At a pavement café in the central square of the north-western town of Mezdra, a smiling young waitress brings an Englishman his daily frappe, and in his best Bulgarian, the man – something of a celebrity among the locals, their pet Англичан – grins his thanks.
It has been a very long road these years that has brought him to this place, but a very short road these days from the home that he shares with his wife Rosie in the nearby village of Dolna Kremena.
The frappe and the casual chats, as efforts at Bulgarian and at English meet and mingle, are part of the daily routine after Bobby has finished his five-days-a-week Big Breakfast Show on Trust Global Radio, an international station broadcasting to 33 countries daily.
That same lovely village home, where a stroll across the lawn somehow has one humming In An English Country Garden (in a Very Bulgarian Village, one might add), also is the locus of the cutting-edge tech that is Bulgaria’s part in Trust Global Radio’s 24-hour operation.
As hosts in this home, Bobby and Rosie have a fund of anecdotes both fascinating and entertaining, built up over the years of travelling and working around the globe, much of it many miles from their native Kent in the UK.
Bobby’s patter, chatter and fingers on the mixing desk have been at work everywhere from pirate radio in the North Sea in the early 1960s, at the BBC from 1967, in Mozambique at the legendary LM Radio, for Canadian radio in Nigeria; in 1974 in Perth at 6KY, then on to Florida’s WX93, on to Tenerife and Waves FM for 15 years, a long spell in Spain for Trust FM Radio – and this is not to count the gigs on and around stages in the West End (Bobby’s an Equity member), the Netherlands, Vegas; the other enterprises in parallel, the English-language newspaper The Messenger, in Spain…and the big names, the souvenir photographs, the awards.
Bulgaria came about after Bobby and Rosie’s daughter Michelle visited this country and urged them to, at once, pull up stakes from Spain and make the move to this Eastern European country of which, admittedly, they knew little. Bobby recalls that at school, all points east of Berlin were a terra incognita, coloured red (for our younger readers, that would be communist-bloc red, not British Empire red).
For Bobby and Rosie, the biggest surprise gift package on their arrival in Bulgaria in April 2010, first in Byala Slatina, was not only the beauty of Bulgaria, but also the friendliness and helpfulness with which they were received.
“People tried to help, without obligation, never wanting anything in return,” Bobby says.
Rosie adds, “when we went to register at the local medical service, with us being unable to speak Bulgarian and no one there who could speak English, they got on the phone to call in someone who could speak Spanish”.
So too were their first experiences of Bulgarian hospitality at the table, as people received them with spreads of traditional foods, rakiya and soft drinks, extending their best welcome however modest their own household budgets might be.
But the show, after all, must go on, and radio stations must be on the air.
Bobby has high praise for Bulgaria’s fast internet speed, the sine qua non of Trust Global Radio’s operation, and for being able to get their studio up and running.
In turn, throwing down new roots in an unfamiliar country is more than a matter of running electronic cables.
Bobby: “At this time, the paperwork was being done for Michelle to adopt two children (two young Roma sisters were to be woven into the family) and we went to meet social services, in support, to show them we are just ordinary people, a Mum and a Dad and a daughter – and they were so impressed that we wanted to raise the girls here, not to take them back to our own country”.
Rosie: “We wanted the girls to realise that they are Bulgarians”. Upbringing, thus, is a blend of the traditions of both worlds, British and Bulgarian.
Local media discovered the Anglichani as word spread. Bulgarian National Television, TV7, bTV, Nova were among the first, along with reports in national and local newspapers, to tell the story of these two English people, the sole Brits in a village officially said to number a population of 300.
“Such was the interest that we held a three-day open day at the Radisson in Sofia to meet journalists,” Bobby says.
An appearance on the long-running evening show on bTV hosted by Slavi Trifonov rocketed them to local celebrity status. “At first, people in the village had not quite known what to make of us,” Rosie says.
Very swiftly, Bulgaria had become home.
Bobby: “We could earn more money elsewhere. And we are not getting any younger (‘I am’ Rosie interjects). How fortunate it is in life that you can find a country and do what you love to do at the pace that you want to do it”.
That latter point may sound leisurely, but there are always ideas bouncing around about engaging more with Bulgaria’s people. Rosie is hardly a passive partner in the studio’s operation, but works daily on readying the best possible weather forecast, liaising with listeners on the torrents of requests and feedback, the partner in the ideas factory. Conversation with Rosie and Bobby is a study in the maturity of a relationship that dates back four decades.
Bobby warms to a favourite theme, the potential of Bulgaria that can be achieved only if people can be up and doing. “My message to Bulgaria is, there is only way to go, and that is up, and that comes through hard work.”
Also, as a self-confessed lifelong “history freak”, Bobby has been deepening his knowledge of Bulgaria’s vast expanse of history. He and Rosie have joined in the annual commemorations of Hristo Botev, poet and hero of the struggle for freedom from Ottoman rule, on Vratsa Peak. Bobby was keen to learn more after he heard of the annual May pilgrimage by large groups of people tracing the route of Botev’s brave forces from Kozloduy on the Danube to the peak at Vratsa.
At the microphone, when Bobby is cheerleading for Bulgaria, encouraging people to come to see for themselves what he unfailingly terms “this wonderful country”, this is not the blithe patter of a DJ staving off dead air between music tracks and adverts. Along with Rosie, it comes from the heart; it is a matter of trust.
(Photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)