Most spirit companies employ what they like to call “Global Ambassadors,” who more often than not is a mixologist who gets to travel around the world and mix cocktails for journalists, bar owners, and other influencers. They’re always smartly dressed and charismatic, the kinds of people, well, you’d like to have a drink with. But Scotland-based Hendrick’s gin has completely reinvented the position. Meet David Piper, who’s more performer than bartender, and more Eccentric Lord than Global Ambassador. Piper, whose business card actually has him as Hendrick’s “Commander of Special Operations,” is the living, breathing embodiment of the Hendrick’s brand, which plays with Victorian and surrealist imagery that can best be described as ‘peculiar.’
We met Piper in Edinburgh, about 100 miles west of the Hendrick’s distillery on the eastern coast of Scotland. He was in good spirits, doing what he gets paid to do: entertain guests, be unusually charming, and drink gin. He was also a bit nervous. Two weeks later, he was to embark on a journey through the heart of the Guayana Highlands of Venezuela, along with Hendrick’s Master Distiller Lesley Gracie and mustachioed explorer Mr. Charles Brewer-Carias, to uncover new botanicals for a limited edition version of Hendrick’s. (To see the result of their expedition, watch the video below.) Here, we talk to Piper about his art school origins, his unique aesthetic, and his odd and enviable profession.
Give me your origin story. How did you arrive at this point?
Halfway through art school, I realized I didn’t want to make art anymore. I think the art world can be a really terrible place to do things. You can put all this creative effort and stress into a world where things get labeled with quite strict perimeters. I realized that making stuff or putting things in the real world is a lot more interesting, and you can manipulate realities by doing funny little things. But it’s also as simple as dressing up and just walking down the street.
Turning yourself into an art piece?
A little bit. You walk down the street in a in a Victorian cloak, and people see you and maybe they do a double take, because they’re not quite sure if what they’ve seen in real. It’s just a tiny little thing, but that’s a principle that seems quite important. I also started doing 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s-themed parities.
And what were those like?
Amazing. Everyone behaves differently. The men act more like gentlemen, and the women act more like ladies. And the elegance and sophistication and glamour that you never get nowadays, is there. I was performing at these parties, and then I found Hendricks, or rather, they found me. They asked me to build pre-Victorian century bicycle contraptions.
And you knew how to do that?
Yes. You just sort of make nonsense machines, and it was a brand giving me money to make sense of a nonsensical contraption. It’s absolutely perfect. And year by year, they’d bring me back to give them ideas for specific projects. And in the meantime, I did a little bit of DJing, more performing, some acting. I had a mobile feature for a while called Wyndham’s Wond’rous Wandering Woo-Woo Wagon.
When did Hendricks offer you the full-time job?
I moved to Paris for a couple of years, had a great time there. And then Hendricks called me after. In the UK they had a new position that was very, very vague, and I took it on the condition that I could call myself the Commander of Operations.
And they said yes?
They said yes. But this was before I became Global Ambassador. That was very much a sort of colorful role, using the networks I had and building new ones, discovering partners to work with—artists, jewelry designers, writers, people who put on insanely intricate one on one immersive theatre events, and everything across the board. It was very creative and I couldn’t do it for any other brand. I don’t think any other brand would have me. Cocktails are what drives us forward, but beyond that, sort of above and beyond and on top, is to have a lot of fun.
What does your job as Global Ambassador mostly entail?
A lot of travel, spreading the cucumber gospel, and making sure that we’re being treated in the right way across the world. We’re now in 70 countries, but we’re still very small. But I’m making sure we’re in the right place, and at the same time trying to understand as much as we can about local culture and how people enjoy things, and what they enjoy. Hendrick’s is always going to be Hendrick’s. Made in Scotland. It’s still going to have this sort eccentric, slightly Victorian, surrealist, always funny character. However, finding out how that can interact with other cultures—lot of my job is that.
It feels like you’re job is one of kind, and that not only is the only job of its kind out there, but you’re the only person who can do it. You’re a living embodiment of the brand.
Yes, it’s a good fit. It’s interesting because for 10 years I’ve doing things for the brand. And back then it wasn’t hard for me to think of the ideas because it was somehow so similar to how I would think anyway.
Does it ever occur to you that you might have one of the best jobs there is?
Yeah, it’s great. And I’m just 6 months into it.
And they’re already sending you to the jungle. Tell me about that trip. You’re going to be searching for new botanicals?
Yes. The most important thing is to find a plant, root, or berry, something like that that we can use, that has the right flavors, the right properties that we can be able to use to make an new, sort of experimental limited edition bottle.
I would imagine there’s a lot of drinking on the job.
Yeah. People always ask me how my health is, but, to be honest, up until I was doing this, I was still heavily involved with nightlife. I was DJing, a lot of late, late nights, which gets hard. I’m still drinking, but now in a much more relaxed way. And even if I have the drinks, I’m often in bed by 1 o’clock. The next morning I feel quite good. For this job, you need energy.
Do you ever feel like you are putting on a performance or are you just being yourself?
No, that’s the thing. I never feel like I have to perform. It all comes quite naturally to me. And I feel the need to stand out less now than when I was younger, but I still can’t imagine wearing a t-shirt.
What are you going to wear in the jungle?
Wellies, long sleeves, and I was thinking actually about scarves. I want to have a good selection. Scarves and handkerchiefs. I think part of the idea is to have as little bit of skin exposed as possible.
What’s your schedule in the coming months?
After I get back, I have about a week here, and then Paris, Turkey, maybe Bulgaria, Spain, Switzerland, and then I’m not quite sure. This is all taking place in a couple of weeks.
When did you first start to get fascinated with this era?
I think it was three things. Growing my mustache. I found that I could do it and it looked quite good. It actually suited my face. The second was I got given a couple of suits by my friend’s father. They didn’t fit him anymore. I had them in my wardrobe for ages because I didn’t feel like I’d be comfortable wearing them out as a 20 year old. And then I did one day and actually I felt a lot more comfortable. A good suit transforms you and actually makes you walk quite differently. And the third was cinema. I always used to watch huge amounts of film. I worked for a while at a repertory art house cinema. There’s a national film theatre in London which I managed to perform at once on the big screen. It was great. They had great series and seasons. And I started to get interested in the ‘20s and ‘30s. I just thought the elegance and the delicacy—I just couldn’t find that in contemporary culture, and I thought it was a really easy way to bring it back. And it worked. It’s not about going back to the era itself. It’s about trying to get the best things from it.