Shaper: Cleo Rocos

Show aired on 17th June 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Happy Talk from Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson. A lovely way to start the programme. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss and thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and very luckily and cunningly we bring someone who is shaping the world of business alongside them and we call them Business Shapers. We’ve got a treat today because my Business Shaper is Cleo Rocos and Cleo is the founder of AquaRiva, that is a tequila business and a tequila brand but also you may recall her from the wild days of the eighties when she was involved with the Kenny Everett magic called the Kenny Everett show. So we are going to be hearing a little bit about that and lots about her fantastic business and I am looking forward to hearing from her very shortly. In addition to hearing from her, you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business. And on top of all that, if that isn’t enough and I think it might be for the normal people listening, you are also going to have some fantastic music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul. Wes Montgomery is in there, Chuck Berry is in there and this is also in there from Mr Jason Moran.

The innovative Jason Moran with Honeysuckle Rose. As billed earlier, Cleo Rocos is my Business Shaper, she is the founder of AquaRiva and they are making beautiful tequila – possibly the best tequila in the world – and they are also branching out into the world of Agave syrup because for those of you in the know, and I am sure you know this already, tequila is made with Agave; with the beautiful big blue cactus. Is it a cactus?

Cleo Rocos
Well actually interestingly…

Elliot Moss
Is it a cactus or is it just a plant?

Cleo Rocos
It looks like a cactus.

Elliot Moss
But it’s not?

Cleo Rocos
Well for many years it was categorised as part of the lily family and fairly recently it’s been re-categorised as part of the asparagus family.

Elliot Moss
I knew you would know something about. Hello. How are you?

Cleo Rocos
Hello. I’m brimming with glee. How are you?

Elliot Moss
I am really pleased. I am please you’re brimming with glee and I am really pleased to meet you as well.

Cleo Rocos
I am thrilled to meet you.

Elliot Moss
As I have mentioned Cleo, you know, we have very excellent people on this show I hope, people who are doing wonderful things in business and that is the reason why you are here. And then I realised it was you and as a fan of Kenny Everett and as a fan of those days when I was growing up and the seminal stuff, I was like wow, I’ve got a double whammy here, this is fabulous. So the tequila thing is incredible I want to talk all about that, but just for a moment, indulge me. Your first life, because this is a different life I think, you’re not a cat, you’re something else. You’re Cleo. Cleo is not categorisable. What was it like being a performer and what was it like being a performer when you work with someone like Kenny Everett?

Cleo Rocos
Well firstly it really didn’t feel like performing. Working with Kenny was just, was just fantastic. I remember being a child and watching commercials where there would be a white background and I remember thinking ‘oh I want to be standing somewhere that looks like it goes on forever, how does that go on forever?’ I didn’t realise that you know there was just a white background and working with Kenny was very much like that, it was sort of like walking into a giant cartoon. There were no real rules. Today it’s just so dreary with the rules and all the PC correctness. And it is not that we did anything wrong, we just went out there and enjoyed it and working with Kenny was just beyond anything I’ve done since. And there is no one like Kenny.

Elliot Moss
And I imagine, I’m going to relate this to business in a moment, but there is unstructured look to it, but behind and underneath the bonnet of the lack of structure, how well prepared were you or was it simply, I mean how did it work, did you have a topic and you said this was what we are going to do or was it much more scripted but it looked more relaxed.

