LADY AT THE TOP
Interview by Colin Squire
(This complete editorial can be found at: www.yachtingmatters.com Edition 30)
Pippa, I and Kim, Pips Life Partner, have met up in a beautiful boutique hotel lovingly crafted from an old manor house with a Tudor and Victorian history. Oaksmere, sits in 17 acres near to my office in Bungay and was renovated in the 1970's, by a Yacht Captain would you believe. A perfect place to meet up and discuss Pippas earlier life as Phil and her recent gender transformation.
Where were you born Pip?
I was born, in Fishguard, West Wales. My father, William Cecil Nicholas, was a seafarer from the area and my mother Renee Nicholas, Nee Dodds, was from Northumberland, a Geordie from Blythe. She met my father during World War II and lived unhappily ever after. I am the youngest of three, my brother was an academic, my sister a housewife who married into the sea and who unfortunately passed away some years ago. I was the baby of the family, born 12 years after my nearest sibling, 'the accident' as my mother often referred to me. In fact, if you look at it carefully, my uncle's wedding night was exactly nine months before I was born, so I guess my uncle could be blamed for my birth, having plied my mum and dad with alcohol to get them in the mood for my conception.
I went, originally to a local Welsh Primary school but as my mother and father didn't get on very well she took me to the Skippers Hill Manor Preparatory School where she was able to work as the Matron and I became a boarder. It was situated in a village called Five Ashes in Mayfield, Sussex. Whilst there, the staff at the school found that I had a penchant for singing, being Welsh I suppose that was no surprise and at the age of eight I was given a scholarship to sing in a Cathedral Choir. I originally auditioned at St Pauls, London then Llandaff in Cardiff and I was passed over on both of those auditions simply because, at the age of eight, I was too old! I ended up going to Ripon Cathedral Choir School in Yorkshire, where my mother also managed to get a position as the Head Matron. My father, meanwhile, was spending his time managing his seafaring life and a move to shore service.
What did your father actually do?
He originally went to sea as a deck boy, and climbed the ranks ending his time as a shore based harbour master. I guess I stumbled my way through school but my idea had always been that I would go to sea. The adventure and tales told to me by my father wetted that appetite. I was brought up on the sea, being born in Fishguard and I guess it was always going to play a large part in my life. I had my own sailing, in fact racing, dingy by the time I was eight, a Firefly, sail number 1652.
I passed my 11+ and won a scholarship to go to a Naval establishment called HMS Conway. HMS Conway was, in my day, a concrete frigate, a land based Naval Officer training establishment, it was based in Plas Newydd on the Island of Anglesey. Basically it gave youngsters a solid foundation into the knowledge of the sea. We did 'O' Levels in navigation, seamanship and marine science, all set to give us a good footing to go to sea and of course we did the normal educational subjects that every day children of that age had to endure, it was most certainly a tough regime to follow with the daily routines we had to follow.
How old were you when you joined HMS Conway?
I was 12, it was in the last three years of the schools existence. The shipping industry in the UK during the late 60’s and early 70’s was taking a dive and the cadets that went to Conway were usually sponsored by a shipping line, which were the main funding source for the school. She eventually closed her gangway due to funding issues and unfortunately in the latter years many of the people that went to HMS Conway didn't end up going to sea as there were no positions available in the declining UK merchant fleet. I left HMS Conway with 10 of 11 'O' Levels sat, ironically I failed maths. I had passed Navigation, Seamanship and Marine Science. All the subjects that actually required the use of maths I was quite good at, I just wasn't very good at maths itself, I even failed the re-sit maths paper, despite getting exactly the same paper the second time around, I guess that hasn't bothered me too much during my life. From there I basically went to work in a seafaring environment, my father at this point in time was working in Fishguard on the ferries operating between Wales and Ireland. These were operated by Sealink in those days and I had been working on these ferries whilst I was still at “Conway” to notch up sea time that led me to new and bigger jobs both in the UK and overseas. I for sure had itchy feet, I had always wanted to travel as a youngster and by the time I was 16 I had been around the world and seen just about everything.
How did you go around the world?
Well we say 'around the world' as a broad term, but it was traveling both by sea and road.
Traveling is the “university of life” and doing it as a seafarer you get to learn with a twist of excitement.
You mentioned getting married at the age of 16, where did you get married?
I met Audrey, my first wife, who was three years older than me and we were married in Fishguard. My parents signed the papers, they couldn't really argue as I was going to do it whether they signed the papers or not, I would have just have had to wait a little bit longer if they hadn't. Audrey and I lead a varied life and moved regularly. I was never really at home as I travelled a lot with my various jobs and I guess she got pretty lonely. There was a period when we thought we would try and spend more time together and I spent a brief interlude in the Dyfed- Powys Police Force as a Police Officer, but it was not the job for me. I hasten to add that I was asked to leave.
How old were you then?
