Leadership / 11.30.22
What Do Gin and Ticketing Have in Common? Ask Ticketing Legend and Astrophysicist Peter Monks
Peter Monks started out in life thinking he would be a teacher. By the time he was 27 years old, he had already achieved what he still considers his greatest achievement — a PhD in astrophysics, a branch of space science that tries to understand the universe and our place in it. As it turns out, Peter’s own place in the universe was not where he thought it would be. In fact, the only thing he ended up teaching was how to make gin. Before that, he spent a good part of his adult life in ticketing, which he enjoyed because of its fast pace.
Peter’s University of Birmingham Astrophysics model pose circa 1992.
“I like to think that what we do in ticketing is, joking aside, not rocket science, but it certainly moves at the speed of rocket science,” Peter says.
What Peter does today, as a business owner and Director of Shakespeare Distillery in Stratford upon Avon, is varied and moves at warp speed.
“The variety of what I do is different. [I love] the speed at which things move along because you can make decisions and get something implemented. I can even set up a new season of tickets in about five minutes (laughs),” Peter says of the experiences his business offers. “The humor with which we do it, I suppose, is what I really love about what I do. I get up every day and think this is a great place to work and I can't wait to get there and carry on.”
But let’s slow down for a moment and, for clarity, start with the full-time ticketing part of Peter’s story. Like so many others, he fell into the business.
“It was one of those complete coincidences,” he says. “I was in the final throes of writing my PhD thesis, and much like an INTIX conference, there was an international astrophysics conference to be held at the University of Birmingham [U.K.]. A poster went on the wall of the common room looking for volunteers to help with the conference … I followed up on that, but then spoke to the lady who was organizing the conference and said, ‘I am at a bit of a loose end. Have you got any paid work?’ So, I fell in with a local conference organizer and that was the beginning of my love for organizing things, putting things in the right order, telling people where to go in the nicest possible way, pointing and becoming a human signpost, and things like that.”
INTIX Board Directors Peter and Adam Rubin serve breakfast for conference attendees, Chicago 2014.
He continues, “I worked for a couple of years with her, then interviewed and got a job at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, where I spent the first three years cutting my teeth as an event organizer, working on a whole host of national and international events, which was phenomenal … That naturally moved me into rock and pop ticketing and then launching The Ticket Factory [in 2007]. The rest is history.”
The Brits came in matching shirts to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Peter with Gareth Coleman from Ticket Factory.
Peter spent the next eight years in senior roles with The Ticket Factory, a primary seller and distributor in the U.K. His outstanding success there led to a bittersweet moment at the 2012 INTIX conference in San Antonio.
“Roger Tomlinson, I think, was announcing the awards that year, and I had stepped out [of the room] because I’d had some bad news from home. I lost my dog … so I missed the awards lunch.”
Peter had gone on a long walk with colleague Adam Rubin and had a good cry. Then he got a phone call from Roger. He had just won the Outstanding Ticketing Professional Award. It is his most memorable INTIX moment for several reasons, although he never fails to take away two or three nuggets that resonate with him from every conference.
Peter with Awards Chair Roger Tomlinson.
“I like the multidisciplinary nature of it, so what I can learn from a sports guy who is running a stadium,” he says. “That had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was running rock and pop ticketing, you would think, but then actually we have all got the same problems or they are doing something that is slightly different that would apply to my line of work. It was that idea that you were not in the same business, but you were.”
Peter values INTIX for the opportunity it has given him to meet new people and build lasting relationships, but also to follow trends and learn how to do things better.
L-R: Laura Zehe, Peter and April Moon, Chicago 2014.
Education and networking “run hand in hand, and you can't beat that,” he says. “When I first came to INTIX, there wasn't anything like it in the U.K. at that point. To get exposure to that number of people from different disciplines, to learn and to hear what was going on around the world [was incredible] … We have the same common aims and the same common problems and [I learned] how we could work together. That for me was the joy of it, and the people who I met along the way. So, for me, it comes back to that sense of learning and community.