Cleo Rocos
Well Barry Cryer, the fabulous Barry Cryer, and Ray Cameron along with Kenny, primarily the three of them wrote the show. There were other writers who would come in and add material and things and sketches. But being a sketch show people would send in sketches and so it was great, if it was funny it made it in. But basically that’s how the show was written. And quite often we would go for lunch and have a few, a little bit of internal illumination and we would teeter on becoming over refreshed and all the ideas would come pouring out. There used to be a Chinese restaurant down the road from the BBC in Wood Lane and we used to ask for a pen and we would each have a pen writing sketches and ideas for sketches as we sat and laughed and exchanged stories and things. And very often we used to have to buy the tablecloth to leave the restaurant and it was structured in the way that everything would end up in a script. It was unstructured in the way that, as soon as Kenny and I received our scripts, they would be posted to us, Kenny would phone me and say ‘are you in darling’ and I would say ‘yes, I’ve answered the phone’ and he would say ‘did your script arrive?’ and I would say ‘yes’ and he said ‘right have you poured yourself a large drink’. And I would have to pour myself a large drink and he said ‘ready?’ and I would say ‘ready’. And we ripped the script up and because he worked for so many years in radio, he hated doing anything twice. He worked live. So he was extremely profound with his talent for the moment and the timing and the understanding of it, but as soon as something was too scripted…

Elliot Moss
It didn’t work.

Cleo Rocos
…he hated it. And he hated doing sketches twice.

Elliot Moss
If I was writing a script of your life, I would kind of go part 1 of the script is the comedienne and the actress over there, part 2 is then you’re a celebrity and you’re doing stuff but it probably isn’t completely you, but you’re doing it because you might need to do it, and part 3 is then the business woman.

Cleo Rocos
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Just tell me very briefly before we go to our next bit of music, part 2, Celebrity Big Brother, you are doing Masterchef and all that… is it a means to an end at that point or did you love it as well in just a different way?

Cleo Rocos
No I produced, I wanted to do things, I am very good at putting people together and I love people so, and they would say why aren’t you working with so and so. So I did end up producing things. I produced a play in the West End with Daryl Hannah and Michael Radford who directed Il Postino and it was a first for the three of us, but I produced that and put that on. It was… it, I was, I wasn’t enjoying it and television changed very much too and it just wasn’t fun like it was and then I had this huge throbbing tax bill in 2007 and I had to do the Big Brother, Celebrity Big Brother House and I remember being asked so are you doing it for the experience. And I said the only experience I am doing it for is to pay my tax bill. But really, it’s not a career and it’s not a life, everything changed, entertainment changed, so it just became something I didn’t really enjoy so much.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out what Cleo did next because actually she is enjoying herself very much. You should see her face and her colourful, beautifulness as she thinks about her business which is called AquaRiva and we are going to talk all about that right after this. This is Aaron Neville, one of your choices, and you’ve got a few, it’s called Tell It Like It Is.

That was Aaron Neville with Tell It Like It Is, one of the song choices of Cleo, my Business Shaper today, Cleo Rocos and we were talking briefly about covering thirty years in about five minutes about your previous lives and I want to talk about this life. So you are, you come from the world of performance although you sort of said it wasn’t like performing, it was what you did and so on and then you decided you were going to go and set a tequila brand and a business. Tell me how this little moment happened?

Cleo Rocos
Well like everyone else, my first experience of tequila was like sort of full on Bob Slater hell experience and I thought I never wanted to go near the stuff again and about sixteen years ago I was in Mexico, I was in a little place, a little hotel, a boutique hotel and I saw this very elegant lady whom was in her sixties, with a sort of chiffon resort dress, you know blowing in the wind, she was writing, she was clearly a business woman and she was doing sketches and talking and things and I thought she must be the editor you know of the Mexican Vogue. And I kept seeing her drink. She was by herself, but on the phone and things, drinking from long thing fluted glasses and I asked the waiter what that lady was drinking. I said ‘what is she drinking’ because she was having a good time, but she was working sort of thing and he said well ‘she’s drinking tequila’. And I said ‘well she can’t be, she’s had six or seven now, she would be dead’ you know when I was comparing my first tequila experience. So I asked him to bring what she was drinking and it was at that moment that I realised I’d never had a proper tequila, 100% Agave tequila. And really I had no choice, it was literally like falling in love. I became sort of passionate about it, I wanted to learn everything there was and I wanted to know why, you know people weren’t drinking this great stuff, the pure, the 100% Agave tequila, why we had some negativity about tequila in the UK. So I started to learn everything I could, went to master classes and in 2011, in 2009 actually the tequila industry gave me a big award in Guadalajara and in 2011 I created my own brand. I spent eleven months created my brand with the master blender in Mexico and my brand it was just born out of passion. The bottle the bartenders chose is a very simple bottle, my label I didn’t have any money really to do it, I am actually scared to look backwards and see how it happened. My label is created by a seventeen year old art student I met on the tube a kid called Jamie Stirey-Harris a really talented artist. So he did the label and then I started entering my tequila into competitions because I needed some clarification from the experts and I entered it into a competition called Tequila.net which is the world’s biggest tequila competition in the States. It’s a blind judging and it was awarded best of the best out of two hundred and fifty seven tequilas and those are the big guys you know up against the world’s best tequilas. So I was really throbbingly proud about that.

