We are delighted to share with you that Nigel was invited to be interviewed by Les Able about his life and how he became involved in helicopter aviation and yachting. This interview with Nigel Watson is published in the June/Summer 2019 edition of the Isle of Man’s business publication : Agenda Magazine.
View Nigel’s profile summary 👉 here.
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The “Insecure Little Boy” who grew up to mix with royalty and billionaires.
A self-confessed insecure little boy who notched up changing seven schools and failed the 11-plus today manages the helicopter fleets of international billionaires and is regarded as a luxury yachting expert to the rich and famous.
An Interview with Nigel Watson written by Les Able.
Nigel Watson, chief executive of Luviair Ltd which has its head office in Ronaldsway, is a man of many facets. While now a major name in the helicopter industry, here on the island he is founder of Manx Youth Opportunities (MYO), helping young people in their pursuit of a professional future.
He also proudly holds a Cordon Bleu diploma from the Leith School of Food and Wine in Kensington. “I was then 30, single and had previously been in all male environments during my eight years at Sea in the Royal Navy and Sultan of Oman’s Navy, suddenly I was exposed to London’s female circuit,” says Nigel with a grin.
“I experienced some great food at that time, I learned that the essence of good cooking is to cook simply, but cook well, but for some reason I don’t get invited out for many dinners,” laughs Nigel who, after a year at Leith’s went on to work for Wine Magazine. “One of the results of this was that I invested in wines over 10 years, at that time in my life I had a disposable income to do that,” adds Nigel, who with his wife Frauke and two daughters moved to the Isle of Man ten years ago.
Born in Kent into a middle-class family, his father was a prison governor; being promoted from one prison to another meant the family moving with him. Nigel then faced what became normal to him, getting used to yet another school.
“These moves made it easier to work and live anywhere but perhaps I was seeking where I belonged, so there was the wandering factor which is why I think island lifestyle suits me. We now live in a world where people aren’t sure what they want, they may have to make changes to their life so being flexible is not such a bad thing.”
The final school move came about when his father became governor of Wakefield Prison, housing some of the most notorious ‘lifers’ and although Nigel had failed his 11-plus first-time round Wakefield’s Queen Elizabeth Grammar School accepted him as a pupil.
“I was not naturally academic, but I worked hard and was a good pupil.” From grammar school, where he had become Head Boy, it was to Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham, doing an accountancy course which eventually led to him being articled to a major firm of accountants. “It was useful experience, but I decided accountancy was definitely not for me. I am a good communicator, I like people, and this has served me well.”
After a brief spell with a marketing company he decided he wanted to be a flight commander flying helicopters, and at the age of 21 was selected for entry to Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, having earlier failed an aptitude test to fly. “It was April,1979, the Duke of York arrived there in the Autumn as a flight entry and I was a seaman entry both of us in Hawke Division up on the hill, interesting times. The Queen took the April 1980 passing out parade, Lord High Admiral’s Divisions, which of course included her son.”
From there he was sent to the Far East aboard HMS Naiad, travelling around Asia and then patrolling British seas as the navigating officer aboard HMS’s Stubbington and Orkney. These years saw him visiting the Isle of Man for the first time and offered the privilege of seeing Dunlop and Grant racing in the TT. “Little did I know that one day I would be living there.”
He had already decided he didn’t want to be a long-term naval officer, flying was still his aim and he then took up a position with the Sultanate of Oman’s Navy.
“The Sultan had small ships with British officers attached, I stayed there for over two years and had a wonderful experience of the culture and generosity of the Middle East. The Sultan’s commission hangs next to that of Her Majesty the Queen with pride at home.”
One of the first luxury super yachts which Nigel recalls was the Nabila, then owned by the notorious Saudi Billionaire and arms dealer Adnam Khashoggi, sitting alongside in Djibouti enroute through the Red Sea. Nabila’s name was later changed to Trump Princess when bought in 1988 by the man now President of the United States of America.
A Naval officer with a cordon Bleu diploma and a keen interest in service became a logical fit for the luxury yachting industry. He registered his CV with a number of agencies but discovered that it wasn’t so much his naval background that impressed but his Cordon Bleu diploma.
“I travelled to the South of France walked the quays and knocked on doors but did not find the opportunity I was seeking. I returned to London somewhat depressed when a man called Peter Jago phoned me, having seen my CV he explained he was looking for someone who was sound at sea and the fact that I had a food and wine background was a bonus. A Saudi prince wanted a team around him and I became the chief officer of the Golden Odyssey for four years; then it was to San Diego to oversee the build of the Prince’s support ship, Golden Shadow which I was due to Captain.”
San Diego, he discovered, was a good place to learn to fly at a reasonable cost, and soon had a private’s licence plus a Cessna 172 to enjoy. “It was a great time to learn to fly. I had started with airplanes, but I wanted to fly helicopters. I went to a helicopter school and after 20 years of that monkey sitting on my back, finally got my private and commercial helicopter licences.”
Then came the realisation that there was nowhere to go for him in the “extraordinary world” of luxury yachts. Now married and living 45 miles from Nice airport, he decided to branch out on his own with an aviation consultancy advising yacht owners how to integrate helicopters aboard their yachts.
“I love to interact with people at this level, they have a common theme of being wealthy and yet are so different. There is an openness to new ideas and adventures and of course the resources to pursue them.”