He says, “The support you would get from colleagues [is wonderful too]. There was never any competition. People are always generous with their time. I always felt like I got generosity of spirit from everyone. My colleagues and I were welcomed to our first INTIX conference as if we had been there all our lives … We were immediately welcomed and subsumed into this amazing organization, and that felt like we had come home.”
Peter and Adam Rubin, New York 2020.
As anyone will attest, a life in ticketing can be just that. It is home. It is also a life that is sometimes difficult to switch off and relax, though Peter says going to the annual INTIX conferences has actually given him a chance to do just that.
“Whenever I was at INTIX, I was switched off from what was going on in my organization,” he says. “I was never in a position where I needed to be on the phone. It was a really good way of decompressing and thinking from a bit of left field about where we were going without feeling the need to be in constant contact. It was not a vacation, but it was a way of the mind being attuned to what your business was, but not being embedded in that business. Whenever you are in front of your computer or near a phone in the office, whether you are setting up a new show for sale, dealing with a promoter or training a colleague, there are always three other things going on in the background. INTIX helped me decompress a little bit, get away and just think a little bit laterally.”
Peter’s involvement with INTIX led him to co-found Ticketing Professionals with Andrew Thomas. The organization produces its own annual event, Ticketing Professionals Conference, which offers education and professional development for event and leisure ticketing in the United Kingdom. That was in 2015, and Peter is still actively involved. That same year, he made another huge career change on par with his switch from astrophysics to live events and entertainment. That is where the gin comes in.
Ticketing Professionals Conference at ICC Birmingham in 2018. L-R: Peter, Rachel-Marie Blair, Carol Thomas and Andrew Thomas.
“[My life-partner] Simon and I enjoy a drink like many people in ticketing,” he says, laughing. “Also, of course, we like events, so we enjoyed bringing the two things together. We would go to a lot of gin events, and gin was becoming big in the U.K. again. It was … the beginning of a renaissance in 2013. We went to a few events, and we started to meet with producers and people who had started small businesses. Simon thought, hang on … if you can do that, I can do that sort of thing. He decided to buy some equipment and have a little bit of a high school experiment on the stovetop making his own gin … It took him two years to really formulate the initial project recipe for our Stratford Dry Gin.”
The first ever Stratford Dry Gin from the early experiments.
The company was launched in 2015, with both Peter and Simon still at work in their day jobs. The first bottles of gin were ready just before Christmas, and they started selling it part time in farmer’s markets. “It was very much a weekend and holiday endeavor,” Peter says. “I was the first one to make the leap in 2017.”
Simon and Peter cycling in the Norwegian Fjords with their cruise ship in the background.
Since that time, Peter has been the full-time Director at Shakespeare Distillery. Just like he did when in ticketing, he wears many hats, overseeing financial management, sales and marketing. Peter quickly points out that he is also still selling tickets.
“We have daily distillery tours, our gin schools, our lessons, our classes and visitors … Once you open yourself up to the public, these things are happening. You have invited people to come, they are coming, so you have got to be ready for them. I thought I left the ticketing industry, then look, lo and behold, I'm selling tickets again,” he says with a hearty chuckle.
“Don't put this, well, actually, you can because it is kind of funny — we are always looking at new software … Tell those vendors we are always on the lookout for a better way of seamlessly reducing our phone calls, for self-serve on the web, looking for more distribution, so it's all the usual story.”
[Editor’s Note: Hmmm. Someone’s phone is going to start ringing. Back to the story…]
Under Peter and Simon’s leadership (he has since also joined the business full time), the distillery’s visitor center has won several gold and silver awards over the years, including 2021 and 2022 Traveler's Choice awards from TripAdvisor. Shakespeare Distillery also picked up four new awards in the week before Peter was interviewed for this article, and the buzz was still evident.