Elliot Moss
So we are going to come back to, I mean it’s an incredible story and you’ve just covered a number of years very, very quickly. I want to go back and I am going to do this in a few minutes and find out how you managed to pull this off because you’ve just talked about it as if it just sort of happened, with a little bit of, I mean tonnes of humility, but I want to just see what actually went on because it is one thing having an idea, it’s another thing going and doing what you did. The latest travel in a couple of minutes, but before that it’s another part of our Future Shapers series, it’s someone who is going to be shaping the world of business in the very near future.

You’re listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliott Moss. Every Saturday I meet someone who is shaping the world of business. If you’ve missed any of the over two hundred and fifty people that have been doing that with me, go into iTunes, put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’; British Airways Highlife is a destination for you; FT.com and CityAM.com too. We are everywhere I hope. Cleo Rocos is with me right now though, she is the founder of AquaRiva which is an award winning tequila brand with all sorts of different varieties that sits underneath it. You said and you said it in a such a natural way because it’s from your heart, you talked about, well I had this idea, I went, I saw this woman drinking and from the woman drinking suddenly you’ve got five/six years later national distribution. I just want to go back a little bit. So you have the idea, you learn, you become the master blender or working with a master blender to make your own tequila and you found someone that designs the bottle, but then what. How do you know what to do Cleo, you’ve not run your own business before?

Cleo Rocos
No.

Elliot Moss
So then how, in those very early months, what happened, what got you from the stuff to the shelf?

Cleo Rocos
That’s a really good question actually. What happened was I had the liquid, you know suddenly it was right, you know after all the tweaking and making sure that you know with the master blender, that is exactly how I wanted it. So then I, basically I had the container of tequila coming over. But you always think there is going to be a moment where you punch at the end and you go ‘yes’ and you get to that moment and think ‘oh no a whole new set of problems’. And I had this container coming over to the UK with my tequila and I thought ‘what am I going to do’. I had seen… it was 2012 and I had seen that Virgin were opening a new route to Cancun, so I phoned up the Virgin office and said ‘please can you see me, you must be looking for tequila, please will you at least see me, can I just come in and show you my tequila’. So they did, they let me come in which was a great thing for Virgin because they do welcome new business, but they let me come in, they had been bombarded by every other huge brand and they took it. They said ‘yes we are going to have your tequila’.

Elliot Moss
And do you think you like, obviously they liked the taste. Did they love the story as well, the fact this is an independent, spunky, throbbing, great person who is kind of passionate and crazy about what she is doing. Do you think that’s what sold it?

Cleo Rocos
I think the fact is that it’s real. There are many, many brands of all sorts of things, but I think provenance is becoming more and more important to everyone for whatever they buy and whatever they, you know they enjoy. And I think being, you know for want of a better, the real deal and also I, you know I made the cocktails for them, we were there, we went on the flight, Richard Branson was there, there were ninety people from the press. Three days, three days of my margaritas and everyone was feeling very fresh.

Elliot Moss
And once you had done that, obviously that’s a massive first hump.

