The Maverick Soul by Miv Watts
The Maverick Soul by Miv Watts is a celebration of 25 bohemian homes around the world and their free-spirited owners. One home featured – that of Nancy Howard – is this bijou west London cottage, filled with rock memorabilia and vintage finds, and it tells a very personal story of a life lived to the full.
Miv Watts is herself a true bohemian, having started her career as a window dresser at Burberry before marrying Peter Watts, sound engineer for Pink Floyd in the late ’60s. An acclaimed designer and stylist, she’s the mother of actress Naomi and photographer Ben. The Maverick Soul is a portrait of the lives and homes of eccentric, eclectic individuals whose paths Miv has been lucky enough to cross. Some, like artist and philanthropist Nancy Howard, are dear friends. In this extract, Miv reflects on how Nancy sought solace by bringing past and present together in a new home after the death of her husband.
Extract from The Maverick Soul by Miv Watts:
“Nancy Howard’s West London cottage matches her tiny New York frame. Stepping off the pavement, under her bower of blood-red roses, the first thing that hits you as the front door opens is the comforting aroma of Nancy’s chicken soup. Over the years, this nourishing potage has been the cure for a litany of maladies from a filthy flu to a break-up with a bad boyfriend. Nancy’s friendship has sustained me like a maternal bandaid across the world as I inevitably endured the lumps and bumps of my hopelessly itinerant life. Into the wee hours have I sat with the indomitable Tony Howard (Nancy’s late husband, known as ‘Mr. Grumpy’), listening to him chastise me for choosing my men in the same way that I chose my wardrobe.
“Tony Howard had a big heart and a short fuse and a long list of principles. While he was on the road – managing Marc Bolan, Tom Robinson, or tour manager to Pink Floyd – Nancy kept the home fires burning in conjunction with running a children’s model agency. Her house was full of music, rock memorabilia, vintage finds, delicious meals and colourful conversation. Tony was a lucky man. Their bond was unbreakable.
“But life can turn on a sixpence and Nancy lost Tony in 2001. Over the ensuing months, Nancy packed up the family home, sent Tony’s humungous record collection to storage, closed down her agency, sold the house and acquired the bijou cottage she occupies today. Slowly, ever so slowly, she began to regain some of the chutzpah she had mislaid.
“It began with a collection – a picture here, another there – and soon she had recreated, with a pile of bright images, the colour she imagined had gone from her life. Then she faced a blank wall and began to paste. Within a week she had transformed a perfectly plain kitchen wall into a work of art. She flung open the doors and carried on the Mexican theme into the garden. Soon her decorations livened up the walls of bijou hotels and cutting-edge hairdressing salons, pop stars’ homes and hedge funders’ mansions. Her instinctive interpretation of a client’s personality was a glamorous revelation, a secret indulgence – bathrooms and loos being a favoured location for a Nancy bespoke wall.
“This cottage reflects the happiness and security of the past and moves through a gallery of old family portraits to the contentment she has found in the present.
Five years ago she met her old university friend Gus Roth and they rekindled their student romance. Her home is peppered with nostalgia and, although she has downsized considerably from the three-storey home she shared with Tony, she has managed to fit in the old familiar pieces; among them the Art Deco shell bed that Tony bought as a bachelor. The rock ’n’ roll years are behind her and today the miscreants and misfits have been replaced by the respectable young.
“Every summer, Nancy and Gus host the Howard family picnic in Holland Park and, almost from out of the bushes, old friends appear and reunite over the indestructible memories of the chicken soup coupled with Mr. Grumpy and his good advice.”