Forget the Turnip Toffs of Norfolk... How Yorkshire got posh

Tom and Alice Naylor-Leyland
Tom and Alice Naylor-Leyland Credit: Harry Crowder

Stand aside Turnip Toffs of Norfolk, thanks to power couple Tom and Alice Naylor-Leyland, North Yorkshire is leading the charge to become the most fashionable county in the country

This article has an estimated read time of 10 minutes

If you were to list British counties in order of how fashionable they are, North Yorkshire would never come near the top. True, it's a vast and beautiful area of hills and moorland, of ruined abbeys and sheep, but it's also a more sedate, much less flashy place than its southern sisters Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.

Or indeed, Norfolk, where the Turnip Toffs have had their moment in the spotlight recently, given the furore over the rumoured fallout between the Duchess of Cambridge and her neighbour, Rose Hanbury, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley. Down south, Range Rovers roar along country roads, speeding towards Soho Farmhouse. Up here in North Yorkshire, pheasants hop along green verges scratching for worms, untroubled by weekenders trying to find their boutique hotel.

Except all that might be about to change, thanks to the efforts of Tom and Alice Naylor-Leyland. Her name may ring a bell if you're an avid Instagrammer. Alice is the 33-year-old fashion influencer who's developed a following for posts of her glamorous, pastel-tinted life.

Tom, her husband, is a 37-year-old Old Etonian and heir to a socking £176 million estate, which includes not only several big British houses but also 60 per cent of all the commercial property in a North Yorkshire town called Malton.

And it's Malton that Tom and Alice - the impeccably connected poster couple for the modern aristocracy, who met at a party thrown by Lady Mary Charteris, and count Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie as friends - have set about transforming. In recent years, it has gone from an old market town with empty shopfronts and dwindling visitor numbers, to a thriving foodie destination, which brings in thousands of punters a year.

The latest and jazziest development is the reopening of The Talbot, a pretty pale-stone 26-bedroom hotel in the middle of the town. Originally a hunting lodge, it's been in Tom's family since 1740. "Although we prefer to call it a coaching inn," he says, as we sit for breakfast in the airy dining room, overlooking a meadow.

Tom and Alice Naylor-Leyland in the dining room of The Talbot Hotel Credit: Harry Crowder

Tom orders kippers and encourages me to try yogurt topped with locally grown rhubarb. "Have we got a green juice?" he asks a hovering waiter. There is no green juice this morning, apparently. Tom looks briefly disappointed.

There is a touch of Brideshead Revisited's Sebastian Flyte about Tom (Castle Howard, where both adaptations were filmed, is in fact only six miles away). He arrives for breakfast wearing high-waisted trousers, attached to a pair of braces strapped over a white collared shirt.

The Brideshead get-up isn't just for our photo shoot - old-fashioned braces and trousers are his everyday uniform. "Tom's dad basically sleeps in his braces," Alice jokes of her father-in-law, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, who presides over the family estate.

Any assumptions I make about this Edwardian vision attacking his kippers are swiftly dispelled as Tom talks about Malton. He is utterly devoted to the place, although his curatorship of the town came about by accident. After leaving Eton, he had no idea what to do, so tried various jobs to narrow his options.

He worked as a butler in Dukes Hotel in London, took a space in a silver shop on the Portobello Road, worked for the Labour MP Kate Hoey, and served 'coffee and quiche to angry ladies' in Sally Clarke's restaurant (a Kensington institution). It was food that struck a chord with him.

"It opened my eyes to that world because I was pretty ignorant before. I knew about wine tastings, but I had no idea that you did olive-oil tastings and the difference between Sicilian and Tuscan, or Spanish and Greek."

His mother is a great foodie, he adds, breaking away from the topic of Malton (briefly) to tell a terrifically eccentric story about how Lady Isabella Naylor-Leyland (herself daughter of the 6th Earl of Durham - we said they were posh) killed Joan Crawford with a chicken salad.

"My mum worked in a New York deli when she was younger, quite a famous [one], renowned for their chicken salad. One day, Joan came in, by this time she was very elderly, and ordered a huge amount of this salad from my mother. It was really quite a heavy salad... And later that day poor Joan had a heart attack."

Alice at home with son Billy and daughter Nancy Credit: Getty

Tom's face creases with laughter before he reverts back to his pet subject. Visiting Borough Market in London one day, while still unsure about what he wanted to do in life, he heard shouts from stalls about Yorkshire produce.

"Brace of Yorkshire grouse, partridges, crab and lobster from the coast. And do you know the Ginger Pig? It's quite a fashionable butcher." I nod. (It has supplied trendy London restaurant chains such as Hawksmoor and Dishoom.) "Their farm is just over there," says Tom, dropping his knife and pointing through the window.

He decided, with his father's approval, to rejuvenate Malton as a centre of food. In the decade since, he's launched an annual food festival that attracts 30,000 visitors every May and a monthly mini food market. Meanwhile, many artisanal food producers have moved into the town - including a veggie café called The Purple Carrot and the Groovy Moo gelateria.

In July, Malton will throw its first- ever music festival - Meadowfest - headlined by Reggae Reggae Sauce inventor Levi Roots. In August, there's a 10k run called the Marathon du Malton, with competitors fuelled by local Brass Castle beer and macarons made by Malton's top pastry chef, a wild-haired Parisian called Florian Poirot. Last year, Tom ran it dressed as a hot dog.

