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GROWING UP, our family photo album contained photos of my mum making small talk with Prince Andrew and my dad inspecting horses with the Queen. But if you think this is where I tell you all about my charmed life of happiness and privilege, you'll be sadly mistaken. This is not that kind of story.

IMAGINE sitting at work in a London office, so bored you could just close your eyes and expire. Imagine the highlight of your day being a subsidised lunch in the staff cafeteria. Imagine being so disconnected from the life you inhabit that you’re ashamed to look at yourself in the mirror. Then, imagine a complete stranger walking through the door and offering you a new life among the rich and famous, on a tropical island, thousands of miles away. I don’t have to imagine it, because that’s exactly what happened to me. I took her up on the offer too. How could I not? The funny thing is, that’s probably the least interesting part of this story.
I’VE EXPERIENCED SOME TERRIBLE THINGS: a childhood few would envy – no stability, constant moves, a fractured education, terror, violence, brutality, five children’s homes in three counties. I’ve seen people torn apart by machinery, reduced to small chunks of flesh glistening in the moonlight – The beauty and complexity of a human life rendered indistinguishable from meat in a butchers shop window; I’ve seen a man-mountain nearly cut in half by a glass spear, wondering if I can get him out of the jungle and across the sea to hospital before his blood runs out.

On my way home from work late one night, I stopped by the bar to make small talk with a colleague who was visiting from head office. After a brief chat I said goodnight and set off for home. Twelve hours later I was carrying his decomposing corpse. And it didn’t get any better at the coroner office. An ignoble end for a talented man. You really never know what tomorrow will bring - a cliché to some, but for others, a painful reality.

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In late November 1992 I watched history unfold at the end of my frozen toes as a nine hundred year old castle burned, smoke and flames visible for many miles around. The Queen was in attendance, but there was nothing regal about her that day, stood in the cold in Wellington boots and a plain green anorak, sad, frail and stooped.

But the worst thing I’ve seen, the thing that bothered me most, was children living without hope – tortured by poverty; broken by war.

I’ve suffered great losses of my own: as a small boy, my best friend and I, inspired by TV shows like The A-Team and Spider-Man, made a pact to become Hollywood stunt men when we grew up. He committed suicide soon after. He never made it to his twelfth birthday, let alone Hollywood.

Years later I lost a brother to the Ocean; a tsunami sweeping him away to his death while he slept. And my beautiful girlfriend – who, on an unremarkable day, went to bed with a headache and never woke up again. After many years together we'd recently begun talking about marraige. I did get to stand beside her in a church, but not the way we'd dreamed. All these years on, I still can't bring myself to delete their numbers from my phone.

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Death is not abstract, it’s intimate – like the two women who died in my arms; one I could do nothing for; one I maybe could have saved. Innocence, once lost, can never be restored.

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I’ve had physical battles; Constant debilitating pain, the result of a spinal injury sustained at work 19 years ago. I’ve been similarly blessed on my travels. Like the time, thousands of miles from home, I tore my leg open to the bone. Off I went to the hospital believing I’d be okay because “a doctor is a doctor, no matter where you are.” Then recoiled in horror as they sliced into my leg before the anaesthetic had taken effect.

On another occasion I found myself racing across the Strait of Malacca in a speedboat. I would have revelled in the experience – the speed and exhilaration, the white sandy beaches, the rainforest covered mountains, the warm ocean spray on my face, had it not been for the haemotoxic snake venom coursing through my veins. Just another day in paradise. That said, I highly recommend the hospitals in Peru and Colombia (the prettiest nurses you’ve ever seen!)

SO, WHAT DID I LEARN? : I learned that self-pity is a western invention, a luxury few in the east can afford. I leaned that the best way to make this world a better place is to show compassion for whoever stands in front you. And the only time you look down on someone else is when you're helping them up. I learned (the hard way) that sorrow nurtures empathy, and that pain leaves you humbled.

I learned that if you’re going to get blown up, don’t do it during an Ambulance strike, and that a wet stick isn’t always a wet stick; sometimes it’s a cobra.

As for all the death and loss… well, that manifests in a deeply spiritual appreciation of life; an unshakeable belief that every new day is a blessing… for things may be tough; tougher than you ever imagined, but at least you’re still alive.

I’VE EXPERIENCED SOME WONDERFUL THINGS : I’ve met some divine people. I’ve hung out with my favourite musicians. I’ve travelled widely (well over 100,000 miles). I’ve explored great cities; Sydney, Bangkok. Jakarta, New York, Tokyo, Rio, Buenos Aires, Saigon, Phnom Penh… I’ve watched the sun rise over the Andes, the moonscapes of Chile, the wilds of Bolivia, the sand dunes of the Middle East, the Amazon, Borneo and Irian Jaya (where cannibalism is still on the menu!). I’ve dated angels (and Iban), and dined with royalty. I’ve drunk cocktails with Formula One stars and super models. I’ve made small talk with world leaders and global superstars. I’ve sailed on luxury yachts to uninhabited islands; and honeymooned with a Hollywood icon.

I was the subject of a Richard & Judy “Brits Living in Paradise” television feature. I repaid them with some hand-picked rainforest viagra, which to my surprise and delight, they consumed on air.

And I’ve had more beautiful moments with rare and endangered animals in hidden corners of the globe than any man deserves.
TURNS OUT, THE BUDDHISTS WERE RIGHT – life is pain. Love hurts; as do broken necks and venomous snakes. But despite the pain, life is always worth it. So do the best you can with what you’ve been given. And remember; be patient… some journeys take a lifetime.

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