When the West End comes to cruise ships as Cats previews on Oasis of the Seas

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About this time five years ago I was hobnobbing with Gloria Estefan as she and six other nautical godmothers launched the Oasis of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship. Entertaining the 5800 guests was the Broadway show Hairspray. Now Tracy Turnblad and Link Larkin have made way for Rumpleteazer and Mr. Mistoffolees as Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats makes it's debut at sea. I'm back to see what this means for cruise ships and the West End. Moving away from the review shows typical of cruise ships, Hairspray was among the first at sea to tell a story from beginning to end with lead actors and a full supporting cast. It was the closest anyone had got to recreating the West End experience on a ship. It was a success and Norwegian Cruise Lines took on Rock of Ages and Legally Blonde. Royal Caribbean followed that with Saturday Night Fever, Chicago, Mamma Mia and soon We Will Rock You.

Casting for cruise ships

There were early concerns about quality control, especially the challenge of casting. Cruise ship entertainment is still considered as unimaginative, low-grade cheese by some. Would enough performers of the right calibre be prepared to leave home for nine months to work on a ship? It appears so. Lured by world-class creative teams, state of the art theatres and a chance to travel the world, great performers were soon lining up to audition. As more performers discover the opportunities that ships can offer, the general talent pool casting directors have to work with is growing. Christi Coachman-Orengo, Royal Caribbean's Director of Entertainment told me how their decision to use Broadway casting directors has helped create more opportunities for everyone, “There was an occasion when we cast a role but later realised the singer did not have the vocal range to handle our second production show. In that case, the casting director snapped them up for Broadway.”

Attention span of cruise ship passengers

Most shows at sea have last less than an hour. Hairspray and Saturday Night Fever pushed it to 90 minutes. Cats is different. It's the first time a full-length, unedited book show in its original form has been staged at sea. With Really Useful's creative team collaborating with Royal Caribbean, no one was worried about the quality of the show. The concerns were regarding the audience. Would cruise ship holiday makers want to sit through the full 2 hour 20 minute production? And what about intermission? Seats in cruise ship theatres are not numbered or preallocated so people sit where they like. If they leave the theatre during the intermission would they loose their seat?

I was there for the first preview performance. Every one of the 1380 seats for each show was taken. The air fizzed with excitement. Everyone knew they were witnessing something special. Fears about guests coming and going during the show were largely unfounded. Everyone came back after intermission and no one had to fight for their seat.

What it means for the West End

As more book shows inevitably make their way to cruise ships the West End should be in buoyant mood. It means another income stream for writers and more work for directors, choreographers and technicians. For performers cruise ships are a real alternative to the West End or touring. A third place to do what they love.

In bringing a true West End experience to sea Royal Caribbean were hoping their guests would rise to the occasion. They wanted the same sense of anticipation you'd find in a West End theatre. It was a risk but it seems to have paid off. It's hasn't all been plain sailing but early audience reactions are strong. As Gus the Theatre Cat says, “There's nothing to equal from what I here tell, that moment of mystery when I make history.”

The joys of middle age

I'm embracing middle age: my hair's falling out, I can spell haemorrhoid and I'm beginning to enjoy DIY. My dad was always very handy. He'd spend hours pottering about in his shed producing cupboards, fruit bowls and on one occasion a drop-leaf kitchen table.

In an obvious attempt to impress him I too wanted to make something, but what? I was nine; it had to be small, simple and practical. I decided on a coffin for my hamster. My dad was speechless. So was my hamster - it hadn't died yet. I put my crayons in it instead.

Thirty-four years on and as the owner of a 200 year old flat I'm certainly not short of jobs to do.

I've been sawing, hammering and painting anything I can get my hands on. A trip to Wickes is strangely exciting. Last week a bought a file. There's something very satisfying about doing jobs around the house: fixing a cupboard door that never closed properly, building a new shelf to make life that little bit easier. As a singer I don't have much to show for my work - I do a concert and it's over - but my shelf will be there forever (as long as I used the right rawl-plugs).

