ONDA is del Bono's latest community, in many ways a natural extension from the premise behind the South Kensington
Club's Voyager Club, which seeks to "nurture our instinct to explore in search of knowledge, experiences and basic
human values; to encourage members to push boundaries, open their minds and do something different with their time."
ONDA, then, takes this idea and runs with it, offering membership to a growing network of members' clubs, wellness
retreats and shared working spaces all over the world, so that intrepid subscribers can build their own networks
wherever they may find themselves. Where ONDA differs, however, is in its expectations of its members: it functions
much like a potlatch, the indigenous American gift-giving ceremony, the only difference being that the act of giving
doesn't bestow upon you superiority. Members are invited to 'gift' the community their expertise or interest,
whatever that may be, in order to enhance the knowledge and experience of the group. Meet-ups, seminars, wellness
classes, lectures, you name it. Del Bono, humbly claims that he just provides the platform for others to enrich one
another, but it's a serious undertaking in a social world dominated by digital interaction. It was refreshing then
to catch up with him in the flesh at the South Kensington Club...
Where we are now sitting used to be the home of the artist Francis Bacon, am I correct? What a coup to be able to
purchase suchan historicbuilding.
That's almost correct! What is now the bathhouse of the South Kensington Club was actually Francis Bacon's old house.
He moved here in the late 1920s from Ireland with his nanny. He was 27 years old. He was living on the first floor
and had his studio on the ground floor. He had his first exhibitions here, as well. You know, because he didn't have
a lot of money he decided to become a male escort. He was a male walker, I've seen the announcements in the Times,
or wherever he was advertising. The nanny would actually go through the responses apparently, to see who would be
eligible or not! I contacted the Francis Bacon Foundation, and the Mayor of London's office who gave us the plaque
to commemorate his time here. But you can really think of SKC as the coming together of four buildings. Ronnie Wood
also used to have his club here, the Harrington. His wife Jo used to cook in this room! The dining hall was in the
back, it was awful, at least what we got to see of it. The club was so grim, so dark. Ronnie would be downstairs, I
remember, always serving Guinness. He was obsessed with Guinness. I kept one thing from Ronnie's day here: he had
his own private bathroom, which I removed and put into Francis Bacon's house. I kept it as it was and put a picture
of Ronny in the bathroom. I had to give him credit for something. My great friend, the late Mark Shand had some
fantastic stories from those days. He kindly offered to do a talk here for me before he passed suddenly. We met in
November 2013, and he must have passed away a couple of months later. He had the most successful fundraising event
at the Gramercy Hotel, walks out for a cigarette at one in the morning, slips on the icy pavement and just like that
he was taken away from us. Life is such a lottery, only nobody won that day. We lost an incredible man.
I gather Mark was an influence in developing the explorer concept of the Voyager's Club at SKC.
He was actually telling me a lot of things that we should do. From the very outset, we wanted to do an explorer's
club where we could have inspiring talks. In fact, our first summer talk was by a guy called Lewis Pugh. He swims in
crazy places to raise awareness on ocean conservation. You should watch his TED Talk. Most famously, he swam in
the Arctic. He had hardly any team with him and very little in the way of sponsorship. They managed to get a lift to
the swimming spot with this Russian cargo ship. His challenge was to do a mile in his Speedos in order to make a
point about global warming because 10 years ago he wouldn't have been able to swim in that same spot because it
would have been completely frozen over. What nobody had warned him about was that actually, it's not like in those
photographs you see, where everything is sort of crystal blue and beautiful. Actually, the water is pitch black,
like jumping into a freezing in a pool of oil. You cannot even see your hands. Can you imagine?! He also went and
swam in a lake in the Himalayas, which didn't exist 10 years ago. I love how these kinds of characters can come here
and deliver talks to people who otherwise would be going to, you know, Cap du Roc, spending vast amounts of money to
lie on a sun lounger, when in actual fact, they could have life-changing moments.
What do you think about the travel aspect of Instagram? Have influencers opened people's minds to exploration or
is it all just artifice?
I think there are people nowadays who, if you look on social media, say "I've been to 56 countries, 60 countries," or
whatever. But travel is not about ticking boxes. You're supposed to enrich yourself with travel, to have experiences
in faraway places that change the course of your life or the way you view the world. That experience for me was on
the border of Libya and Sudan, for a solar eclipse. I mean, who goes to Libya for a solar fucking eclipse? I didn't
want to go. Stupid solar eclipse. It was an absolute circus, completely off the grid, but unforgettable. I felt
shivers down my spine. It was so beautiful, just so special and got me thinking 'what if we could introduce this
kind of thing to people?' So, that's what we did.