Julia Bonner has made one of the biggest and most drastic career changes we have ever come across. Once upon a time she was a London-based environmental health officer, but now she is known infamously in Qatar as ‘the hobby horse lady’.
When we meet her, we find it hard to believe that this petite and delicate lady oversaw such routine and often unsavoury tasks such as water testing, pest control and, on one occasion, overseeing the removal of a dead body from a flat in central London. Julia’s husband got offered a job in Qatar, and that’s when she decided that her new life abroad wouldn’t have anything to do with safety suits and protective equipment. So, one career u-turn later and Julia is living in Doha making children’s hobby horses.
‘My fascination with hobby horses started initially when my brother bought my daughter one,’ she reveals. ‘I took it upon myself to make it a bit more unique and special by adding a rosette and some fairy wings, creating more of a bespoke model. I had always been interested in design – I even used to make my own outfits – but my parents worried about me doing that as a career, and so encouraged an alterante vocation. I took an environmental health course at Cardiff University, but when we came out here I saw it as the perfect opportunity to get back to doing what I love.’
Julia was drawn to her skills as an artist once again, with the hobby horse being the catalyst. ‘The first few hobby horses I made were as gifts for friends,’ she reveals. ‘I made one for a little boy on our compound as a birthday present. Not long after that I had all these children whom I had never met before, turning up on my doorstep, asking for their own hobby horse. My horses were soon being ridden all over the compound, which is quite a sight.’
It was only when Julia’s friend suggested she take a stand at a craft fair that things really began to take off. ‘I made 16 to sell at the fair and couldn’t believe how quickly they all sold,’ she laughs. ‘I was even taking orders. That’s when the business suddenly became a reality. I have been to numerous fairs since, selling out and taking yet more orders – it’s wonderful. I am even talking to a couple of companies in Dubai who are keen to sell the horses.’
The hobby horses are all handmade from scratch, with products mainly sourced in Doha. Julia makes several different designs, including a fairy princess, a sheriff and a pirate, and people can even have them personalised with their name on a rosette. She plans to take a stall at each of the main Christmas fairs later in the year – the CNAQ, the American Ladies’ Fair and the Doha Mums’ Christmas Fair – and you can rest assured that
there won’t be a rubber glove or protective mask in sight.
Julia’s handmade hobby horses cost QR100 each. For more info or to place an order, call 3301 5817 or email email@example.com