February 29, 2012

An Interview with Anglotopia's Jonathan Thomas


Anglotopia.net is the largest website on the web dedicated to Anglophiles and all things Great Britain. Some posts you'll see there are "Win a Downton Abbey Themed trip to Britain", the "Top 10 British and Irish Actors I’d Seriously Consider Leaving My Husband For", the "Ultimate List of Funny British Place Names", and the "Top 16 Myths Americans Generally Believe about Britain". In short, it's paradise for somebody who's crazy about Great Britain. The site's creator, Jonathan Thomas, describes himself as "a consummate Anglophile with an obsession for Britain that borders on psychosis."

  • So tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you begin to have a passion for all things English? 
I can't pinpoint a particular moment or date but I've pretty much always been interested in Britain. It started off as a passion for Canada, then Australia and that evolved into being interested in British culture and history. My mother is quite an Anglophile so it's something we shared in together as well.
  • Was Anglophilia something that attracted you to your wife, or did you infect her after you got married? 
My wife is an Anglophile by proxy. If she hadn't met me, I doubt she'd be into it at all. We met in college and our early days really had nothing to do with Britain until we went together for the first time in 2004 (where I proposed on the Eiffel Tower). She didn't quite know what she was getting herself into at first. She jokes now that England comes first in our relationship followed by her, which is not true obviously, she's first (followed by our 1 year old, then England).
  • You run an awesome website called Anglotopia. Why did you start Anglotopia? What is its primary purpose and has that changed over the years?
I started Anglotopia back in May 2007 because there wasn't a website for people like me. Many years ago after college, we were broke, living in a shoebox in Chicago and going through various other post college trials and we were miserable. We were also
sad that we hadn't been to Britain in a few years because we were so poor. So, I thought, why don't I start a website about this passion as an outlet - so I founded Anglotopia in our apartment closet (my office at the time). The first site, compared to now, was an embarrassment, but as traffic grew, I knew I was onto something.

At first the goal was just to make a little extra money. But I learned quickly that the blogging is not a path to quick money. It took years before we made any real money. So, the goal eventually became for it to somehow facilitate for us to get back to Britain on a trip. It did that in late 2009. So a little over 2 years after I started the site. You can read the whole story here: http://www.anglotopia.net/about-anglotopia/history-of-anglotopia/. Anglotopia has made 3 trips to Britain possible (and we just booked a fourth).
  • When you started your website did you ever think that one day it would be getting hundreds of thousands of pageviews a month? 
Not really. It always feels good to watch your traffic grow - it means your onto something and that people enjoy it. When we hit our traffic peak last year during the Royal Wedding (35,000 hits in a DAY), I just could not believe it.

At the beginning I was more focused on learning all the technical things required to run the site - I learned everything myself and I'm still learning.
  • Anglotopia is now your full-time job, correct? What was it like to make that leap to earning a living off a website? 
Yes, Anglotopia has been my full time job for almost a year now. About 18 months ago we set the goal for me to be working on the site full time by the end of 2011. It was making more and more money - in some months more than I was bringing in at my actual job so it seemed possible. I was gone for 12 hours a day, commuting to downtown Chicago for work. I'd spend my time at work and then the equivalent amount of time on the site when I got home. It was rough - especially when our first baby arrived last March.
It was a tough balance. Then something unexpected happened - I was laid off from my job in late March. Rather than find another one, my wife and I just agreed to go for it and work for Anglotopia full time. Haven't looked back since and it's been the best year of our lives. I work from home now, Anglotopia has a basement office decked out in everything British. I spend every day working on what I love and I don't miss any of the baby's milestones. The balance work/home balance is sometimes hard to maintain but I can't imagine a scenario where I would go back to work in a 'real job.'
  • Obviously Anglotopia fills a need for a very passionate niche. Do you think number of Anglophiles is growing? Why do so many people around the world have a need to learn about England? 
I don't know if it's growing - a lot of people are closet Anglophiles, whether they watch Masterpiece on PBS or pick up a book on English history from Barnes & Noble. A lot of people have English, Welsh, Scottish, etc. heritage, so it's also a way to connect with their forbears. I think when there's a big event like the Royal Wedding - we seem to have more 'mania' for all things British. But I think it's always there.
  • How much time have you spent in England, and do you intend to move there?
I've made 9 trips in total and have booked our 10th for May/June for almost 3 weeks (Jackie has not been on all my trips, I went before we met, with my mother twice and by myself for the Royal Wedding - we had a 1 month old, she had to stay home). We’ve usually only taken short trips of less than a week so; this upcoming trip will be our longest yet - we can't wait. We're all going - Jackie and I and our 1 year old (he got a passport when he was 3 months old).

We'd love to move there - but it's pretty much impossible to move there for Americans unless you're a banker or some other kind of high roller. They have a very restrictive immigration regime right now. The only way now would be for someone to offer me a job - but now that I've worked for myself for almost a year, a job doesn't really appeal to me, even if I could find one and it gets us a visa. Anglotopia itself could get us to Britain one day - but it would have to be about 5-10 times the size it is now to have the kind of revenue necessary so that's sort of a long term goal.

Our major goal for the next 10-20 years is to save enough money to buy a cottage in Dorset and just go whenever we want.
  • In researching posts for my own blog I've come across hundreds of castles, manors, forests, lakes, etc. It's all gorgeous, but I've wondered if spending a lot of time in Britain could ever get monotonous. Have you ever been burned-out by one too many castles or museums?
I don't know - I'm sure it's possible. I had a chat with an American Expat on my flight back from London and he was entering year five of living in Britain. He said he loved it there but after 5 years, there's only so many castles and stately homes you can stomach. So, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
  • If you could eat in any English restaurant right now, where would it be and what would you order off the menu?
Well, I'm hungry for Breakfast right now so I'm thinking of this little breakfast place across from the Gloucester Road Tube station. The food isn't that special but they have this machine that crushes fresh orange juice on the spot. It's the best you'll ever drink.
  • Do you have any "words of wisdom" for Anglophiles or Britophiles who think they might never get to Britain?
My main word of wisdom is that there is no reason one should never get to Britain. A lot of people are fatalistic and think, oh that's not something I could ever do, even if I want to do. But it's possible for everyone. There are more than 10 flights daily out of my local airport, direct to London. There are plenty of empty seats. It's a 7 hour plane ride away. It costs less than $1000 for a plane ticket. That's a lot of money for a lot of people - but if you plan and save it's easy to achieve. For some people, it's not just about money. They're afraid to fly or they have a disability they think will make the trip impossible - but it's not impossible. Master your fears and plan ahead and anyone can have a good time in London. We're planning a series of articles on how people can make their dreams of traveling to Britain a reality so stay tuned for that. You can make it happen, anyone can. If we can do it, you can do it.

2 comments:

  1. Love the interview, been following Angoltopia for a long time!

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    1. Thank you for leaving a comment! I'm glad you found my little blog :)

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