Cleo Rocos
Yes.

Elliot Moss
The next thing is easier I imagine. And you will say well I am on Virgin, I’ve got this and then where do you go after that, what was the next big thing?

Cleo Rocos
Well then the next thing I did was I thought where do you get, stupidly actually, I thought where does must stuff sell. You see I wasn’t, at that point, AquaRiva wasn’t in the bars and clubs. Now we are nationwide in the bars and clubs and restaurants. We are in Bills, we are in Pingpong, we are in you know four hundred [unclear 20:27], we are in all fabulous places nationwide and many, many more wonderful places… Café Pacifico, everywhere. And so I didn’t have that at the time and I had actually phoned the supermarkets, I phoned up Waitrose and I phoned up Sainsbury and they took my brand in too so I thought ‘oh this is great’, but actually because nobody really knew it, we weren’t having any customers coming to buy it off the shelf and of course then what happens is the bars start to, you know we were joined, you know a great finding with the wonderful distribution nationwide, a distribution company, Matthew Clark and Cactus Brand is the brand development with them and what happened was then business starts it improve, you start to get more and more orders and then you have a major clenching buttock attack because you think I’ve got all this business and then there is the cash flow. And I know this is really uncool to say and I know most people avoid it, but factually I could not, I could not have done my business without the immense support from HSBC. And I know that’s really uncool because most people have terrible stories to say, but…

Elliot Moss
No it’s good. It’s good to hear and I am going to stop you there because it’s a moment and we are going to listen to HSBC being talked of and banks talked of positively and I think that’s important. Some very occasionally people say that and it’s right that you do so.

Cleo Rocos
There’s got to be a balance.

Elliot Moss
There’s got to be a balanced view of it and we are going to come right back to yu, but we’ve got some music.

Cleo Rocos
Fab.

Elliot Moss
I know, isn’t that good?

Cleo Rocos
I love it.

Elliot Moss
Even more music here on Jazz Shapers and it’s from Wes Montgomery and aptly it’s called Tequila.

That was Wes Montgomery, it was Tequila for a very good reason obviously and it needs no rationale. I have been talking to Cleo Rocos and we have been talking about AquaRiva and when things start to get bigger. The scale thing you know when it’s just, quote unquote, little old you. I imagine by the time these things are now happening you now have distribution, you now have the backing of HSBC to get round the clenched buttock moment as you called it. You then have to build a team I imagine, a pretty significant team. How have you done that and with your background in theatre and all those other things, I imagine again this is the first time, you’re directing well I suppose a producer as well, were you used to bringing together big teams and has that been enjoyable for you?

Cleo Rocos
No.

Elliot Moss
How have you managed it?

Cleo Rocos
You know you can make, also people are very good at telling themselves and when you don’t know that business so well, so you do make mistakes along the way and that’s part of it, but I am now with a wonderful distribution company as I have said earlier with Matthew Clark, a nationwide distribution.

Elliot Moss
But that’s one bit isn’t it. Then you’ve got your product development and stuff.

Cleo Rocos
Well no I did all myself.

Elliot Moss
But literally yourself?

Cleo Rocos
Literally. I actually have shoes with holes like those Charlie Chaplin holes in my shoes because I would literally go from bar to bar with a suitcase with my tequila with my organic Agave syrup showing people how I make cocktails, how they can make the cocktails, it’s good news for the bar because they are dropping you know triple sec and sugary liqueurs and so it’s better, financially better for the bars, it’s simpler to make and better for the customers. So I needed to show people how that… so I would literally go, I would go from bar to bar. And actually I am so used to carrying tequila with me, I have always got a bottle in my handbag.

Elliot Moss
And does anything daunt you Cleo, because you sound like you’ve just taken this all in your stride sort of.

