A former soldier turned honey trader who trained as a chef under Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith is using the skills he learned in the British Army to market an award-winning artisan gourmet honey around the world.
Shamus Ogilvy’s rare unpasteurised honey company ‘Necta & Hive’ sells Red Gum and Jarrah antimicrobial honey from Western Australia which is produced by bees foraging on eucalyptus plants that only flower once every two years.
However, the former soldier told how he did not start life as a beekeeper - his path to becoming a honey trader was firmly rooted in his military career. He said:
“It actually started in Kosovo believe it or not.
“While I was negotiating anything with the locals, they would always have honey with everything they ate.”
Before joining the British Army as a reservist in 1986, Shamus trained as a chef under Prue Leith, who replaced Mary Berry as a judge on the hit TV baking competition, when the show moved from the BBC to Channel 4.
The former soldier was the first man to be trained at Leith's School of Food and Wine which had until then been an all-girl's college but, eight years after graduating with flying colours he chose to satisfy his desire to travel by volunteering as a reservist for operational tours of Northern Ireland and Kosovo.
Shamus, who is also part of the Royal Company of Archers - a ceremonial unit that serves as the Sovereign's bodyguard in Scotland - said he would often find himself in situations where he had no choice but to get on with the job.
Upon arrival in Kosovo in 1999, where he completed two back-to-back tours, he was assigned the role of Media Ops due to being in the right time at the right place. Shamus said:
"An SO3 was leaving and I was asked 'do you want his job?'”.
It is his military experience which Shamus suggested helped him become a successful businessman. He said:
“The Army taught me comradeship, management, being a team player.
“Also, that get up and go, 'I can do anything' attitude.
“I’d say to anybody, if they’re going to join the army, go for it and do it as long as possible.”
After the death of his mother, Shamus moved to Scotland and joined the Black Watch. At that point, he realised he could not successfully run a business and be part of the Territorial Army and so in 2001 he began the process of transitioning to civvy street.
He began by opening a meat smokery in Scotland but said that eventually he wanted to expand his business so, as he puts it, he “fell into honey”.
Shamus went from knowing nothing about honey and importing to being offered millions of pounds worth of honey in containers from India to sell in the UK.
At one point, luxury brand Fortnum & Mason asked him to be their global honey buyer.
When he began his career in the trade, Shamus traveled around the world to find the best honey. At one point he went to Bosnia, but the bees there were not where some might expect ... Speaking to broadcasters Richard Hatch and Verity Geere on BFBS Radio, he explained the problem:
“We had to go into a minefield to get to the beehives.
“Luckily, I’d done my mine training.
“The vehicle kept breaking down - it was one of those old Russian vehicles you have to keep filling up with water.”
Shamus found honey in Serbia and was the first person to bring it out of the country and into the EU due to the country not having the license to export the product at the time.
Manuka and Red Gum Honey - What's The Difference?
Browse your local supermarket shelf and the honey you will find there is often a blend of honeys from different countries. Discussing this, Shamus said:
“They’ll take a honey from, let's say Argentina and they’ll take another honey from, let's say China and they will blend it.
“Unfortunately, to blend honey you have to 'heat treat' it, therefore you’re killing all the enzymes and all the good stuff has gone - so is it really honey?”
"Whereas organic honey like Manuka from New Zealand is tested for anti-bacterial properties and, as part of a healthy lifestyle, it is said to keep you healthy."
While traveling around the world, Shamus stumbled upon honey from Western Australian called Jarrah and Red Gum.
The 100% unpasteurised single flower honey is naturally antimicrobial and more potent than Manuka honey. It is also delicious.
In research conducted King Saud University, the antimicrobial properties of honey were researched, revealing just how useful and versatile honey could be. The research found:
The antimicrobial properties of honey have been well documented, and honey has been used from ancient times as a method of accelerating wound healing.
Its potential to assist wound healing has been demonstrated repeatedly.
A possible reason behind its activity relies on its ability to generate hydrogen peroxide by the bee-derived enzyme glucose oxidase.
Having spent 12 years in the honey trade, Shamus already knew about the importance of honey’s antimicrobial properties. He discovered that Jarrah and Red Gum honeys have the highest antimicrobial properties in the world.
They are also both antifungal and antiviral which means they help to fight infections including coughs, colds and sore throats, whereas Manuka is only antibacterial.
Shamus does not stray too far from his military roots, observing that his honey can benefit those who serve in the Armed Forces. He said:
“If you want good honey to put into your Bergen … this stuff is really versatile.
“You can have it in your ration packs to make the food taste nicer but also you’ve got something that if you cut yourself or you’ve got a wound, then you can apply this honey to it.”
So there you have it. Shamus' honey not only improves ration pack meals, but can also improve your health.