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Inside the small world of Bewley's boss Paddy

WORKING from Florence, the cafe tycoon is already hard at work creating sculptures for the traditional Grafton Street display.

'In Italian it's 'far vibrare il cuore' and in English it means to 'stir the heart' and I think it sums up what I'm trying to achieve with my art," says Paddy Campbell, director of Bewley's Cafe and sculptor, from his art studio in Florence where he is working on his next Christmas window display for Bewley's on Grafton Street, Dublin. No one is arguing that it's way too early to be discussing anything Christmassy, yet anyone who has seen Paddy's 'Small World' sculptures will rejoice, as his miniature figurines oozing sassy humanity in everyday scenarios have become a highlight of the festive season for harassed shoppers.

He's working on the window to be ready for December. "I've over 200 of the small figures so it's a case of adding a few more, coming up with new scenarios for the window and draping the sculptures which is no problem, as the Italians love clothes," Paddy says.

The 70-year-old entrepreneur/artist adds: "Each year I ask myself why do it again, but we have a comment book in Bewley's and the feedback from people who come to visit is always so positive."


But before Paddy took up residence in the artistic capital of Italy and began work as a full-time sculptor, he set up Campbell Catering from the kitchen of a bed and breakfast on Gardiner Place, which he was running with his wife Veronica. The couple employed thousands of people before selling the catering arm of the company and at the same time banking themselves tens of millions of euro.

His parents, Michael and Brigid, set up three bed and breakfasts in the heart of the city, including two on Talbot Street. "It was different back then, people didn't look for ensuites or somewhere to sit down and relax. It literally was for bed and breakfast," Paddy says. He was educated in Belvedere College and was a great lover of sport, especially rugby. This can seem at odds with his sculptures of women that radiate female sexuality and a certain letting go.

"Tourists who visit my exhibitions in Italy usually assume that I'm a woman and take it for granted that 'Paddy' is a woman's name," he says.

"They see these female figures and make assumptions, but I suppose the best way to explain it is that once I start working on the female form, I begin to get in touch with my feminine side and empathise with women," he says.

Being an artist is very much like being an entrepreneur, Paddy feels. He trained in hotel management in Dublin, London and Sweden before returning to Ireland to start his own business in contract catering in 1967, first doing food for weddings and funerals. He expanded to supply catering contracts for oil rigs, often in remote parts of the world.

Campbell Catering grew into a multi-million turnover business. It was in 1986 that Campbell Catering, led by Paddy as CEO and chairman, rescued the floundering coffee house Bewley's, allowing us to continue our habit of gossiping, breaking up and making up, and laughing over our coffees in the iconic cafes.

In 2005, US services giant Aramark bought Campbell Catering, yet the Campbell family continues to own Bewley's. Paddy is estimated to be worth in the region of over €60m, which is mainly down to his catering success, though his sculptures sell for thousands of euro each.

"You need a creative spark to develop a business in the same way as you need it as an artist," Paddy says, and given his success, you'd be mad not to listen. "I could have learned the techniques of being a good hotel manager, chef or waiter, yet unless I had the creative spark needed to run a business – I often describe it as walking a tightrope because if you stop you go down – I'd never have succeeded.

"I did a sculpture course to help with my painting and spent three years learning the techniques. I started making the figurines which I thought could be a bit childish in some people's eyes, yet then people came to an exhibition and I saw their response and realised I was right to follow my creative spark and not to look down," he says.



He was 54 when he decided to return to his first love, art, and began to spend his summers studying in Florence. His commissions include an official portrait of former president Mary McAleese.

He is a father of five and his son Duncan, who lives in Glasgow, is one of the three artists chosen to represent Scotland at this year's Venice Biennale. His daughter Siofra is a screenwriter and another daughter Kelly is an actress.

He's currently a hands-off director at Bewley's. "I say I went from being the driver of the business to taking a passenger seat to finally ending up in the luggage department. Trying to nail down the reason for success is hard. I would have said it was down to being a very good delegator," Paddy says.

"I may not have been the best at everything, but I found the people who were, who had the talents and I let them get on with the job they were great at."

He will exhibit in Florence in July, yet for most Dubliners, the next time we enjoy the magic Paddy spins with his miniature sculptures in everyday settings, it will be December on Grafton Street.

CREATIVE SPARK: Paddy Campbell working on one of his pieces of art and (right) the miniature scenes for which Bewley's Christmas window are famed