A FORMER trout farm manager who carved out a new career for himself supplying sticks to the stars is celebrating 18 years in business.

He made the famous magical stick held by Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee, he’s provided walking sticks for stars, sportspeople and royalty, and even created a Staff for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now Keith Pickering is celebrating 18 years as the famous Helmsley Stick Man, having become one of the country’s biggest suppliers of stickmaking materials and tools.

Before he became The Stick Man, Mr Pickering was working full time as a trout farm manager, although he had been hand carving sticks as a hobby for a few years, selling a few at country shows to “test the water”.

However, when he was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1998 following a blackout while driving, it gave him the courage to follow his dreams and officially launch as The Stick Man at the beginning of September 1999.

Based in the craft workshops at Helmsley Walled Garden, when Mr Pickering first started out he worked almost entirely to order and each stick would take a week or more to make.

Now, a large part of the business is selling components - stick shafts, antlers, horns and carving blanks - to the growing number of people who make sticks as a hobby.

A family affair, Mr Pickering’s wife Jacky joined him in the business after a couple of years. He also now works with several trusted stickmakers who work from their own premises to supply sticks for the shop, as well as a handful of commercial producers, to make sure the shop is never empty if visitors pop in.

Mr Pickering said: “If I’m being honest, I didn’t think we’d still be here 18 years on. I thought interest from the public might dwindle after a few years – but, actually, the exact opposite happened.

“Stickmaking as a hobby is more popular than ever and not just in the UK. We sell parts and materials to many countries around the world. Just last week I took an order for over £1,000 worth of carved sticks and horn handles to go to a customer in Spain.”