18 or19, it was actually quite a funny story, I had booked the Chief Inspector for drink driving on New Year's Eve. We were stationed in a town called Brecon in Mid Wales and in those days the rules on drink driving were “don't get caught”, everyone generally turned a blind eye to drink driving, but there were guys that used to drink and get wasted and then flaunt it in the face of some of the police officers, which annoyed me, knowing that you couldn't do anything because they were friends of the Chief Inspector. You would take them to court, the case would get dismissed, they would be back doing it again and all because they knew Ralph, he was the Chief Inspector and everybody knew him. To cut a long story short, I booked him, causing a major stir and was basically asked to leave as I didn't fit in.
Did Audrey travel with you at all?
No, not at all, she worked for the council in Brecon. We went back to Fishguard and I went back off to sea doing a plethora of different jobs for several shipping and marine companies. I also carried on with the ferries back and forth to Ireland. We had our first child, Karen when I was 21. I was still travelling, taking advantage of the opportunities I had to work at sea and ashore. I worked in Africa for a company called Adventure Africa and for them I drove overland trucks from London through to Johannesburg, old Bedford ex army RL trucks, with 18 or so passengers who had paid for the experience to see Africa. Myself, well I thought it was a great way to see Africa and get paid for doing it. I made some great friends during those trips, Fraser Shaw being one, he now lives in Melbourne. During those trips I met another woman in South Africa and we ended up in a casual relationship over a period of a couple of years . My four oldest children are only 16 months apart and with two women. You do the math's, remember I’m not very good at it.
You never married this woman?
No, she was one of the passengers on one of the trips and she it seems was looking for somebody to father her children which is what she ended up with.
Did Audrey know about the other children?
No, not at the time, although it came out many many years later. In those days It was all pretty secretive, it was I guess, what makes me the honest person I am today, it wasn't sleazy, but it wasn't above board and straight either. After Africa I came back to the UK and again I found work at sea for various companies doing various jobs. I had realised that this idea of being married and living in one place and having a base, at that point in my life, wasn't what I wanted. At that time I always felt that I needed the comfort of a woman by my side and every port and city was the home of one.
I was able to do many things and for a few years I drove motor coaches for rock bands. The first band I took out on the road was headed up by Murray Head, who was a guy who had worked with Tim Rice who produced the stage show Chess. It was my first trip driving Rock and Roll guys around and I enjoyed it, who wouldn't. A friend of mine had broken his leg and asked me if I could do a trip for him and I ended up doing it for a number of years and getting to know people everywhere including Transam Trucking, based just down the road from where we are sitting. I went all over Europe with the rich and famous, including Phil Collins on his 'No Jacket Required' tour. In those days you became friends with these guys, I got to know some stars quite well.
Did you have any stories?
There are loads of them! Some of them you wouldn't want to repeat, but completely hilarious, maybe they will come out in my book.
How old were you at this point?
I was in my mid twenties and still with the Royal Navy Reserves who I had been signed on with since my early days of leaving “Conway”. By this time Audrey and I had decided to separate as she couldn't deal with me not being at home, we had been married about 10 years. She had moved to Frome in Somerset with my two oldest children where she found God and decided that was the way to bring the children up. Leaving religion out of it, she had found a good set of principles to bring kids up on and that is the way it was, it gave them a good foundation in life, they know right from wrong.
What happened to your friend in South Africa?
She basically did not want anyone in her life, she just wanted kids and then she ended up marrying a guy called Dave, an Australian Doctor and they opened up a restaurant chain. The unfortunate and sad thing is that in 2004 both the children were killed in a car crash. Communication, back then, wasn't like it is these days, no mobile phones, no internet, Face book etc, however they knew about me, we wrote letters, they grew up calling Dave “Dad” but they knew me as Phil. It's long ago now and many of these things have been pushed to the deep parts of my brain. Kim and I have been in South Africa a couple of times and I have talked to Suzi and found out that I have a granddaughter with the daughter that was killed, she would be 18 now. Between us we decided it was better for now that the grandchild did not know all the details of her beginnings. We have a mutual agreement that when she has grown up and can make her own decisions and if she wants to contact me, then she will be given our details, if not let it be so, that is the way it is and I have to live with this.
At this point in my life, after separating from my first wife, I then met this girl called Michelle and I fell deeply in love with her and we decided to get married. When I look back on it I realise it was probably a mistake, but at the time I thought she was my soul mate. I hadn't always been the most faithful husband to Audrey when she had been the most faithful woman in the world and after leaving her I had just got fed up with playing around. We married and went to Australia and I worked again in the marine industry, her father was an influential man in the Western Australian Government and was also involved in gold mining. It was not long before we set up a gold mining company, not panning for gold, but selling out tenements, (mining areas). At times you have to stumble through life using the skills you have learned, being able to do anything at anytime and trusting in yourself.
Did you ever set up a gold mine?
Not me personally, I was involved in the set up of some and the mining operations that entailed, but for sure I went out, I pegged ground, I walked through hectares of land in Australia looking for gold. The area of western Australia is called Paynes Find and the company we were involved with was listed at one stage on the stock market and was called “Finders gold” we made a lot of money out of it, a lot of money! The tables were turned though, as Michelle ended up playing around as I was the one trying to be the loving husband, the hard worker and everything else. I found out that she had been messing around with everyone that had worked for us in various jobs that we had done, she had been with just about all of them. I was absolutely devastated, we had a daughter together, her name is Sian and she went off with her mother and very rapidly I met an English Lady who became my third wife, her name was Elizabeth.
