another publication by IMAGE asia

Alan R. Cooke MBE

Underwater construction expert, author of professional manuals, ex RE Sapper, paratrooper, UK Honorary Consul, journalist, cricketer of note, Hash House Harrier, Johnny-on-the-spot after the twin disasters of the tsunami and the One-two-Go air crash, Member of the British Empire (MBE), businessman, life-saver, self-styled "journo", "bullshit" detector and foe of all things phony. You may well ask: How many people are being described here? The answer is one: Alan R. Cooke MBE.

Now into his 80th year and survivor, not only of countless dives, but more recently of massive heart surgery which he characteristically dismisses as getting "a new cow's heart valve and four by-passes", it is our good fortune that he recently decided to chronicle this extraordinary life in his autobiography, reviewed on the following page.

But there's no substitute for a face-to-face meeting… Alan casts his mind back to his first year in the army as a sapper, when he attended and passed three trade courses, one of which was a Royal Navy air diving course to 180ft depth. "I volunteered for every available course, including the diving one," he says. That decision effectively defined his working life – he rapidly became an expert in the dark arts of marine diving for various construction projects.

For many years he worked for Halcrow and Partners, travelling all over the world from Libya pre-Gadhafi to Dubai, the Seychelles, Ghana, Indonesia and many more, always learning on the job, and pioneering new procedures along the way. As he says, "Always based on careful advance attention to detail, essential in all diving and construction matters." A jewel in the company crown.

Alan's first visit to Phuket in 1986 was to supervise the complex underwater construction of the quay wall of the Deep Sea Port at Cape Panwa – a project which he recently revisited and which is still in great shape. That achievement he rates simply as one of many underwater construction projects he has undertaken.

If 'retirement' to Phuket in 1994 was intended as a retreat into obscurity, it proved the exact opposite. An astute businessman, he established Island Furniture with his Thai partner Siriporn in 1997 – still fully operational and the location for this interview – then built The Courtyard, an adjacent office block of 31 units, two years later. As Alan is keen to emphasise, Siriporn has always been beside him: partner, aide and supporter.

As the founder and President (in his capacity as UK Honorary Consul) of the team responsible for getting yacht import duty in Thailand reduced to zero – an act of huge commercial benefit to Phuket – Alan has not always bothered to seek credit for this achievement. "It's a matter of record. Should others like to invent fairy tales – it's up to them to make fools of themselves and be laughed at behind their back," he says.

Still on boating, and enthusiastic about major events on the island, Alan invested in Image Asia Events, providing substantial backing for the annual Phuket boat show (PIMEX) founded by that company.

Alan founded the Phuket Hash House Harriers when he was here in 1986, an organisation which has gone from strength to strength in the last 28 years, and continues to flourish today. He was also the founder of the now-defunct British Business Association of Phuket and donated the land for the picturesque Alan Cooke Cricket Ground – which featured its inaugural game in November 2011.

Few, if any, have done more to shape this island as we know it than Alan Cooke. However his MBE award citation stated simply: "For services to Thailand at the time of the Tsunami".