Meet the cannabis farmer who is fiercely anti-drugs: After losing her husband to cancer this glamorous mum, 52, is embarking on an extraordinary new path
- Tina Bolding, 52, from Guernsey lost her husband to cancer three years ago
- While her husband Brian was sick, she travelled to Holland to find pain relief
- She was granted permission to grow her cannabis to produce CBD oils last year
- The mother-of-two opened the first shop on her island selling CBD oil in August
We are sitting in a disused two-acre greenhouse, formerly part of Guernsey’s once-flourishing tomato growing trade.
A sprinkler system of black hosepipes is piled up on the greenhouse floor, waiting to be erected along the roof of the building, and small tents are in boxes, about to be set up to provide the optimum conditions for the fledgling plants.
Stud partitioning is to be installed, too, to ensure the right kind of light. Everything has been designed to the meticulous level of pharmaceutic conditions.
Because, all being well, in 200 days, this giant greenhouse will produce 40g of cannabis leaves per square foot, which will provide 1,742,400 grams per acre.
Tina Bolding, 52, from Guernsey lost her husband to cancer three years ago. Pictured: the mother-of-two now, in her cannabis farm in Guernsey
Times that by two, and factor in one-and-a-half crops per annum, and you quickly get to the calculation that this site will easily be producing 5 million grams of cannabis per year.
Guernsey is not a place automatically associated with 8ft-high security fencing to protect drugs. It is a quiet, relatively crime-free Channel Island where people can still leave their front doors open.
Even more surprising is that the person spearheading the island’s first foray into cannabis production is Tina Bolding, a glamorous 52-year-old mum with no background in farming. Until now, she has never so much as grown a cucumber.
Today, Britain’s first female cannabis farmer is in skintight jeans, high-heeled boots and a Barbour puffa coat. Her hair is highlighted and styled, so she looks more yummy mummy than weed farmer.
However, in February, Tina was granted permission by Guernsey’s progressive government to grow her own cannabis to produce a variety of different CBD oils.
Guernsey Gold, as she is naming the strongest, is not medical strength — she has to stick rigidly to the CBD advertising guidelines that it is a food supplement that ‘assists’ with making life better, rather than ‘curing’ conditions.
While her husband Brian, 13 years her senior, was sick, she travelled to Holland to find pain relief for him. Pictured: Tina holding a cannabis plant
But its life-enhancing aspects are what first set her on such an unusual career path. ‘I’ve never taken drugs in my life. I’ve never smoked a joint. I’ve always been so anti-drugs. This is totally alien to anything else I’ve ever done in my life,’ admits Tina, who trained to be a graphic designer before meeting husband Brian.
Although 13 years her senior, and with children of his own from a previous marriage, Brian swept Tina, then 22, off her feet.
Nicknamed Mr Extreme for his passion for life and flying, he would say to her: ‘This life isn’t a dress rehearsal, Tina. Let’s get whatever we want. Let’s do whatever we want.’
So together, they lived life to the full. They had two children (a boy and a girl), married and worked hard on their London-based car mechanic franchise: ‘We were together all the time. That was it. That was us. Togetherness,’ says Tina.
Even when their children were tiny, they would fly around the world in Brian’s plane, going on holidays and skiing. ‘We had a really interesting marriage. There was never a dull moment. He would do the most beautiful things for me. We were just very lucky.’
In February, Tina was granted permission by Guernsey’s progressive government to grow her own cannabis to produce a variety of different CBD oils. Pictured in her shop on the island
Then, in 2013, aged 59, Brian said he wanted to retire to Guernsey so they could spend more quality time together. ‘We visited with the children on a Scout trip and Brian fell in love with it,’ recalls Tina. ‘He joked it had to be far enough from the business so I wouldn’t keep going back there. The plan was to slow down and travel more.’
But today, Tina lives alone on Guernsey. Brian died in 2016 of lung cancer, which spread to his bones. Within ten months of being diagnosed in December 2015 — he’d had a pain that they thought was a frozen shoulder — Tina was facing life as a widow.
She was 50, with a 17-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son doing his A-levels. They had lived on the island for three-and-a-half years before Brian died, the last of which had been spent in and out of hospital. Tina knew virtually nobody. Plans for their new life were in shreds.
‘When you’re told nothing can be done to save the person you love, yet you have this person in front of you, you just shout: “No! I don’t believe you!”‘ says Tina. ‘All the while they are living and breathing, you think: “There must be something to be done to save them.”Brian was in pieces. He was absolutely in pieces. He couldn’t stop crying and, while I was comforting him, I just kept thinking: “I have to find an answer. It’s all going to be OK.”
When her husband died, she was 50, with a 17-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son doing his A-levels. They had lived on the island for three-and-a-half years. Pictured now with the oil
‘I took him to Holland and Germany, trying various things. But also you think about buying things on the internet, and it’s just so scary because you don’t want to make things worse or mess up the treatment.’
Brian died on October 20, 2016, after a six-week period of hospitalisation in which he suffered terrible pain. ‘I never left his side,’ says Tina. ‘I spent the whole six weeks sleeping in a chair. He needed me with him 24/7.’
When he died, Tina’s world collapsed. Two-and-a-half years on, her grief is tangible. Tears stream down her face as she recalls her astonishment at the speed with which her husband’s illness marched on and the pain it inflicted on his body.
