Where are you from?
Hélène: I’m from Greystones on the ocean south of Dublin, Ireland.
Peter: Kelly’s Corner, Dublin.
When and how did you find your way to Phuket?
Hélène: It’s Peter’s fault! In 1989 he met a Norwegian gentleman on a diving instructor’s course who led Peter to believe that he owned Marina Cottages in Kata Beach, which had one of the first established dive shops in Phuket. Peter went out to have a look, came back and said we’re going to live in Thailand. At the time I had to get out a map as I had no idea where it even was.
Tell us more about your early years in Phuket.
We just had a ball. Nothing happened with the dive shop, then we looked at doing Similan boat trips, but that never materialised, so we set up an export company based out of Chiang Mai. We sourced and exported goods to retailers back home and eventually opened a shop in Ireland – furniture and décor from mostly Vietnam and Thailand.
First we lived in Karon Beach but there was no community of expats yet, then we discovered the Ao Chalong Yacht Club and decided we’d move. We rented a place behind Jimmy’s Lighthouse in Chalong, an area where a sailing fraternity kind of hung around. Then we moved to Fisherman’s Way.
You ended up getting into property development. Can you tell us more about that?
At Fisherman’s Way we had a beautiful house on the ocean and our rent was cheap as chips because we’d been there for years. Obviously the owners realised that the houses were much more valuable than what we were paying, so they came to us and said we had only one more year on our rent.
We started looking for a house to buy but couldn’t find anything, so we decided to build. So Peter went back into what he always did in Ireland, which was to build homes for families. Our first development was Coconut Grove with 12 homes, one of which is where we still live. Then we built Coconut Palms, another development of 12 houses. We bought more land [on Soi Suksan 1 in Rawai] with a view to selling homes as well, but then Europe and the rest of the world started to go bust, so we decided that we’d keep them after finishing the building and rent them out holiday homes.
Any new developments?
For this project, Tamarind Villas, we’ve completed 22 private pool villas and a tennis court and now that we’re at full occupancy we’re just about to start building more on adjacent land.
Hélène, tell us more about your role as Honorary Consul for Ireland.
I feel very privileged and proud to represent the Irish here. I was appointed by the Irish government to look after Irish people in Thailand, and I’m very firm in that belief. I’m here to help the Irish if they get into trouble, lose their passport or whatever, not to tell the Thais how to run their taxi drivers, jet-skis, etc. If I’d wanted to do that I’d have gone into politics.
Tell us more about your family.
Our son Brian, 18, is studying in the UK at Downside Abbey. He was at Harrow in Bangkok but we moved him to Downside for his last two years because he wants to go to university in Ireland.
Are you involved in any charity work?
Hélène: I help raise funds for the Life Home Project, a shelter for women and children affected by HIV/Aids, which was set up in 2001. Early on we were losing a woman a week because of a lack of drugs, or because they come to us too late. Now the copy drugs are so good and regularly available that we’ve started to become more of a children’s home – a refuge for children infected or affected by HIV. Our main goal now for the women is to help them recover and get re-established back into the community. We do at least one fundraising event a year, the most recent a golf tournament at the Blue Canyon Country Club.
What do like to do in your spare time?
Peter: I’m an avid golfer and a member at Blue Canyon and Loch Palms. I sail competitively and join all the monthly races at the yacht club and the King’s Cup Regatta each year with my yacht Windstar.
Hélène: I’m not a Sunday racer, more of a gin and tonic sailor. I like to bike, I do yoga three times a week privately and we have a gym here, which I use every day. We travel a lot. I travel more than Peter because I really have that bug in me.
What do you like most about living in Phuket?
The weather, the food, the easy way of life. It’s getting a bit more strict in terms of rules and regulations in business but it’s like that anywhere else. In general there’s just a great ease about living here.
What’s the most difficult thing about living here?
Hélène: I'd love to speak more Thai but then again I’m an impetuous person who tends to fly off the handle so not having the fluency in Thai has probably saved me at times. I hope to come over as sensitive but I’m quite a forceful person. Any staff who start working for us are terrified of me until they get to know me. I have to rein it in. But we are who we are and I suppose after 20 some years here I’m nearly getting it perfected!