Sorry to interrupt here but at some point you became an engineer?
That happened a lot earlier, I had gone to sea on deck and passed all my licenses as a Deck Officer, my father's advice had been to quit deck work and go back to sea as an Engineer. He pulled a lot of strings for me with people he knew to get my sea time approved and therefore to allow me to get my licensing. I had always been mechanically minded, I had raced motorbikes and built motorbikes, I had built cars, I understood the principles of engines and at sea it was very easy to move into engineering fields. I took all my relevant exams and ended up with a Class IV motor license to which I later added a steam endorsement. I had taken all those licenses with me to Australia and from the Department of Trade system that was in the UK I had transferred them into Australian licenses, which in hindsight was a mistake, I had never really looked at how it worked, we just did it. In those days the AMSA as we know it today did not exist so when you took a license to Australia and exchanged it, it was automatically issued at state level. The Australian States do not have the same authority that the AMSA has, so much later on in life, when I came back to the UK and tried to move my licences back to British licences, I was unable to do it because my licences did not now hold the same level of authority. So, to cut a long story short, having left the UK system I couldn't simply just get them back when I needed them.
The problems began when I returned to the UK after my third marriage fell to pieces and I was working for a company doing coastal towing. I was on a tug in Greenock and we had an inspection, I produced my licences and I was asked how long I had been working on the ship, I told them three months and they informed me that I couldn't work with them as they were. A couple of nights later, I was back in Cardiff. I was in the Mission for Seamen, very drunk and was shouting off about the bureaucracy of the British. How you could take a Iicence in Britain, go to Australia, only to find that then when you returned a number of years later, you could not bring it back. A guy overheard and approached me saying that he worked at the Marine Licensing Centre and could help me. I gave him my licences and a couple of days later he came back and said give me £500 and a couple of passport photos and I will get it fixed for you. A couple of days later he turned up with a licence in my name and I went on and worked on it a for a number of years. I got involved in yachting in 1999 and got my first job on a yacht. I had given my licence to the crew agencies and never thought of it as being anything other than a genuine item, well at least not until after the sinking of Shiralee, when it came to light that the guy had, over a period of 18 months, been providing these licences to a number of people, in fact around 240 people.
Sorry for the interlude how did things go with your third wife Elizabeth?
During this time I was still in Australia and working at sea most of the time, but I always had other businesses. I had set up a company "Call out Mobile Mechanics" based in Perth, Western Australia, providing on the spot repairs and services for private and corporate clients. We ended up with 52 vans on the road in Perth, but during divorces and things all of that stuff got given away. I set up a company called MAP Travel (Michelle and Phil) offering adventure four wheeled drive tours in extended wheel based Land Cruisers, with modified running gear and suspension. I was part of the design team and Toyota ended up incorporating some of these developments into their factory specifications and signed agreements to cover the retrofit products into their warranty scheme. It later became 'Travel About' which I believe still exists. I met Elizabeth during one of the trips, I felt very sorry for her, she was an English lady who had experienced some misfortune in life and wanted to stay in Australia but her VISA was attached to her job as a nurse and I ended up marrying her to enable her to stay, I by now had an Australian passport. In essence, although I hate to say it, I think she tricked me into a child, she did some pretty nasty things with me and my boy, my youngest son James. I am now estranged from him, but the funny thing is that I do still see him, but he doesn't know who I am.
How do you see him?
He runs a coffee shop in Southampton in the UK and now I am able to go in there in the new guise of me and I have conversations with him and he has no idea of who I am.
Yes, but heart wrenching.
I have always lived my life to the full, every moment of every day is an adventure, life is too short. I feel I have lived three life-times in the life I have had. Fitting everything into what we do in a day just means the days are just not long enough, my life has always been like that, I have never been one to think about the consequences of tomorrow. I have had some medical problems in my life, I picked up a disease called Bilharzia in Africa, basically parasitic worms invade the intestines, not nice, which led on to all sorts of bowel problems. These obstructions get put in front of me, but I do not allow anything to get the better of me. I think, in life, it is very important that we do not let any obstacle, however big or small, get in our way, you just have to live with what you are given.
You Enrolled in the Royal Navy Reserve when you left Conway?
Yes, I guess that was the change in my life to go back to the sea and engineering. I have friends now, who were good friends from those days. I still talk to them and often see them at reunion dinners and through work as we have close ties to the commercial side of the marine industry. Some of them, who know about Pippa, I have found are much the same as me in they have a transgender / confused side. Unfortunately many of them suffer from depression. Talking of depression, my family is riddled with it, my children, my mother, my father to a certain degree, although he is very much like me. If I suffer from depression, I don't think I have time to think about it. There are moments when I get down and then something comes around the corner and a new focus starts. My sister died of it, and the complications of alcohol and smoking, my brother suffers dreadfully with what in the day was called “Manic Depression” and the physical problems that he has through drug addiction and alcohol abuse. My mother suffered from it during her entire life as well, so am I the normal one? But then what is normal? Oh yes maybe it's just a setting on the washing machine.