I'm getting better all the time. I'm not sure I'll ever manage a drop-leaf kitchen table but if anyone's got a hamster on it's last legs...

What to expect from your first Glastonbury experience

My powers of irony are failing. A few days ago, having about the best time of my life at my first Glastonbury Festival, I told my Facebook pals, "Glastonbury is rubbish". Everyone thought I was serious. No - I was joking. It was, in fact, one of the most exhilarating and enlightening experiences of my life. Exhilarating to see the headliners like Robert Plant, Paulo Nutini, Kaiser Chiefs and the bedazzled Dolly Parton but just as rewarding were the more intimate gigs: Tankus the Henge, the Beautiful South's Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot, Peatbog Fairies, Vintage Trouble, Rusty Shackle and CC Smugglers.

Most of the acts I saw wouldn't have been given the time of day by Simon Cowell and his money making bandits. This was about real artists making real music.

It's a massive festival and it's full of surprises. Some of the best times were spent wandering aimlessly from stage to stage stumbling across stunning acts I'd never heard of but will never forget.

Enlightening because almost everyone one of the 120,000 ticket holders were there to enjoy music, meet people and have fun. It's a sort of paradise – a hedonistic Brigadoon where everyone smiles and connections are instant.

I spent the wee hours of the last night partying in a filthy disco packed with people of all ages who hadn't bathed for five days. No pretentious dickheads, designer labels or moody bouncers here (who ever decided that was fun?). Everyone wore crazy outfits and limboed across the dance floor in wellies caked with mud. The music was fun, the dancing was silly and everyone (regardless of what they do in the real world) had the time of their lives.

And finally, to the hippy epicentre of Glastonbury – the Stone Circle. Littered with campfires and candles there was no better place to contemplate the last five days and watch the sunrise over the massive festival site.

Thank you Glastonbury. You dragged me through the mud and replenished my spirit. My body may be broken but my mind has never been better.

For more pictures visit me on Facebook.

If it's true love you're after...

Barb Jungr

Barb Jungr

I've always hated working on Valentine's night. Too many years singing cozy ballads to couples desperately trying to remember what they ever saw in each other. “Where are you taking me Valentine's night?” It's a problem. Most couples are so busy with kids, work and everything in between that they need Hallmark to remind them to spent some quality time together. But a whole evening of uninterrupted conversation with the love of your life is an alarming prospect. Seeing a show or a movie is a welcome distraction but not without risk.

Listening to someone like me singing “love is here to stay” only reminds you and your beau of what you're missing. Do you really want to hear the hits of Nat 'King' Cole when you can barely stand the sight of each other?

I have a better idea. An evening with Barb Jungr singing Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. If it's passion your after, this is the real thing. A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, Everybody Knows, A Thousand Kisses Deep, Chimes of Freedom – it doesn't get much better. Barb Jungr is a great lover. She listens, caresses every line and holds nothing back.

No sugared sentiments here but you will see true love in action.

Tonight at the South Bank.

Ice hockey and Liza Minnelli

Only twice have I had to queue for more than 10 minutes the men's toilet while the women's has been empty - an ice hockey game in Canada and a Liza Minnelli drag show in London. Both were full of noisy men but only one was sponsored by Budweiser. Ice hockey is Canada's national sport and I couldn't visit Toronto without catching a game. I was in luck, the local Maple Leafs were playing the New York Ducks. It was a fast, aggressive emotional ride for the 20,000 fans. Since fighting amongst the players is actively encouraged it does attract an especially masculine audience. For every woman I saw I counted at least 50 men. There was enough testosterone I the place to put hairs on Justin Bieber's chest.

Beavis and Butthead's closest living relatives were sitting right behind us with a running commentary including: "The Ducks are f***ing losers man... even though they're winning," on seeing a competition winner receive his free popcorn and T-shirt, "Where the f***'s our free popcorn and shit man? This is f***ing bullshit" and my personal favourite when a player missed a shot, “That guy's totally got herpes”. What? They were more entertaining than the match.

