THE NEW GAVEL MASTER
In 2007, before IMG settled on Richard Madley as the face of IPL auction, the opportunity was presented to Edmeades. © BCCI
Three days after the IPL Auction, Hugh Edmeades is in Zurich finally catching up on some much-needed break. His life is a traveller’s dream; a frequent traveller’s nightmare. Having constantly hopped between Dubai and London, there have been trips to Japan and Mumbai. And then to Jaipur for one of the most-watched auctions in India.
The last five weeks have been particularly hectic where there have been times the new IPL auctioneer has found himself asking “who am I and where am I?”. Despite all the travel, work and the multiple auctions, the first thing that strikes you about him is the high energy. There are no warm-ups. It’s all high octane. And before you’ve warmed up, he’s already eased you into the conversation by narrating a story about his last cricket game. Just like easing bidders into bidding for the items they want. After all, the more comfortable the buyer, the higher the bid and the better it is most parties involved.
“I think I would have been a good T20 player. I couldn’t have played Test cricket – that’s for sure. My last innings was when a friend had a T20 match and I told him I’ll make up the numbers. I told him to put me in at No. 11 because I hadn’t played in ten years,” he gushes. “I went in with nine balls to face. First ball I hit for six, the second ball I inside edged it to the rather painful part of my body. Third ball, I was dropped at second slip and I took a single. They then brought their fast bowler back on, who I had been watching from the dressing room and he looked really fast.
“The first two balls I went down the track – there was a big hee-hoo – and I missed the balls by a mile. Then the third, fourth, fifth and sixth ball I went – six, six, six, six. Certainly felt like Chris Gayle or Yuvraj – watching them smashing all those sixes in IPL.”
There’s a reason why Edmeades focuses so much on the energy. “If I don’t do it, the room gets bored and tired,” he stresses. “I go in hoping they feed off my energy. So if I was dull and boring, they’d all fall asleep.
“I still get an adrenaline rush before an auction. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big one, a small one or a charity auction. There’s always the sense of the unknown. The unexpected. If you saw me in IPL auction, I tried to put in a lot of energy.”
Conducting the IPL auction was one of the key milestones for Edmeades. Life had come a full circle finally after more than a decade. In 2007, before IMG settled on Richard Madley as the face of IPL auction, the opportunity was presented to Edmeades. His association to Christie’s, the British auction house, and other commitments meant he had to let go of the opportunity. So when it was announced by BCCI that Madley will be replaced by Edmeades, there was plenty of furore from the fans.
And with the announcement came the pressure of expectations. “There was a certain amount of pressure on me to perform. People in India are very fond of Richard. He has been doing it for 11 seasons and I was fresh there. So there was a pressure that I have to perform not only for the franchises but also for the BCCI to repay the faith in me,” he says. “It certainly helped that I knew Richard. I used to enjoy watching his performance.”
But for an experienced auctioneer like Edmeades, the IPL auction was a fairly easy one. There were just eight bidders, no telephone or online bids to worry about and the fact that he knew his success rate was a lowly 25 per cent, he walked in without much worry.
“Very different to my normal auctions,” he starts about his experience. “It was comforting that all of them are going to bid at some stage. I know the teams had a few spots to fill – I was aware that Chennai had only two spots to fill. That was interesting because I didn’t know who was going to bid. And add to that I didn’t know which franchise is going to bid for which player.
“The highest price I achieved was 28 million pounds for a Tibetian Tapestry. That was in Hong Kong.” © BCCI
“The main difference was that of around 350 players, I was going to sell at max 70. So I knew that the best chance I had was to sell about 25 per cent of the players on offer. If I went to a normal auction and had a maximum success rate of only 25 per cent, I would have been very depressed.
“When I didn’t get a bid on the first three players, I started to wonder who are they going to go for. That’s a nice thing. Some flew away, some didn’t sell. It was fascinating watching the tactics, the deliberations if they should go for another 20 lakhs. I’ve done so many auctions and it’s always good to have a challenge to have an auction that’s different.”
But there was one challenge. The challenge of changing currents. Having sold in Dhirams, Pound Sterlings and Yen meant he had to get accustomed to selling in lakhs. “I cheated,” he quips. “I have a little paper on the desk that has the currency written on it. On Tuesday, I had lakh written on that paper. In Dubai, I had Dhiran on it and before that, in Japan, I had Yen written on it.
“I did say pounds once or twice during the auction and that only shows I am human. I do make mistakes. I use that piece of paper to remind myself what currency I was selling in.”
Edmeades has no hesitation in admitting that he didn’t want to be an auctioneer. But is also quick to point out how fortunate he is. The directors at Christie’s in 1984 forced Edmeades into auctioneering. After the sudden departure of his boss, Edmeades was thrust ahead as the head of the furniture department. While he was happy to take up the role, he wanted to stay away from auctioneering. “The director told me ‘no, if you have to be the head of the department, you’ve got to be seen as the auctioneer of the department as well’,” he says about his start. “I had asked them to give the auctioneer job to someone who actually enjoyed the task.
“I underwent rigorous training and that wasn’t much fun. It certainly didn’t encourage me to become an auctioneer. One day, my director called me and said ‘get your jacket on and you are selling the last 50 lots’. I realised that all the things that were thrown at me were to prepare me for the unexpected. In auctions, the unexpected happens very seldom. I realised I had the basic talent for this job. I was selling 300-400 items every week so my learning curve was vertical. These days, a new auctioneer does at best 100 items a month. They have less chance to get the experience I had.”
While he flourished as an auctioneer, several milestones came his way. For someone, who has done more than 2500 auctions, you’d expect him to have quite a few interesting stories. And he does. While conducting Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday charity auction is right up there, he’s also particularly proud of selling Jame Bond’s Aston Martin DB10 from the movie Spectre.
“The highest price I achieved was 28 million pounds for a Tibetian Tapestry. That was in Hong Kong. That was fun,” he says. “It’s always fun building the big numbers. Whether it was Steve McQueen’s Ferrari in California, or selling expensive bottles of wine in Hong Kong, one day I will sit down and write a book about it.”
And while there have been several highs, there have been challenges as well. July 7, 2005, was one such day. There were bomb blasts in the London subways and buses. It was also a day when the Champalimaud Collection sale was also supposed to take place. “It was a very important auction and so we contemplated postponing it. We had realised so many people had come in just for that auction. We had so many telephone lines booked. We delayed the start by 2-3 hours. That was a very tough day for us in London. We sold about 95 per cent and some of them for record prices. That was a challenge in a different way.”
On such a day, Edmeades says, it’s the performance of the auctioneer that makes a difference. He believes auctioneering is performance art. Like an actor needs to know his lines, an auctioneer needs to know his numbers, he clarifies before adding hand gestures play a crucial part. But the most important part, according to him, is enthusiasm. “Any auctioneer can take an easy sale. It’s the mark of a good auctioneer when he is able to sell items where there isn’t a lot of interest. That’s when the life experience and skills come into play.”
When Edmeades isn’t travelling or conducting auctions, he’s found a perfect ally in golf. “I am a social golfer,” he says before admitting, “Not to a very high standard. That’s a good way to clear my head. I get to get away from the telephones, my emails and play with good friends in nice courses. One of my favourite courses is up in Chandigarh. I was there for a charity auction and they invited me to play there. That was great fun.”
Having conducted a successful auction in Jaipur, Edmeades hopes to be back next year. And if IPL’s history is anything to go by, he can expect a long association.