We are in the mid 90's?
In the mid 90's I lived in Australia and worked on various projects. During my gold mining foray I had met many people who had a lot of money. My knowledge of mechanics, plus my abilities when it came to building things and making cars got me involved in a company that had bought out the patents and designs for a very advanced helical scroll super charger. I spent a couple of years with them working with companies like Toyota, Hyundai and Kia developing supercharger kits to fit both their road cars and four wheeled drive vehicles. In essence I was the mechanical 'hands on' person and never really watched what was going on with the money. Australia was a den of iniquity in those days, people would sell something that really had no value through stocks and shares, for me Sprintex, the name of the supercharger company, was one of those things. I could see the practical purpose behind it and I wanted to make it into something that would grow as a company but the people behind me just wanted to sell the idea. As long as I would produce the kits, they would sell the idea, in the end I walked away from the partnership. I set up another company called Supercharger City doing custom car installations and builds. I worked both in Perth and Sydney with the company and for some amazing people. I worked for the Sultan of Brunei at one point, we supercharged his fleet of V8 Holden police cars . If you have been to Brunei you will know that the country has one main road which goes to the boarder and then stops. The Sultan himself is a car nut, he has acres of covered land, every conceivable car you can think of sits there and he has many young guys that clean and drive them around the block, I had fun being there.
After Supercharger City, when I came back to the UK, I went back to one of the companies where I had worked for many years doing coastal towage.
Were you divorced when you came back?
No, despite wife #3 I also had a long term girlfriend, Robyn, she had known of me for many many years. She was warned that I was a womaniser, yet the first thing she did was to come chasing after me. I loved her to death and she was my best friend for many years, we fell out in a stupid argument over a really nice car. I lost a great friendship. In hind sight it wasn’t worth the grief of the car but hey ho. The things we do and have some form of regret. She doesn't know about Pippa and she is still in the marine industry. I have to wonder if she will read this or one of her friends will and pass it on.
Here we go again, stories. When back in coastal towing one of the many jobs we had was to tow something across the Atlantic for the government, rumour was that it was a weather buoy, well no one really knows what it turned out to be, but we duly picked the tow up from a military port in the UK. I suppose the military need to know about the weather, right? After several months of go here. oh no go there. Umm take it here, we ended up in the Falklands and we were now told it was an offshore monitoring buoy for waves and weather. There was a lot of cover up as to why we were there and what we were doing. My guess now is its monitoring Argentinian military movements in the area to this day.
You were working as the engineer onboard?
Yes, at that time, then Robyn and I decided to go on holiday. I had a Lotus, I have a bit of a history with nice cars, I have always tried to have the nicest car I could have, even from the early days. I believe everything is an opportunity, who knows what walks through the door, you will never know unless you ask the question, if you are going to sit back and be shy and quiet, who knows what will go past you in life. Robyn and I decided to go to the South of France on holiday and we were walking along the dock in Golfe Juan looking at all the posh yachts when I started talking to a deck hand and he asked what I did. He mentioned that they were looking for an engineer. He went off and found the skipper and we talked. He asked me when I could start and I asked when he needed someone and he said five o'clock. I explained that I had my car in France with me and that I needed to get that and my girlfriend back to England. We stayed that night, drove back to England the following day where I dropped Robyn off and then jumped on a plane and joined the motor yacht Shiralee.
That was your first yachting job?
Yes. It was in 1999, I got into all sorts of issues with that boat.
She must have been quite new at the time?
Yes, the Captain had just organised the purchase of it for the owner. She was built originally in Pisa for an Arabian gentleman, apparently he died half way through the build. The chief designer was a guy who had designed several Italian yachts for large yards, but this was his build and it was put together by a bunch of contractors. Basically, you could see inside where the money had stopped after the Arab had died. They had finished her on spec after his death and there did not appear to have been any quality assurance done in the latter part of the build, to the point where I found, in one section of the boat, that there were ten different metals in 8 ft of pipe ranging from copper nickel to mild steel. Of course those issues were all compounded with the fact that the electrics had never been finished properly and there was an inordinate amount of stray DC current flowing through the hull. Later in the installation, if somebody wanted to fit something 24 or 12 volt, they simply used the hull, instead of running everything back to a distribution board. It was unfortunate, because she was a beautiful boat.
I can remember when she sank, I knew the Captain well.
In the lead up to the sinking we were in the Caribbean, she was a charter boat and we chartered with all sorts of people. We had had some great guests on board, we actually had the owner's son on board for two weeks and during that cruise we had a failure in the engine from the feed pipe to the cooling shaft when we were underway and basically we had to put her onto the sand whilst we fixed it. In essence the log books showed this, also being from a commercial background I had always dealt with managers, I had never come across this thing of everything going via the captain and I had sent emails directly to the management company about the problems with the boat. The Captain got hold of me one day and said don't do that, you cannot tell the management company that the boat has problems, it all has to come through me, it has to, that is how it works. From that point on, everything I had to report went via the master for him to do whatever he wanted to do.