Cleo Rocos
No I have always been somebody who’s, sort of fears is self-indulgent or I just look at things and think how can I get there? What can I do to get there? And actually usually knowledge is power, but no knowledge sometimes is such a gift because you can cut out all the places you would normally get nervous and you just think ‘that’s where I need to go, so I will go there’. ‘That’s who I need to speak to’ so I would just phone people and phone people until they speak with me.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Cleo Rocos plus we will be playing a track from Chuck Berry. That’s after the latest traffic and travel.

That was Chuck Berry with You Never can Tell. Just for a few more minutes I’ve got the fabulous Cleo Rocos. It strikes me as you’ve said, you know you fear nothing and you just kept saying, well I will call and I call and not knowing is really useful and a few of my brilliant guests have said that to me before. Now that you do know a bit and you are now five years in and you can’t sort of say, you know it’s all brand new because it’s not.

Cleo Rocos
No.

Elliot Moss
So I imagine you still get problems you haven’t quite seen before. Where do you want this to go? And is it about the money ever for you? Let’s be, be honest with me. Because you are very honest about the Celebrity Big Brother thing.

Cleo Rocos
Yeah, no, no, no absolutely. I mean eventually you, you know, there is an end game eventually. But, you know, my passion is you know, I am still in the throes of… I am passionate about my brand and I am passionate about not being, it all became very obvious that people have been duped and lied to and I can’t… and I just don’t like that. So, that’s why, I am absolutely fastidious that my brand is really, really clean and I go to Mexico regularly to the distillery, to where my syrup is made and created, we were there with Food Unwrapped just a few months’ ago and to me it’s really important that people get what they think they are getting when they buy something. So much stuff is cut with other things that you don’t know quite what you’re getting.

Elliot Moss
But what’s interesting about you, I find interesting, is the fact that obviously you’re very expressive and very gregarious and there is a lot of emotion there, but there is also a lot of steel and you strike me as someone who when they’re focussed on doing something, you are going to do it.

Cleo Rocos
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
So in five years’ time, what does doing it look like for you?

Cleo Rocos
Well as something that happened that I wasn’t expecting to happen as I say with my organic Agave syrup…

Elliot Moss
Which is sitting in front of me and it’s a very simple packaging and it’s stuff that I use at home actually although not your brand, but I am definitely going to give it a go.

Cleo Rocos
But something that happened which I wasn’t expecting because for instance the sugar industry this year is stopping global subsidising of any sugar. So suddenly I am sitting on a really hot business.

Elliot Moss
So how do you take advantage of that and be true to your values?

Cleo Rocos
Well I just stay doing what I am doing. I will just stay doing what I am doing.

Elliot Moss
But scale is there enough there or will you need more investment?

Cleo Rocos
Well. I mean I own my company a hundred percent and as I say I couldn’t, I couldn’t do it without the support of HSBC who have been phenomenal, particularly a lovely man called David Suba. Anyway…

Elliot Moss
Like an old-fashioned ‘and a shout out to David’.

Cleo Rocos
Yes because it is down to individuals you know…

Elliot Moss
Yeah it is, it is.

Cleo Rocos
…and that’s really important.

Elliot Moss
Just as a final question before we go to your choice, your next choice of music seeing as I’ve given you about three hundred today – lucky you – you mention that business or rather life, you talked about comedy actually, you said it’s become dreary and where’s the colour gone and it strikes me that you are a breath of fresh air and colour in the world of business. What would you advise someone who is thinking about their own business to do now if they are like you, if they are kind of not the typical business person if you will, if they haven’t had, you know you didn’t have a business background…

Cleo Rocos
No…

Elliot Moss
…but here we are.

Cleo Rocos
As I say, it scares me looking back because I am not sure how it happened.

Elliot Moss
But what would you say to them?