The redesign of The Talbot is a further attempt to lure out-of-towners who want comfortable rooms with free-standing baths and velvet sofas. It's been transformed from a faintly 1980s fine-dining joint (the sort of place you'd take Great Aunt Mabel for her birthday), with the help of Sam and Georgie Pearman, the hotelier couple who founded the Lucky Onion group, which includes hotels such as The Wheatsheaf in the Cotswolds and No 131 in Cheltenham.

Home for Tom and Alice is a whopping Regency house just outside Peterborough, but Tom spends three days a week in Malton, sleeping in a flat above the pet shop and making sure his project runs to plan.

As Tom is the eldest of six children and heir to his family estate, he will one day move into the biggest of all his family houses (Milton Hall in Cambridgeshire, although there's also a 20-bedroom Welsh pile called Nantclwyd Hall). So did he feel any pressure to take on the Malton project? Was it a test? He pauses over his plate of kippers. "Er, actually I didn't think of it in those terms. It just went from being a job to an obsession."

Alice had their third baby, a boy called Felix, in January, when the hotel was about to reopen, but she celebrated from afar with a perfect Instagram snap of the private dining room - pale-green Farrow & Ball walls and potted herbs along the wooden table.

Alice with Erin O'Connor and Yasmin Le Bon at The Fashion Awards 2018 Credit: @mrsalice/Instagram

'Proud of you,' she wrote underneath the post, which was liked by fashion pals including Lady Mary Charteris and Arizona Muse. Alice wasn't even walking at the time, having suffered a collapsed womb immediately after the birth that turned her stomach black and meant she had to be 'cut open' a further three times. Alice explains this in a typically British, "Oh, it was just a little scratch", kind of way.

Felix is now nearly four months old (their other two children are Billy, six, and Nancy, three), and Alice is perfectly restored to health. "But I'm already gagging for another one, even if it kills me," she says, sitting upstairs in one of the hotel's bedrooms after breakfast, having her hair and make-up done. "Well, maybe not if it kills me. I might have a hysterectomy, but that's fine. I don't need my womb. No more after that."

If food is Tom's passion, Alice's is clothes. Her Instagram account isn't just populated by photographs of her dining room table strewn with pumpkins or flamingos, but with shots of her posing at home in Temperley and Aquazzura. She attributes her love of fashion to her mother, Serena, a glamorous Australian who raised her on her own after Alice's father left when she was two months old.

Alice is briskly matter-of-fact about this. "We were all much happier," she says. "I had a totally idyllic childhood." Her father, a financier based in Switzerland, bought Alice and her mother a Chelsea flat, where Alice lived until she became a boarder at Heathfield School in Ascot, aged 11.

"I used to wear my mum's clothes," she says. "She always had a strong aesthetic." After getting a history degree from Edinburgh and attending fashion college in London, Alice interned at TatlerVogue and Ralph Lauren, but it was her devotion to a very specific aesthetic - Victoriana meets contemporary Sloane Ranger - that led her to set up a fashion website called Mrs Alice In Her Palace, named after a song that Tom had written about her. (The pair married in 2011, when she was just 24.) "Blogging now is, like, bleurgh," she says, pulling a face. "But back then people had websites. So I started mine and was getting a thousand hits a day. It was literally shopping edits and recipes."

Tom at The Talbot Hotel Credit: Harry Crowder

It wasn't long after she had Billy in 2012, that Facebook bought a little-known company called Instagram and Alice gave up her website to concentrate on that instead. As a party girl who counts Poppy Delevingne and Charlotte Dellal among her closest friends, Alice's numbers started taking off and she's now a savvy user of the app, a professional influencer signed up with Models 1's talent division (others include Olivia Palermo and Amber Le Bon).

She used to get heavily trolled, she says, for her handle @MrsAliceInHerPalace, and so she changed it to @MrsAlice. "I was getting a lot of stick, but it really was from my bloody husband just writing a song." These days, she blocks the haters. "Poppy always says delete a bad comment because then you stop others, you stop it from snowballing."

Much of the sniggering is about how she dresses her children. Billy is often pictured in shorts and braces, Nancy in smocked dresses with a bow in her hair. They look, admittedly, a bit like extras from The Forsyte Saga. "It's not fake," protests Alice, "that's what my kids wear! You can only dress them for a while so you might as well make use of it." Although she says she bought Billy some Adidas clobber for a holiday camp and he 'was thrilled'.

Alice prefers being called a 'fashion collaborator' to 'influencer'. Previous partnerships have been with French Sole and Aerin Lauder and she does around four 'collabs' a year, while also writing for AmericanVogue and covering fashion shows for them. She was stopped by US customs a few years ago while trying to enter the country with 27 pairs of shoes. "They said they couldn't possibly all be for me, but it was fashion week!" she tells me, all wide-eyed and innocent.

"Darling, you can't tell a customs official it's fashion week," says Tom, reappearing in the bedroom to have his hair brushed. "He sounded very sensible to me."

Theirs seems a happy, symbiotic relationship. "You look beautiful," Tom tells his wife several times as they pose for photos. Although they spend much of the week apart, the couple are often photographed in London at fashion parties together, and at Princess Eugenie's wedding last year.

Sunday and Monday evenings are reserved 'religiously' for watching telly on the sofa, just the two of them. Production companies have approached them about being filmed for their own series - imagine an amalgamation of Downton Abbey and Keeping Up With the Kardashians - but they've always said no.

"I'm completely allergic to the idea," says Alice. They are working together on a joint venture, however. It's with Fenwick, and while Alice oversees the clothes and beauty edits for the store, Tom brings down various Malton food products for the shelves.

So if you happen to be wandering down Bond Street any time soon, look out for the Fenwick window displays they're both designing. Whoever says Yorkshire isn't swanky... watch this space.

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