I joined the Royal Navy in 1973 and served on two submarines. For some reason, I was fascinated by China and I thought maybe the navy would be a good opportunity to see Hong Kong and Singapore. But it was the cold war and we were chasing Russian subs in the North Sea. By the time I was 18, I was six foot two inches tall and broad. I played football for the navy and then I played for Portsmouth for a season. It wasn’t all the glamour it is today, the money was poor, and I got injured.
An appetite for China Back in Norfolk, I saw an advert for a housemaster and PE teacher at a “school for maladjusted boys”, as they used to call them. That was a baptism of fire but I went on to work for Norfolk County Council and eventually got my degree in social work.
By 1996, I was in Guernsey, managing some of their services, but I still had this fascination for China. I went with a friend to Hong Kong and afterwards we flew into Shanghai. And that was … incredible. I knew it was the place where I was supposed to be. Some people had given us tickets to the Special Olympics and I got invited to a lunch where there were some rude Westerners who were wagging their fingers at the Chinese, telling them off.