Back in that day not everybody had a computer or laptop, which in the end was my saving grace, as all the reports I had done on the vessel had been done on the chef's laptop, as I shared a cabin with her. She had left the yacht when we were refueling in St Thomas and had taken her laptop with all my files on Shiralee with her, they thankfully did not go down with the ship. I would put the report on a floppy disc and give it to the captain as we had agreed. I reported a catalogue of ongoing failures, it was bazaar that no one would even listen to what was being told to them. I guess there is no point in dragging names into this as it is in the past. In essence people had advised the owner to buy it and also to avoid doing a pre purchase survey.
You were in very deep water in more ways than one when she went down. What was the first indication that she had a problem?
We had dropped off the owner’s son and collected new crew in St Thomas that night and we topped up the fuel tanks. The refueling brought out some of the design aspects of the boat that were wrong. When she was fully loaded with fuel she would sit bow down, she would sit level but always trim forward. We left St Thomas that night en route to Havana taking a northerly route. We had a following sea of around 3.5m and, with the trim the propellers were coming close to the surface, quite often giving us a lot of vibration that would come back through the boat and the engine would alarm for over-speed. The first notion that we had any issue was that we had a gearbox alarm in the wheelhouse, the crew member on watch called me and I went down into the engine room. I couldn't find anything that was wrong as such, in hindsight there were lots of theories about what was causing it, but I couldn't find anything wrong and I reset the alarm and went back to the wheelhouse. Some 30 minutes later, we had the same alarm again and I went down to the engine room. At this point in time the flywheels were actually throwing water around the engine room, we had been doing 14 knots and the throttles were pulled back to slow us down and then we were left rolling and wallowing. There were many design faults, a catalogue of one after another of stupid things which ultimately caused the loss of the vessel. This time it was the engine room door which failed prematurely. It was surreal how quickly it happened. All that was going through my mind was that there is never an insurmountable problem, to me everything has a fix, I was still getting around thinking we can fix this. Then the water reached the generators, and I’m thinking…. "we are out of power, we have no engine power, the main engines are shut down and we have no pumps etc," I then got back to the wheelhouse to find the Captain asking what do we do now, the answer was obvious and I told him it's time to put out a mayday. There is a point of realisation where ones survival mode takes over and you start to think let's get everybody safe, by this time the general alarm had been sounded and everyone was up on deck with their lifejackets on. I can remember the chef, who had only joined 12 hours earlier, when he got out of his bunk and stood in water half way up his legs saying "I can't swim".
When the skipper put the mayday out, HMS Manchester was nearby on a drugs patrol and their Lynx was over the top of us within 15 minutes. We got into life rafts and the images of her sinking were captured by the Lynx's infrared cameras, it was terrible to watch.
Did it ever become apparent what caused her to sink?
In essence the final findings were, or considered to be bearing in mind we have never been able to look at the hull as she is in 2000 feet of water, that a weld failed where the A frames for the propeller bearings joins the bottom of the ship and this caused the A frame to pull the hull plates off the bottom of the yacht in this area. She had filled with eight feet of water in the engine room in minutes, there had to be a huge opening and the fact we still had some headway on did not help
After the sinking?
When the court hearings came out about Shiralee the management and Captain were trying to say that all the decisions made were made by me, they were passing the blame. In fact they had made all the calls between them. My engineers licencing issue came up and as soon as this did, the focus of why the ship was lost went to my licence. The media were to blame for this with plenty of bad reporting and very inaccurate reports made. The Captain wielded power within the yachting community at that time, it basically made it nigh on impossible for me to get a job in Europe and I made the move to be based out of the USA.
It was reported in the press at the time that I had committed fraud, that I had been arrested for fraud and manufactured documents and licenses. Yes I did go to court and I was fined $2600 for working on a ship in a position that I did not hold a “curent licence" for.. i.e. not the fraud etc that was being so inaccurately reported. Had there been any fraud the MCA would not have allowed me then to go and get my licences back. The late Claude Hamilton, a wonderful man, knew the case history from when I first came back from Australia when I had asked about getting my UK licenses returned, of course when it all came out later about what I had done he recalled we had had this discussion five years previously.
By this time I had teamed up with the chef who I had met on Shiralee, she had changed her surname to mine to make it easier for us to get work and we went to live and work in the States. I worked on Lionwind and I also had several Captains l knew well, who knew me and had worked with me and trusted me and knew what I was able to do, they gave me work.
I eventually got to a point where I was fed up with being away all the time, I was fed up not having a home life, I wanted a dog. I couldn't see a way out of being at sea as this was where the money came from and in essence once I had gone to the States all of the things I had done throughout my past life with other businesses, all the things that had kept me going in life, I didn't have the opportunity to do there. Then I met Kim, the most amazing woman in the world, who I am now with. My partner from Shiralee at that point in time had decided that what we had wasn’t for her, and we had decided to go our separate ways. We are however very firm friends to this day and she is one of the people in my past I value most of all.
Kim has been with you through a strange period in your life?
Yes the nice thing about Kim is that she has met everybody from my past, my life sounds almost unbelievable but she has met nearly everybody from it, from all over the world.