“It was really fulfilling,” he says. “It crosses so many different parts of our business because we won best independent retailer in Stratford, which talks to our product. We won best attraction in Stratford, which talks to our visitor experience, our ticketing, the whole way we deliver our visits and our gin school, which we are really proud of as an experience. We won best green business … and we spent last year becoming a carbon-neutral distillery, one of the very few in the U.K., certainly of this size … The fourth award, we won overall best business in Stratford for this last year, which is just incredible.”
Peter with Simon at Shakespeare Distillery, with their four Herald Business awards, October 2022.
As we all know, it takes a team to make a dream come true, and Peter says none of these accomplishments would have happened without his colleagues.
“The team I have here inspires me every day because they are so wonderful at what they do,” he says. “We train them, but they also bring their own unique qualities to the role … It is very important in a relatively small enterprise like this that you have acumen and fresh ideas. They are all with us because they want to be here, and they love what they do.”
Peter and his Shakespeare Distillery colleague Harvey on their first gin tasting cruise on the River Avon through Stratford in April 2022.
Peter admires the dedication and energy that his colleagues have to get things done. “There is an event at the end of this, it has to happen. The show must go on. So, we have got to get to the full stop at the end of the event schedule, haven't we? There is no opportunity to fail in that sense. We may make some mistakes along the way, and we may get there in a weird way, but we will always get there. Just like a ticketing on-sale. The tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. That must happen.”
When he is talking about his colleagues at the distillery, Peter’s face lights up. He has a genuine interest in them all and their success clearly brings him joy.
“Seeing people who I work with and who I mentor succeed [is the greatest joy in my life] … I think that is the best feeling in the world,” he says.
Having already alluded to the difficulty he has in switching off demanding jobs that he loves, Peter makes it clear that he and his life-partner do have a life outside of the distillery.
“We like to go and meet with friends, go to do the ubiquitous pub quizzes locally, cook with friends or cook for friends. Cruise holidays have become the way of switching off because it really is decompressing looking at the sea. I do a bit of baking, mainly things like bread. That helps me switch off a little bit. Being a scientist, when it does not work, you struggle to wonder why. All logic tells you that you followed the recipe, and it should work, but [sometimes] it does not look anything like the picture in the book … Amateur theatre as well was something I did a long time ago. That used to help me [switch off], but I have not done that for years.”
Simon and Peter at ABBA Museum, Stockholm, during one of their many cruise holidays.
Peter does, however, still enjoy theatre and when asked to tell us about his favorite live event recounts one particular performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” in London’s West End way back in the ‘80s.
“[I was] very close to the front of the stalls, you call it orchestra [in the U.S. and Canada] … I was relatively young, and it was just mesmerizing to see something that dramatic, energetic and magical up close. And [to wonder] how do they do that, the magic of theatre, particularly in those days. I remember to this day [being] with my parents. We sat at the end as the theater emptied and almost couldn't move. There was a kind of magic of being completely stunned by it having never seen anything like that before.”
His favorite venue is closer to home. “It is the National Indoor Arena (NIA) in Birmingham, which is now called Utilita Arena,” he says. “It is a multipurpose arena that, in terms of large events and ticketing, I really cut my teeth in. We had everything from the Eurovision song contest to indoor athletics. We had gymnastics, and then we would have TV shows like ‘Gladiators’ as well as huge names in rock and pop. You would get to see it all, see the inner workings of a venue and learn your trade in ticketing. I have seen some fantastic acts, and I worked with some fantastic people there. It probably is my all-time favorite venue. I love going back now. It has been redeveloped, but it still has the same feel to it. We just recently went and saw gymnastics there for the Commonwealth Games this summer.”
Peter is a native Brit but admits he would not mind living somewhere with a bit more sun, so long as it is not too hot.
“I do love the States,” he says. “Simon and I have talked about San Francisco. But, if I can sell this business, I might just retire and live on a yacht in the British Virgin Islands, something like that. And drink lots of rum. But then 10 minutes later, I would be bored, and I would probably start setting up a rum distillery or a gin distillery there.”