‘I always thought it would be better to be warned about losing the person you loved, because you’d have time to say goodbye and all those things you want to say to them — but the reality of it doesn’t work like that.
‘You are telling your loved one everything is going to be OK. You are supporting them and giving hope, so, actually, you don’t say those things, because it would be like giving up.’
Tine admits that she had the predicted visits from people looking for a quick way to find an illegal high, but, once they understood CBD oil was nowhere near that bracket
It was during the swift period of Brian’s decline that Tina took to the internet to find everything — anything — that might make him feel better. During this trawling, she discovered that, in other countries, cannabis oil in high medicinal doses could be used to alleviate extreme pain.
It had also been linked with stopping seizures in children. This was shown to be the case with 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, whose mother Charlotte was stopped at Heathrow in 2018 bringing in medicinal cannabis oil that made her son better.
Following Billy’s case, since November 1, 2018, it is legal for UK doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis under certain very restricted conditions — although not a single NHS patient has yet had a prescription approved.
For Tina’s husband, this new ruling came too late. But, in the bleak months after his death, at a loss as to what to do with herself, she found it impossible to let go of the idea that, had she been able legally to use medicinal cannabis — or any responsibly produced, albeit weaker, CBD oil — Brian’s pain might have been so much less. This conviction started her on a new course in life. Last August, on what would have been Brian’s 65th birthday, she opened the first shop on her island selling CBD oil, called The Original Alternative.
She admits that she had the predicted visits from people looking for a quick way to find an illegal high, but, once they understood CBD oil was nowhere near that bracket, the ‘silly interest’ died away, and she and her staff — including a full-time highly qualified herbalist — began helping people from all over.
Word began to spread. Now, she says, the stories of improvement in quality of life among so many of her customers are astounding. Problems experienced by her clients range from sleeplessness to depression, and she also helps cancer patients just like Brian. She shows me a text message from the daughter of one cancer patient that reads: ‘You have changed my father’s life.’
Tina adds: ‘When Brian was dying, he said to me: “You have to get me an injection, a tablet, anything to put me out of this pain.” He was on morphine, but he was screaming. Everything I read back then about cannabis oil showed real evidence of how it could help.’
At present, Tina is the only non-pharmaceutical operation in the UK. There is only one other big cannabis farm, in Norfolk, and this is pharmaceutical
It was a fortuitous meeting with ex-palliative carer, now cannabis consultant, Ben Birrell, that led her to think about starting a cannabis-based business.
There was, of course, shock from her family. A mother becoming a cannabis farmer? Whatever next? ‘I’ve always been so anti-drugs, so I think my children thought: ‘What on earth is Mum doing?’
‘My husband always went for the difficult things in life and, after I lost him, I thought: “What have I got to lose? Nobody knows me on Guernsey anyway.”
At present, Tina is the only non-pharmaceutical operation in the UK. There is only one other big cannabis farm, in Norfolk, and this is pharmaceutical.
‘I said to the Guernsey government: “Globally, the mindset towards cannabis oil is changing. Not only will you help people, but you will put Guernsey on the map if you allow this product.”‘
It is a business decision, too. Her project, called Celebrated, is entirely self-financed. But it is a good risk. The profit projection is unknown, Tina says. However she is confident that, based on the same kind of model in other countries, she — and, by proxy, Guernsey through the 20 per cent tax — will reap great benefits.
The potential value of the crop means security is high. As well as fencing to deter thieves, CCTV cameras will be everywhere. But Tina insists emotion, rather than profit, is propelling her on.
Until now, Tina has made her Guernsey Gold product off-site, using cannabis from Holland and a lab in Spain. But her growers’ licence has changed that: ‘Now we can produce it from beginning to end.’ She and Ben are putting together a team that includes Guernsey’s traditional ‘growers’, once in the business of producing good old-fashioned tomatoes.
People have offered derelict greenhouses, too. Tina adds: ‘My dream is that, one day, we’ll have a co-operative where people can grow it for themselves for oils, complying to regulations.’
Other Guernsey people will be trained to work in the laboratory — named after Brian — about to be built at the front of the greenhouse, which will produce the varying types of permissible CBD oil. ‘It’s a bit like cooking. We call one of the chief guys ‘chef’ because he comes up with all the formulas.’
Tina admits she continues to struggle with bereavement. But she takes pride in her appearance, goes to the gym and, like so many widows, is trying hard to build a life without her husband. She has made friends on the island and admits she would like to find somebody else one day ‘because I don’t want to be alone’.
Her daughter, who’ll be 20 this month, is at university, while her 21-year-old son lives with her.
Tina also practises what she preaches. She takes her ‘blue’ CBD oil in the morning, to pick up her mood, and a ‘purple’ oil two hours before bed if she is struggling to sleep. Her grief is still raw, but she has come a long way since the night when death neared and she sobbed in Brian’s arms: ‘I want to come with you.’
‘But,’ she remembers sadly, ‘he said to me: ‘Tina, you have been a wonderful wife. You have to stay strong for the children,’ and they are so proud of me now.
‘This new project is absolutely wonderful. I deal with things that I don’t like by distracting myself. I have to find a way of involving myself in something so that it obscures the unhappy things.
‘This gives me a reason and a purpose to my life. I feel like I am making a difference. I miss Brian terribly, but at least I have a reason to keep going because before this, I didn’t really.’