I met Kim in a sleazy nightclub in Fort Lauderdale on a boys night out. A captain I was working with had split up with his girlfriend, I offered to take him out to help him forget this woman. We went to this bar and there were four girls standing there, one was an Indian lady, two were quite cute and then there was this short dumpy sister with dark hair, flare cut pants, flat shoes, a horrible baggy shirt and not me at all, it was unbelievable. We ended up talking to them and I ended up asking the dumpy one to have a dance with me and she turned into the Kim we all know and love so much today. I guess we all go through parts of our lives that are a bit dark and they affect us all in different ways. I’m so happy that she thought enough of me to stay through some of my dark moments.
But she is far from short fat and dumpy!
Not anymore, she lost a huge amount of weight, 60 lbs, (she will argue that amount for sure but!) and changed her life completely. We bought the Carole Manto Crew Agency, Carole was one of the people that helped me through the Shiralee saga by finding me work. She had stood by me through the whole thing and at that time she was not very well and I negotiated a deal with her where I bought her agency and house. Kim left the bank she was working at and ran the crew agency for many years. We took the idea of the crew agency very seriously and launched it into the electronic era, we built websites for it, we put it online, we sold crew members access to the website as opposed to selling crew members to boats. We cut the cost of doing business, but it was a hard life, trying to get paid for it was very hard indeed, in the end we sold the framework for the website three times and the database once. During that period everyone that knew me was asking if I could help them with deliveries, or could I help them with a refit and so I was back doing deliveries and overseeing refits all the time. On my last sea going trips I was involved with MY Senses, Jackie Setton sold it and a New Zealander had bought it. Sir Douglas Myer was very down to earth and into brewing. He could see the problems that I was having with wanting to be at sea but only needing to be at sea to make the money to live. He ended up suggesting that I take over the shore based management of the boat to give me the opportunity to be at home and to still have a source of income to build a business for myself. I stayed with the boat for eight years until the boat was sold to Larry Page of Google. The new business that Kim and I built then, Yacht Projects, has grown well over the past few years, originally we were a company that did nothing but project management and a few parts sales and other bits and pieces. We had got involved early on in satellite communication and that aspect of our business has grown and developed immensely. We have clients today that we had in 2004, the same clients that we do refits for regularly.
The income early on was up and down due to my inability to keep money, when I made a lot of money I would buy nice cars and houses and a couple of years later it was all being sold as we hadn't got the income to keep it all going. The satellite business has given us a regular base line of income every month which covers the bills and everything else is over and above.
Did you not mention last night that you were supplying toilets to clients globally?
Correct, we are the UK, European and African distributer for Head Hunter Toilet Systems.
You are also looking to supply tenders to Polar Expedition boats?
We have a commercial client that we have been working with and their ships do Arctic and Antarctic charters, there are 10 ships in total and we have been given the opportunity to supply the ribs for one of them. We have also done the onboard communication networks for eight of them. That side of the business is growing dramatically and we are becoming quite a well known name now. We have recently associated ourselves with two large companies who supply satellite air time. We have been able to become very competitive because of the size of the company. There is Kim and myself, plus Caroline our Office Manager and a dedicated sales and service manager Nat in Florida and we have our male Sales Manager Simon in the UK, plus a growing number of field technicians who go to the ships to do the set ups.
Tell me about Pippa, how do people react when they first meet you?
Hmmmm………There is a big difference between gender and sexuality, they are two completely different things. Gender is how you identify yourself and not necessarily how your body is built. Sexuality is about who you find yourself attracted to, in easy terms, are you gay, hetrosexual, bisexual. I’m sure you get the idea. There was a massive fear that if I told anybody about Pippa that I would lose friends, work and all sorts of things based on the premise that they would just assume I was gay. Not that being gay should effect that relationship, but as you know the industries I have been in are predominantly very macho ones. Unfortunately, that fear has been there forever, if you go back 40 years homosexuality was illegal. The vast majority of people, before they get to know you, wrongly assume that someone that wears woman's clothing is gay.
There are plenty of people, who, as I do, see themselves as a female, but do not have any sexual tendencies towards men. However, interestingly the argument could be made that dressed as a woman and liking women could be seen as lesbian. Oh my, what a mess that is!
Last night you were describing the difference between transexual and transvestites.
There is a complete difference, and way more in-depth than we have time for here. In a nut shell there are transvestites and cross dressers, pretty much the same idea really, they get a gratification from what they do, sometimes sexually. There is a self gratification from putting women's clothing on and that is where cross dressing comes from. It's amazing who does it. Many many high energy people with stressful work patterns are often seen like this. Not all of the aforementioned are Gay, in fact very few are. Then there is the showmanship aspect of it, the drag queens, the commercialised raunchy, loud , rude side. They dress really outrageously, the Danny Le Roux and Dame Edna Everages. Then you have someone like myself who is transgender. I haven't spent my whole entire life thinking that I was born in the wrong body, it was not part of my life, it is something that came to me much later in life. I had blood tests and my chromosomes came back with xx/y which has a medical term and is known as Klinefelter Syndrome, which, in very round terms means my chromosome set up is female, and I have all the attributes of a guy. Depending on the severity of Klinefelters, i.e. how many X's there are in the attachment of each chromosome and it goes back to how fertile the person is, it is quite an interesting read.