In the meantime, Peter is content to visit amazing places in the U.K. and North America, especially anywhere near the Rockies.
Geo Haynes, April Moon and Peter, Chicago 2014.
“One of my favorite trips was to Vancouver and Banff and Jasper in an RV. I loved visiting to see that part of the world,” he says. “The U.S. feels like a bit of a home away from home. I love Denver, probably because of the Rockies, and when we did the Denver conference, the last one, I loved that. That is one of the pleasures that INTIX has certainly given me is the chance to travel across the U.S. to several different places.”
Peter, Peter, Shawn Hernden and TJ Tasker in Denver 2015.
When he is flying to a conference or another favorite destination, Peter generally listens to audiobooks rather than read a hardcopy book, and he tends to favor what he calls “airport fiction.”
“I have always kept in touch with Lee Child or Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher is a series of novels, novellas and short stories by British author Jim Grant under the pen name Lee Child) through all the adventures. As a kid, I loved Sherlock Holmes, reading through the whole back catalogue of Sherlock Holmes stories. My theatrical side, Oscar Wilde. Although I suppose living in Stratford, I should really say William Shakespeare. But he's not my favorite author.”
And, of course, Peter listens to music and has a particular fondness for Tina Turner.
“I have seen her live a few times,” he says. “It is old school, a little bit ‘80s and dated, but I still like the music. I saw her last tour which was at the [old] NIA. I was lucky to go over and see her in Germany with the promoter when we were planning that tour. I also saw her way back in the ‘80s at Woburn Abbey. Princess Diana was in the crowd, and it was a huge outdoor amphitheater. She was energetic and as full on as ever, it was phenomenal.”
As for his own musical talent, Peter says he would love to be able to play the piano, but…
“It is probably a bit like languages. I think it is that part of my brain. I have tried and maybe I just don't have the patience to practice or the right wiring in my head … If you are in events, often it involves music, and music just becomes one of those loves of your life. You have seen so many things and you have seen artists and you just think, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that.’ [On the other hand], whilst I can't play the piano, I can hold a tune. [Some of my INTIX friends] are always going to mention the blooming karaoke, aren’t they? They have probably had more nights at karaoke than they deserve over the years,” he says, laughing. Of course, Peter reminds us, there are also the now infamous pre-INTIX weekend Carpool Karaoke videos circulating out there in a Facebook feed near you.
Peter, April Moon, Amy Constantine Klein and Shawn Hernden during a pre-INTIX weekend in Denver.
When it comes to friends, whether from INTIX or elsewhere, Peter really appreciates those who “put up with me and [are] there when I need them.” He says, “You know what Brits are like, and to a certain extent the Americans, it is the ability to bring you down and in the nicest possible way. To let you know when you are doing something wrong or when you are doing something right … and then give each other a bit of a jab in the ribs when you need to.”
Having succeeded now in three different careers — none of which have had anything to do with his early ambitions, we wondered what advice Peter would give himself if he could go back in time. No, he did not show any signs of regret for not pursuing a life in astrophysics. In fact, his answer was simply: “Take your time, ask questions, think before you speak … Slow down and the answer will come to you.”
And if he had three wishes, what would they be? Peter responded with an interesting mix.
“I think the obvious one, because I am in business, is that the U.K. government gets its act together and reduces sales tax. So that will help me, thank you very much, put a bit of money back into our pockets. The second one is slightly more esoteric, I suppose, that I would get a chance to speak to people that have disappeared again, like your grandparents. Even just a few hours you'd spend with your grandparents now, as you grow old, you think, what would I ask them? What would we talk about? The third one, one more chance to see Tina Turner on that stage again.”
Indeed, were Peter’s third wish to come true, it would be a legend of ticketing watching a legendary performer once again. Or, to borrow some lyrics from one of her most famous songs, “Simply the best.”
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