go and work with someone,’ she says. ‘You don’t need to do an expensive course as Mcqueens or Jane Packer. Floristry is hard work.’ Roll your hands up is the onus and don’t complain.

Staff is always the entrepreneur’s bete noire. ’We find it hard to find good people to work in our stores; people don’t want to work outside or in the cold… We used to have a lot of florists from Australia and New Zealand but now they’re usually from the UK or Europe.’ Does she find the weight of responsibility challenging I wonder? ‘Not really I’m used to it now,’ she says. We pay the salaries every month! I’m more concerned about the life and times we’re living in. Every one wants everything at the click of a button. Is everyone having parties so much? Not really.’

Which brings us onto Tibbles’ other cause celebre, aside from dogs; climate change. ‘I try to live my life as sustainably as possible,’ she says. ‘I don’t think we’re living in a particularly kind world. I don’t know for the life of me why someone doesn’t stop Coca Cola producing twenty million plastic bottles every year? When we’re worrying about throwing away a lightbulb…’ Quite.

Wild at Heart grew out of a need ‘to want to give something back to this world. When my dog Rose who came from Puerto Rico passed away, I promised her I would get another dog from abroad. When you Google rescue dogs, that unleashes the gates of hell because you can’t unsee what you have seen, well at least I can’t. There are six hundred million stray dogs in this world and not one of them is dealt with humanely.’

The foundation was set up to address the issues of global high volume sterilisation and education, with the larger projects in Puerto Rico neutering three thousand dogs in three days.. For Tibbles, the rehoming is the icing on the cake (about forty dogs a month from Bulgaria, Puerto Rico etc are matched with families in the UK). ‘We make sure it’s the right dog for them. We have a very detailed adoption process. Most people will look online and say that’s the dog I want and generally there’s no problem.’ By the time the dog is vaccinated and sent over the wait is a month or two. ‘Seeing a rescue dog in its new home is extraordinary,’ she smiles.

Tibbles is set on changing perceptions of the rescue dog, ‘They are not damaged!’ she would like you to know. ‘A lot of pedigree dogs have come from puppy farms and have had terrible lives. Rescue dogs are incredibly kind and loving, their temparement is lovely. To see the attitude around them changing is wonderful.’ Needless to say Tibbles’ days are incredibly full. ‘I love my work and my real job; I love them both.’ And needless to say she executes them to perfection. At night she curls up with old fashioned flower books, or a Wilkie Collins. Her last thought, of the dogs to be rehomed tomorrow, which ties in neatly with her favourite quote, ‘If you can be anything in this world, be kind,’ she says. Which says it all really.

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September 2019

By Alice Kahrmann