The consultancy, HeliRiviera, is a success to this day but it was in 2006 that a management client offered an exciting opportunity and Nigel opened a new operating company Luviair based on the Isle of Man. “This was the turning point in my ambitions,” declares Nigel, now aged 61 and with no plans to retire yet. The short list of clients whose helicopters he manages is impressive. “They are very much VVIPs,” says Nigel
Looking back over an exceptionally varied career path he says: “There’s been a lot of success but I regret that my parents never got to see it. As a little boy I was insecure and as a young adult I struggled and battled through to achieve what I have today.
“Young people are frightened to make mistakes when the reality is that mistakes are part of life. Making them is necessary to enjoy success and fulfilment. What now saddens me is that in the young there is a fear of making mistakes, when in most instances it does not really matter and will be called experience in years to come. Live your dream, take risks, sometimes you will be right, other times you will be wrong – but you will be living”
FACT FILE REVELATIONS
Married to Frauke for almost 25 years, thank you.
Two amazing daughters Emma Louise and Olivia, Blessed
· Best Gadget?
Technology changes so fast. At the moment, probably my most used is my Apple Watch – solely due to its health monitoring and easy pay functionality.
· Spare Time Activities
Cycling,singing at church, golf, reading from Waterstones’s Five Star Fiction table.
· Favourite Colour?
· Favourite Meal?
A Vodka Martini at Bentley’s in Mayfair, dressed Crab cocktail, Dover Sole with new potatoes and cream of spinach and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. You have to sit at the downstairs bar, the people and conversations are better. Not one that you can do all the time, but I love it. P.S Duke’s Bar in Mayfair is where you go for a cocktail and to talk to Alessandro. P.P.S I love the Tadich Grill in San Fransisco, similar reasons.
· Worst character trait?
Impatience and too many ideas before breakfast, some of which actually fly which is useful in my business.
Flying… just kidding! I think I’ve become more claustrophobic with age – based upon needing to know my way out of something. This is so important in the aviation and maritime world – in an emergency how do I get out of the craft? If I don’t know, as soon as you close those doors I get uncomfortable.
· Favourite film of all time?
Forrest Gump, or something like that anyway. I am a Tom Hanks fan and Forrest’s journey is representative on a larger scale of many aspects of my life.
· Most embarrassing moment?
First hover in a helicopter as a solo pilot. Helicopters are so weight sensitive and when you learn you always have 2 people in the helicopter. When one of the people leaves the aircraft, the centre of gravity changes. So when I set off to hover for thefirst time, I was unprepared (I had been told) and did not reposition the cyclic enough. The three foot hover height ended up at about 30 feet and 10 feet too far to the right. My instructor stared at me open-mouthed and slowly told me to come down.
Mooring the Motor yacht Golden Shadow in the Miraflores lock on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. I had difficulty adapting from salt water to fresh and with the strong current, I nearly dented the stern of the 30M dollar yacht. Only avoided by an enormous fender in the way that almost popped from the impact.
· Your best quality?
Honesty & Openness.
· Guilty Pleasure?
New owner of an R44 helicopter… and eating double cream with a slab of chocolate as a spoon.
· Biggest inspiration?
Peter Jago. Mentor in Yachting, helped me though the passing of my Father and with my career. CV Failed A Levels, Choral scholarship to Cambridge, Law at Cambridge, Fleet Air Arm F4 Jet Jockey, Taught at TOP GUN, Helicopter pilot, Entrepreneur, Yacht Captain and defender of the weak.
· A perfect day?
Everybody comes home safe at night.
· Best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
Address conflict face to face. Take in conflict if it is of value, if not let it go out the other ear. Don’t hold grudges.
My Dad always used to say: It’s always easy to say Yes, except when you mean No.
· What do you most dislike?
The insecurities of youth, when it really doesn’t matter. The fear of failure is such a limiting factor in the human condition. Again, it really doesn’t matter.
· If you could go back in time, which age would you go to?
I like the 20s. Theres something elegant about that time. Jazz, clothes, cars, times that seemed less complicated. An age of adventure and discovery. But with modern medicine please!
· The craziest thing that ever happened to you?
Accidentally, going to bed with a gay emerald dealer in New York.
Searching for a sailor drowned off a yacht that I was working with in Hurghada, Egypt. For 3 days we looked and the wind blew. When it was clear we wouldn’t find him, his parent’s flew in from Singapore and gave a blessing on the water. The second they dropped the rose petals, the wind stopped. There was peace.
· Biggest extravagance?
Golf membership at Terre Blanche, Airstream caravan, and an R44 helicopter. I have a small art collection which I consider to be more of an investment.
· Top of your bucket ‘to do’ list?
Survive Cancer. I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in 2017, I had curative surgery and chemotherapy and for now am free. It remains in my mind though I am grateful for each day and my faith .
I could say a bunch of things of course, but honestly if it all ended tomorrow it wouldn’t be that bad. I’d like to see my wife happy and my kids grown up and happy as well.
· What song/hymn do you want at your funeral?
The Armed Man, a Mass for peace Polyphony& Stephen Layton – Karl Jenkins
Something from The Shires or The Script. Country music and Ireland with great lyrics.
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View Nigel’s profile summary 👉 here.