There are more Klinefelters people walking around than meets the eye as there are people that have no idea about it. They do not have the knowledge and they do not know it exists. Strangely enough at one time I had gone to a fancy dress party dressed as a woman and felt very comfortable doing it.
That was recent?
Was this the first time you dressed up as a woman?
Yes, although I have had a thing about high heels and seamed stockings all my life. (I guess most men do) My mother wore them, she was in the air force and it was after the war and seamed nylons were all the rage, I guess I had a fixation or fetish towards this and it was something I had always asked my wives to do for me, usually revolving around the end of the evening in bed, but it was never something I felt I wanted to do myself. I went to that fancy dress party dressed as a woman, I had in the past dressed as a woman for a laugh, as men do with balloons for boobs, but that time I thought I would make a special effort. Anyway I liked it, felt comfortable with it and more so felt comfortable being able to talk to Kim about the way I felt and it all developed from there.
There is an hilarious story I can tell, Kim and I have always been ones to push the envelope and experiment with our sexuality, we had arranged to go to a fetish party and we couldn't go as Kim had problems with her daughter and had to go back to Florida and we were in the UK. I had been waiting for this party and I had been really keyed up as this was going to be my first night to go out as Pippa.
When was this?
March 2013, it was the day that Pippa was truly born. On this very morning I get a message from a guy we were supposed to meet via one of the websites that support these kind of parties. He was offering to meet us that night and I’d said Kim was not in the UK so we couldn't go. I said how would you fancy meeting Pippa. I had looked at his profile and he had met other transgender people, although at that stage I didn't see myself as transgender, it was something I just wanted to do for fun. He said who is Pippa and I thought “who is Pippa?” as I really didn't actually know. Pippa had never been out. I jumped into the car and went to a shop and bought a dress, came home, put the dress on, put some makeup and a wig on, put some high heels on and took a photo and sent him the photo. He said wow yes ok I would love to meet. My heart started racing, what had I done, I picked the phone up and rang Kim and told her. She said go for your life.
The hotel he was staying in, I knew well, you could drive and park your car there, they had a ballroom and an event was going on in the ballroom that night making it an ideal scenario. With my heart racing, I got ready, it was difficult to leave the house as Pippa had only just been invented and had never stepped outside. We also had very nosey neighbours. Just getting into the car was a nightmare. I left Southampton and drove to London, got to the hotel, I had a Jag at the time and feeling very nervous I rang the “date” who said he would be 15 minutes. Suddenly a little Indian guy came over and said "excuse me madam you cannot be parking here, this is not the impression we want." Wondering what the impression was that I was making I wound the window down and spoke to him and told him who I was waiting for and why I was there. My voice instantly gave me away, the Indian said he knew “the date” very well as he stays here all the time. I rang “The date” again and he said he would be another 20mins . The Indian overheard the call so asked me to come into reception where I could wait in comfort. Holy **** I was petrified.
So now I am in, teetering on red six inch heels for the first time as Pippa. I walk into the reception area and it is packed, I feel that everyone is looking at me. He goes to talk to someone who informs him that David “ the date” had checked out that morning and he is not back until Tuesday. I overheard this and went to the desk and asked for an envelope to leave a message. On the piece of paper I wrote a very harsh message and on the outside of the envelope for all to see I just couldn’t help myself and wrote
“Dear David this is your lady boy lover Pippa, I am so sorry I got my dates muddled up, but thank you for the £250.00 you sent by Pay Pall to me, it was the easiest money I have made all week!”
I handed the envelope to the receptionist who sat it in a pigeon hole for all to read between then and Tuesday and turned around to leave. Now I felt totally free, it didn't matter anymore, I had done it. I drove back to Southampton and spoke to Kim all the way home, I researched it and came up with a website TV Chix which I signed up to so that I could find out more, people started contacting me and I was invited out the next night to a party by another couple. I went out to buy another dress the next day and that was the start of Pippa walking through the door. I have been on an amazing journey ever since.
You have now thrown all your male past away?
Yes I now only have female clothes and shoes and a few “girls” the in word for hair. The nearest I get to boys clothing was what I wore last Saturday morning , I got up and pulled on a t-shirt with an hilarious slogan about marine engineers and how Captains would be lost without us.
You started to have hormone treatment?
I wanted to look more the part, I went onto hormones to achieve this. The whole transgender thing in the UK sucks, people are not allowed to make that decision themselves, at the moment they still have to get approval from government bodies. For me, I am not interested in that, in fact one of the things I want to do in the coming months is to set up an organisation that breaks this regime and offers help for both mainstream people in understanding transpeople needs and for transpeople to seek help for themselves. It's in process and will be called “the transcending gender foundation.” It is crazy that I have to get two psychiatrists to approve that I want to live like this, it is madness.
In the UK the GIC (Gender Identity Clinic), sits at the head of the pile of bureaucratic bullshit. If I was to go in today and present that I wanted to talk to someone about having an SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery) operation, they would spend the next six months trying to talk me out of it, in fairness, maybe some people need this, but I know what I want in life, everything is an adventure, I do not need someone telling me how to run my life. Look around me. I’m happy, content and a much nicer person as Pippa.
