Brit award-winner turned oyster shucker Jules Knight casts his net into wedding industry
26 Mar 2019
The singer and actor talks to Julia O’Driscoll about The Norfolk Oystermen
He has performed around the world in Brit award-winning group Blake, starred in Holby City and most recently acted opposite Elizabeth Hurley in The Royals – so what has brought Jules Knight to North Norfolk?
“My dad lived here for 15 years and I used to come here as a child. I’ve known Norfolk my whole life,” he explains. And last summer Jules launched The Norfolk Oystermen after two years of planning.
The Norfolk Oystermen serve fresh oysters and champagne at a range of events including birthday parties, family gatherings and, of course, weddings. “I’ve always loved seafood and wanted to start a business that celebrated the best produce that Norfolk has to offer. Oysters just made sense to me,” Jules explains.
“We've been lucky enough to serve oysters and champagne at some incredible weddings, from intimate affairs in rustic barns to huge gatherings in historic royal palaces and swish London townhouses,” says Jules. “I have a very exciting wedding coming up – I wish I could tell you who it's for but I'm sworn to secrecy.”
The oysters come straight from local farmers Cyril and Ben Southerland. Based in Wells-next-the-Sea, Cyril is an oyster farmer of 60 years and son Ben has recently taken over the business. During the Big Freeze of 1962-63, Norfolk’s native oyster population was wiped out due to the extreme weather. Soon after, Cyril became one of the first people to start growing Pacific oysters in the UK. Nowadays roughly 98% of oysters grown in the UK are of the Pacific variety.
Jules was fascinated by the history of oysters and as he read into the subject the idea for his business started to take shape. “In the 19th and early 20th century Costermongers often used handcarts to sell their wares from, so I came up with the idea of the oyster and champagne cart.”
In Victorian England, 124 million oysters were eaten per year according to sociologist Henry Mayhew. “While oysters were being served as snacks for poor people in pubs they were also being served at the most lavish royal banquets in palaces like Versailles,” says Jules. “I can’t think of many other foods that have been enjoyed by both the richest and the poorest people at the same time.”
And the Oystermen’s cart has an interesting history behind it too. Jules says: “I was at a house clearance auction from a hall in North Norfolk. It was filled with antiques that hadn't been touched for a very long time. One item was a wooden box filled with slightly battered silverware. I bought the box as a job lot – it was a stroke of luck that the auctioneer hadn't bothered to look into the value of the silverware. It turned out it was worth a lot of money because it was solid silver, dating back to the 1700s. I've always been a bit of a Delboy!”
As well as the handcart, The Norfolk Oystermen offer a roaming shucker service: “It’s a bit like a shot girl,” Jules explains. “It’s essentially a guy walking around with a silver bucket attached to a belt on his waist from which he can shuck fresh oysters.” The oysters are served with a selection of dressings including Tabasco, a strawberry, lime, mango and black pepper dressing, a shallot mignonette and – one of the most popular on the menu – Cromer crab with grapefruit.
If oysters aren’t the right fit for your wedding menu, why not treat your bridal party to a hen or stag do with a difference? The Norfolk Oystermen offer masterclasses during which you can sample oysters, enjoy a demonstration of oyster shucking and drink plenty of champagne.
Jules' advice to brides and grooms-to-be is: “Surround yourselves with people you love and don't let yourself get too stressed out. Enjoy yourselves, relax and laugh a lot.”
And Blake fans are in luck – Jules hints that his days in the spotlight might not be over just yet. “I did wonder whether I should put together a new singing group. Perhaps, 'The Singing Oystermen' – we could sing sea shanties. All I need to do is not shave for a few weeks, and I think I'm ready.” Team Bride is sold on the idea.
Meet The Norfolk Oystermen at Bride: The Wedding Show at Holkham Hall on Sunday April 7th. Click here to register for your free tickets.