When did you move to Phuket, and what made you decide to come and live here? It was gradual, it just sort of happened. I first came to Thailand in 1980 with the British national sailing team for a race in Sattahip, Pattaya. I fell in love with the food and culture, and returned in 1986 after I had launched Sunsail yacht charter in Greece. I took a speedboat around Phuket and thought, 'Why not?' I was young and careless. Soon after, I set up the second branch of Sunsail in the area that is now Yacht Haven Marina. I moved here permanently in 2005.
What did you do before you came to Phuket? I've been involved with boats since the age of seven, after my grandfather gave me an optimist boat he had built himself. I soon got into racing and that led to work as an instructor. I set up six boats for charter on the beach in Chichester Harbour before opening Sunsail on the Mediterranean.
Tell us about your current project, The Village Coconut Island. By 2001 I was ready for something different. I was becoming a 'suit', so I sold Sunsail and got into property development. My first project in Khao Lak was wiped out in the tsunami. Not long after, I met a guy in the Watermark restaurant who told me he had sold 85 rai of land on Coconut Island (Koh Maphrao) but the buyer had pulled out of the deal at the last minute. Within 24 hours I bought the land, and soon developed it into The Village Coconut Island. Phase two is now underway and will be finished this October. To the existing 44 villas, we're adding 116 jacuzzi suites and 76 two-bedroom villas, plus new restaurants, bars, a golf course, a conference/event room, bowling lawns and other leisure facilities.
How does doing business in Phuket compare to back home? I did business in 25 countries before settling here and have found that every culture has its challenges. You have to learn about a place – don't go charging in assuming you know best. Treat people with respect. Every day is a challenge but I always enjoy getting up to face it.
Whereabouts do you live in Phuket and what determined your choice of location? I rent a converted shophouse in Old Phuket Town. I didn't want to live in expat land. I like living amongst the Thai people, seeing all the weird and wonderful shophouse dwellers, and going to the cafés and bars scattered amongst them. I like that it's still got its old Chinese pharmacy and a motorbike repair shop that only does Lambrettas, and that you can have a nice meal for 100 baht..
What kind of car do you drive? Why? I drive a clapped-out Toyota Fortuner. It's the best car for the island. Practical and safe, and you can see what's happening around you.
How old are you? Mentally, mid-30s. Physically, 57
Do you have family here? I am separated, but I have a good relationship with my wife, who lives in England. She has a boyfriend and I live here with my Thai girlfriend. I have four sons, aged 17 to 24, who are all in England. My 22-year-old son just finished university and is planning to move here soon.
What do you think the future holds for you? After finishing the expansion of The Village Coconut Island in October, I hope to have more time to enjoy my boat. I'm sure I will start a new project next year, maybe in Phuket or elsewhere in Thailand. No matter where I do the project though, my life is here in Phuket. This is my home.
How do you evaluate success? At this age, success is having four healthy, well-adjusted kids. Also, seeing my project evolve into what I had spent nights dreaming it would be. I can walk around this place and feel proud at what I've achieved...
What are you most proud of? To date, Sunsail. I started out as a 20-year-old with no money and built it into the biggest and most profitable sailing and water sports company in the world. What do you do with your free time, if you have any? My free time is taken up with boating and golf at Blue Canyon. I'm about to go to Bali to do some sailing around there, maybe to Lombok and Flores, and finish in Singapore for the Grand Prix.
Are you involved in any local charities, clubs or associations? I'm the founder and chairman of Khao Lak Community Appeal, a foundation set up in memory of friends lost in the tsunami. We raise money to help build and maintain schools, employ teachers and sponsor children whose parents died in the wave. I also support the Phuket Has Been Good to Us foundation with donations of free stays at The Village, etc.
For further information about Coconut Island Development Co., Ltd
Tel: +66 (0)76 352153