I did the hormone course privately, but to get the hormones I had to go and talk to girls that had already been prescribed them but were further down the development line and they didn't need them any longer, they had no need for their prescriptions and I would use theirs.
How long did you have to take the hormones for?
Not long, within five months my breasts developed, but with other girls it can take five years. The side effects are crazy though, I would get into the car and cry for no reason at all. Men have no concept of what women go through in their developing years and more so as their body changes. Unless you have been through it you could not possibly understand it.
You mentioned earlier that when you stopped taking them you went through a dreadful time?
Yes, people had told me if I was going to stop to wean myself off them, not me, I just stopped and I felt dreadful as my body thought it was pregnant. Morning sickness etc for weeks.
What happened with your breasts, they really are quite amazing, if you don't mind me saying so?
Ha ha, well thank you, I had said to Kim that I couldn't be done with the hormones and that I needed to get to look more like a woman, to do that I needed breasts and Kim paid for them, they were a present. The bottom end is under discussion. That's my business for now!
People have to understand, from my point of view the fact that I am happy being a woman is wonderful, but I am still attracted to women, I haven't changed in that respect.
The breast operation how did it go?
I had mine done in Miami, flew in at midnight, got to the hospital at six, went down to the operating theatre, was home by ten, slept till three in the afternoon, got up and we went out to dinner.
Wow. Since you have been living your new life, you must have had some remarks made that may have been difficult to take, also how do you get on with Clients?
What can clients do, the bottom line is as a company we are well respected, as Phil I was well respected, for sure there will be people that don't like it and you are never going to overcome that prejudice. If people giggle I generally go over and ask what the problem is, because once you talk to people they suddenly realise you are just a normal person. I make it easy by my openness. The next goal for me is taking the Transgender discussion to the public, to help people understand both how to treat transgender people and how not to be scared. I am sure if I was to walk into somewhere with an 18 year old girl on reception that has never met a person like me, she would find it difficult to deal with it. If I walk up to someone they will address me as madam due to my dress sense which is quite sensible, it is not until I talk that it is obvious that I am, or was, a guy.
When I met you for the first time as Pippa in Monaco, well you know the effect it had on me once I recognised you, that will live with me for the rest of my life.
You only recognised me once I told you who I was.
Yes, I could then see through the hair, makeup and dress that it was my friend Phil from way back, my first reaction as you know was that you were off to a fancy dress party! It wasn't until you explained and the next day you arrived at my stand again as Pippa, that I accepted you as transgender. I have travelled all my life and met all kinds of people but Pippa came as a big surprise.
But, having said that, you have accepted it.
Yes totally, the amazing thing about you is that you are so comfortable with the way you are. Last night in the hotel bar, what a night that was, the local Doctor and Justice of the Peace (Judge) and other regulars there that joined in with us, we had a fantastic evening and I have to say it, you were hilarious, the centerpiece, one of the most amusing nights ever.
You were telling me of other modifications you could have done to your body?
In essence, there is part of me that wants to experience what it would be like to be a complete woman, well as complete as a transwoman can be. I don't know if you know but in the movie “The Danish Girl” the story is of one of the first transitions and she dies after the SRS surgery as they tried to also transplant all the female organs. However today we are not at the butchers table but more so the operating one, but who knows, if anything was to ever to happen to Kim, it would be a very easy decision. But I could have my voice changed to be more feminine or my Adams apple shaved to make it less noticeable, those things are all on hold though.
Where are you going to go from here business wise?
We are growing, we have so many options out in front of us at the moment, the business will definitely grow, I do not see any point of retiring from it, anyway I am far too young.
How many plane trips do you take a year?
Three years ago it was 62 International flights. Do I enjoy flying ? No, but it is what I do, it is part of my life and part of the adventure, I am flying more now than I was then. 2015 was a year of travel and adventure. Before my passport was changed in name and gender I would quite often joke around by saying "oh I am so sorry I have my husband's passport" and suddenly they twig it. My passport and driving licence are all legally changed now to show I am female and legally called Pippa Nicholas
What sports do you play?
Used to play rugby but obviously I can't play that now!
You have a love of cars, what cars do your own?
Currently two Jags, two Kias a Morris 1000, three motorbikes and that's it. Two of the bikes are Harleys and they are kept in the States, Kim rides one. I did 5500 miles around Europe during and after the Monaco Yacht Show this year in one of the Jaguars. I have had so many cars over the years but of all of them I loved my Lotus's. I will probably sell my Morris as it is sad to see it sit there doing nothing. I enjoy sports like racquet ball and I used to do a lot of swimming and was a keen canoeist,
It looks to me Pippa as if you have your life sorted out at last, I must thank you for being so candid about yourself in general and for talking to me so openly about your sexuality and gender. When you get around to writing the book let me know and maybe I can give you a hand with that but for now may I wish Kim and yourself a happy and successful future together.
Many thanks to all of Pippas friends for the photos and the photograph of Shirallee was by Barry Pickthall.
To contact Pippa. Pippa@yachtprojects.net