Guernsey Press

Making a name for ourselves

Steve Falla delves into the background of his popular Guernsey surname

Castle of William the Conqueror of Falaise, a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France

I HAVE visited several royal households, on business, over the years – Buckingham and St James’s Palaces, to name two that I will never forget. It was quite surreal and a little distracting sitting in a meeting at the latter with mounted lifeguards passing the window every few minutes.

Also entering BP, as the staff call it, through the Privy Purse door, hordes of tourists with their noses pressed to the railings wondering who the heck I was.

But it was at The Orangery in the grounds of Kensington Palace that I enjoyed a very memorable evening at a summer party. The host was a client and I suspect my company was one of its smallest suppliers, yet I was treated the same as all the rest.

The guest list included some top chefs, such as Marcus Wareing, Mary Berry and John Torode. And, with a surname like that, I couldn’t resist having the Guernsey conversation.

This particular Mr Torode grew up in Melbourne, Australia, but we Donkeys do get about. One assumes that his ancestors made the long trip Down Under to seek their fortune at some point in the last 200 years, along with many Channel Islanders.

The internet says that the surname was first known in Lincolnshire as far back as 1052 and there are connections with Normandy where Turold was one of William the Conqueror’s teachers and his grand constable at the time of the conquest. By the 1881 census there were 383 Torodes in the British Isles, all but 20 of them living in Guernsey – what you might call a torrent of Torodes that has not stopped flowing ever since.

Anyway, I engaged chef Torode near the bar, introduced myself and explained the Guernsey connection. He was polite but frankly disinterested.

However, standing alongside him was his Masterchef partner in crime Greg Wallace, formerly a self-proclaimed ‘cake face’ until he became a Weight Watchers ambassador. He and I hit it off immediately and spent much of the ensuing hours in animated conversation.

Having a common, or I prefer to say popular, Guernsey name myself has led to a fair amount of confusion when I am elsewhere in the world. One website suggests that Falla comes fourth on the Guernsey leader board of surnames, after Smith (yes, really), Le Page and Ogier but it is largely unfamiliar outside the island.

I sometimes use the phonetic alphabet to spell it out – Foxtrot Alpha Lima Lima Alpha – especially over the phone as I’ve found that ‘F’ often comes across as ‘S’. Alternatively, when booking restaurants or ordering interval drinks at a West End theatre I have often entertained myself by making up a completely fictitious name.

When I worked in the UK my post frequently came addressed incorrectly by Falla-cious correspondents – most commonly to Steve Fella or Fuller, but also Steve Flowers and Steve Fallen.

My surname has been said to be Anglo-Norman in origin, meaning the man who hailed from Falaise in Calvados. This might explain my fondness for the famous French apple brandy produced there. It’s always been a favourite tipple of mine when visiting Normandy where the distillateurs have long excelled in turning apples into alcoholic drinks.

I was once at an official lunch in Bayeux attended by all the town’s dignitaries. Halfway through the meal we were asked to stand and observe a 200-year-old tradition – Le Trou Normand (the Norman hole) – in which we drank a shot of Calvados between courses. The idea is that the fiery drink burns a pathway through your belly as you swallow it, making space for more food and aiding digestion.

I’ve no idea if it works and it is not a practice we have adopted on a daily basis at home, but when in Rome...

There is a further suggestion that the Falla family may have originated from a house of Jewish nobility that fled from persecution in Spain and settled in Guernsey in the late 15th century. The earliest references to the surname Falla in Guernsey are to Gyfre and Rauf Falla who were living in the island in 1460 according to archives in the Priaulx Library.

My dad managed to trace our family tree back to my namesake Stephen Falla who was born in 1730 but this was just a happy coincidence as I’d been christened decades before Dad did the research.

I am often asked: ‘Which part of the Falla family do you come from?’ My stock reply is: ‘None of the famous ones’ and there have been a few.

Perhaps there’s still time to make a name for myself – or is that just a Falla-cy on my part?