Enthusiasm is obviously a natural state for Fiona. After years of acquiring, restoring and selling property, the fascination and enjoyment evidently remains. That same enthusiasm, it seems, extends to the family’s cars. Both Fiona and her husband, businessman Neil Shackell, are confirmed Jaguar devotees and both drive cars which sport their personalised number plates: 2 FF on Fiona’s Sovereign and NS 26 on Neil’s XJSC convertible.
“Actually there’s quite a cute story behind that. My husband bought his Jaguar XJS back in the eighties. He went all the way up to Lincolnshire to find this car, and it had that NS 26 plate on it. Neil is a very unassuming gentleman – he’s not somebody who wears a big gold Rolex watch and would naturally have a flashy number plate – it doesn’t seem to fit with him at all; but he told me that when he went to buy this car it had that plate on it, with his initials. So he said to the chap he was buying it from ‘Well I love the car but how much is the plate?’ and the man said ‘Oh, well you can have the plate with the car.’ So he did.
“Neil absolutely loves his cars. His business is IT, based in communications, but ever since he was able to drive he had a little garage tacked onto his house in Weybridge in Surrey, which is where we met. He used to do up cars for other people. He’s not a trained mechanic or anything like that but it was his hobby. His way of relaxing at the end of a horrible day in the office would be to come home and tinker with a few cars. His very first car was a bright red MGA which we’ve still got in the garage, and which he’s restoring for the second time! He’s restored it once and got it roadworthy and I don’t know what happened but he’s restoring it again. So his passion, like a lot of men I think, is playing with this life-sized toy. it’s the ultimate toy. He absolutely adores anything to do with cars.
“The local mechanic here in our village lives on the egg farm where we get our eggs, and he is more or less kept in full time employment because my husband is convinced that you have to service a car every five miles [laughs], and one of them’s always in there having something done like new wheels or something’s being balanced or it needs new brake callipers. always something. We have a lot of cars: we’ve got two Volvos, two Jags, a really old Landrover that’s forty-two years old – a long wheelbase one which is gorgeous – and then his MGA. One or other of them is always down the egg farm having something done to it. It’s hysterical! And it’s very complicated for me and for Andrea, our nanny, because I never know which cars are around, so there’s a lot of juggling goes on. What is lovely about that is that they’re all beautifully maintained. Neil really cares about those vehicles, you know, they’re all in fantastic condition because he really does care about them. The insides and the outsides are all immaculate as he loves everything to be just so. It’s lovely, but it’s very time-consuming, and on a Saturday morning when most guys would be reading the sports section or putting their feet up, he’s out there washing them all. He just loves them to look nice.”