Cleo Rocos
I would just say. Don’t over analyse it. Don’t look and try to fit in. Because fitting in is just what everyone else… I can’t, I couldn’t fit in if I tried. I mean, look, I am not somebody who fits in, but that’s not purposeful. I would just say go with your passion, go with an absolute passion and a drive and that will take you places. That will, it’s like being in a very fast electric car, it’s non-polluting when it’s passion. When you do it for the wrong reasons, it becomes a bit toxic. I love, I am so excited and passionate about my brand, I love it, and I love the life around it because I just involve all my friends, I just involve… it’s something I can share with everyone and you know I just don’t think there is any happier moment than making a few jugs of margaritas and having all your favourite people round to enjoy it with you. I just think that’s wonderful.

Elliot Moss
Well listen, thank you so much for spending some time. Your energy is contagious and your focus is contagious as well and really, really good luck. Just before we say goodbye though for now. What’s your song choice and why have you chosen it. Your final song choice.

Cleo Rocos
My final song is with Plenty Of Money In You by the Ink Spots.

Elliot Moss
And why have you chosen this one?

Cleo Rocos
Because it’s happy and they are clearly happy without the money, but if they had plenty of money and they could spend it on their favourite person they would.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant. Here it is just for you.

That was the Ink Spots with Plenty of Money in You. the song choice of my fabulous Business Shaper today, Cleo Rocos. Someone with oodles and oodles of really genuine passion. Someone with a focus which meant she can literally run through walls and someone with a real purity about her. Someone who has really embraced the world of tequila and wants to make it the absolute best it can be. I really, really enjoyed meeting her. Do join me again same time, same place, that’s next Saturday at 9.00am for another addition of Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile stay with us because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Cleo Rocos

Cleo Rocos was born in Rio de Janeiro and started her professional career in television where she co-starred The Kenny Everett Show. She also co-starred in a number of TV shows both in the UK and the US, including the comedy, Assaulted Nuts and the detective series, Tropical Heat.

In addition to TV and cinema, in 2000, Cleo wrote and performed her comedy one woman show, Minky; the show, The Seven Year Itch at the London’s West End; as well as the luxury travel series, Cleo Worldwide. In 2001, Cleo also produced and presented a documentary on the events and stories behind the wedding and making of Princess Diana’s wedding dress.

Cleo sang a duet with Marc Almond live at the Royal Albert Hall for his “12 Years of Tears Tour” filmed for the BBC and released on DVD; participated in Celebrity Big Brother in 2007 in the UK; and competed in Britain’s Best Celebrity Chef in 2009. In 2011, she also competed in Celebrity Come Dine With Me.

She is also an author of her biography “Bananas Forever” and has written several travel special reports for This Morning.

In 2012 Cleo launched her own premium tequila brand, called AquaRiva and made from 100% Blue Weber agave. She has since been described as “the most influential woman in the world of tequila”.

Follow Cleo on Twitter @cleorocos1.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“Working with Kenny was sort of like walking into a giant cartoon. There were no real rules. Today it’s just so dreary with the rules and all the political correctness.”

“..quite often we would go for lunch and have a few, a little bit of internal illumination, and we would teeter on becoming over-refreshed and all the ideas would come pouring out.”

“I said ‘what is she drinking?’ because she was having a good time, and he said ‘well she’s drinking tequila’. And I said ‘well she can’t be, she’s had six or seven now, she would be dead.'”

“I entered it into a competition called Tequila.net which is the world’s biggest tequila competition in the States. It’s a blind judging and it was awarded ‘best of the best’ out of 257 tequilas.”

“I know this is really uncool to say and I know most people avoid it, but factually I could not have done my business without the immense support from HSBC.”

“I am so used to carrying tequila with me, I have always got a bottle in my handbag.”

“I am absolutely fastidious that my brand is really, really clean…so much stuff is cut with other things that you don’t know quite what you’re getting.”

“Don’t over analyse it. Don’t try to fit in. I couldn’t fit in if I tried. I would just say go with your passion, go with an absolute passion and a drive and that will take you places.”

“I just don’t think there is any happier moment than making a few jugs of margaritas and having all your favourite people round to enjoy it with you.”