Fringe Box



This Time It’s ‘Strictly’, Florist With a Call to Ring the Changes on Village Phone Box

Published on: 22 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 24 Nov, 2020

Strictly Compton Phone Box

By Martin Giles

Compton parish councillor Chris Sharples is the fun-loving mastermind behind the multi-decorated phone box that has put the village on the national and even international map and helped win him Guildford’s Mayor’s Award last year for services to his community.

And Zoe Ball of Strictly Takes Two has helped make it even more famous.

Chris, a dedicated florist and gardener for more than 30 years, spent 10 years managing Liberty’s flower department in London.

His other love is collecting and he shares his home with partner Jon and an outstanding array of antiques and singular objects that has earned them an entry in Country Living.

The Dragon posed a few questions to Chris:

When did you decide to start decorating the phone box and why?

Well, it all started with a tea towel. We got a bit carried away with the celebrations around the Sussex’s Royal wedding a few years ago, so armed with some vintage flags, a celebratory tea towel and a rapidly produced crown, we decorated the phone box for a bit of a laugh.

I always like to make the most of a happy event and found I wasn’t the only one. I had lots of great comments from friends and people in the village and visitors which has spurred me on. Most of the instalments were light-hearted and designed to entertain but some have marked more serious occasions such as Remembrance Day.

One drew attention to the plight of Guildford’s green belt and some have celebrated general events such as the World Cup, Chinese New Year, Glastonbury and Pride. Local events such as Surrey Artists’ Open Studios, Watts Gallery and Compton’s Little Theatre have also featured.

A montage of some of the different Phone Box themes

Are you the only one involved?

In the main yes, but some of the installations have been pretty labour-intensive and I had help with these. My partner, Jon is a creative director for a design company and is whizz with computer graphics.

Among others, Jon produced the graphic for the Ru Paul Drag Race installation and the recent 7ft skull for the Day of the Dead – Halloween Box, which was a really big hit.

Being a freelance florist, I work on sizeable projects. I am indebted to the companies I work for who allow me to recycle materials. My basement and garage are packed with items that have been “donated” for future projects, from bunting to fake snow.

How long does each decoration take?

I try to do them in one sitting, beginning in the afternoon, after work and sometimes well into the evening. A lot of the preparation is done at home beforehand and the ideas and planning can take ages, but sometimes they are pretty spontaneous.

We believe the most popular ones are ones that don’t hide that it is a phone box, which is not only iconic but a rather lovely part of our heritage.

The Chelsea flower show phone box, beaten on by the Ru Paul Drag Race theme (centre of montage) in Chris’s estimation

Which one was your favourite?

I think it would have to be the Ru Paul Drag Race, with the Chelsea Flower Show a very close second [the display won a Virtual Gold Medal]. I set up a Compton Phone Box Instagram account to record the various installations and after Ru Paul complimented it (from America) it received 28,000 likes.

Gardening and floristry are passions for me and I really enjoyed the Chelsea Flower Show Box, which came during lockdown when gardening enthusiasts were really missing the real thing.

We had a big water feature and it became interactive with a “Bring and take” plant exchange that worked really well. Actually, it brought home the fact that most people are really kind and giving. A few might take advantage, but most didn’t.

As a consequence, I promoted the phone box as a drop-off site for food for the Godalming & Villages Community Store, which provides free food for people who need it. Food can be dropped off on Sundays up until 5.00 pm when the organiser collects it.

On one occasion there was so much, he had to make two trips because a local business had dropped off surplus.

The phone box has 2,000 followers on Instagram, and I never cease to be amazed at the impact it has had.

Why the Strictly theme? Are you a Strictly fan? Do you have a favourite couple?

We are long-time Strictly fans and agree with what many people are saying that this year, probably more than ever, a bit of light-hearted entertainment is really needed. They are all so good this year but if pushed I would want HRVY to win. My partner is a fan of Caroline Quentin.

We are also fans of the lovely Zoe Ball on Strictly takes Two, who has commented on the phone box and featured it on her show a few days ago.

I was getting ready for a Zoom-style parish council meeting and my phone was pinging with messages from people who had seen it, which properly made my day.

What’s coming next and when?

Now that would be telling. I prefer to keep the projects under wrap but the next one is a joint collaboration with one of Compton’s finest institutions.

All will be revealed on Monday morning if anyone wishes to tune in to BBC Radio Breakfast Show at 7.25am and 8.25am when we will be talking about the next project.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS is grateful to Fiona Curtis for facilitating this interview.

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Responses to This Time It’s ‘Strictly’, Florist With a Call to Ring the Changes on Village Phone Box

  1. Jan Messinger Reply

    November 22, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    I think we all love Compton phone box and wish to thank Chris and Jon for all the creations we have seen so far.

    I look forward to all the masterpieces of the future.

    Just hoping the cars slow down through the village to admire this then even better if people drive slower than 30mph.
    Well done Compton. Let’s hope Surrey leads the way with decorative disused phone boxes thanks to Compton’s lead.

  2. Maggie Davey Reply

    January 27, 2021 at 10:51 am

    My daughter lives near Compton and we visit the phone box when visit her. It is brilliant and we have missed seeing it over the past year, as we can’t visit, due to Covid.

    Good luck to Chris and John – what they do is fantastic!

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