The real winners were the advertisers or rather the people receiving the advertising revenue. I counted 157 billboards in the stadium itself plus the countless screens and banners around the bars and merchandise stands. You can buy kits, cups, T-shirts, pens, caps, bottle openers and giant foam hands with fingers to do the pointing for you.

The local team won and everyone went home happy. Would I go back? Probably not unless Liza Minnelli was the half time entertainment. Now that would be interesting.

Thank you, Mr. Jacobs

Pebble Mill with Alan Titchmarsh, Laura Fygi and David Jacobs

Pebble Mill with Alan Titchmarsh, Laura Fygi and David Jacobs

“So,” I asked with wide-eyed anticipation, “what was Frank Sinatra really like to work with?”“Fucking difficult.”

So began my first conversation with the late David Jacobs. He charmed everyone he met and though it didn't happen often, I loved it when he swore. 

I'd known David for almost 20 years but known of him all my life. Like the Royal Family or Brillo Pads he was always reliably and reassuringly there. A constant part of British culture, his voice – avuncular, never condescending – was part of our soundscape. A true national treasure.

We met on the BBC's 'Pebble Mill at One' paying tribute to Vic Damone, the singer David liked to call “our Vic.” I sang a song and joined the other guests on the sofa. It was my first TV appearance and David could not have been more supportive. Soon after we were touring the country together and David became my mentor.

Half way through our tour we were playing the large and prestigious Symphony Hall in Birmingham. I was intimidated by the place and felt we should cut some of our shtick from the show (we had a routine where David catches me impersonating him and sends me off stage before calling me back to sing a duet together). I've never forgotten the advice he gave me that day: “People are the same wherever you go. Regardless of income or background people like to have a good time. Don't let the venue throw you. Have confidence that what we're doing works.” He was right. We kept the routine in and the audience loved it.

Performers have big egos. If we didn't think we were wonderful we'd never have the confidence to do what's expected of us. The trick is not letting our egos get the better of us. Theatrical tradition dictates that dressing room number one is reserved for the star, the top of the bill. It's usually the largest room and can, if you're very lucky, have such luxuries as a sink and two wire coat hangers. Number two usually lacks such frills and is reserved for an artiste lower down the theatrical ladder of significance. Any egalitarian pretence that might develop during cast rehearsals can come crashing down by the hierarchical divisions dictated by dressing room allocation. David was, of course, the star of our show. He was the name people were coming to see. I was the singer they happened to get. For our first string of tour dates the Company Manager, quite rightly, gave David dressing room number one and me number two. After a few days David told me he was uncomfortable with the arrangement. “You,” he said, “are the star of this production and it is you who should have the number one dressing room.” He dismissed my protests and insisted on demoting himself to my room. Only a man of enormous kindness and self-confidence could act so generously.

Don't get me wrong, David wasn't short on self confidence. He told me as much while we schlepped between one nighters in Dunfermline and Canterbury (oh, the joys of touring). “I can't pass a mirror without admiring myself,” he said. “I look at myself and say, 'Hello David. You're looking awfully good today.'” Coming from anyone else such narcissism would have been painful to hear, but with David it was nothing but endearing. Why? Charm. He was a glamorous man whose old-school manners, sense of humour and natural ease seduced everyone he met. And he met everyone from the Beatles (“George Harrison used to call me Dave”) and Judy Garland (his “most exciting professional moment”).

David Jacobs was a great role model for me. Effortlessly cool, always with a twinkle in his eye and generous to everyone in his orbit. Most importantly he was a good, kindhearted human being. So, thank you Mr. Jacobs, I feel blessed to have known you.

Do you find this funny?

Who put that there?

Who put that there?

Like the picture? Thought so. Let me tell you what happened last night on board the Serenade of the Seas.

I'd just finished my show. The band was playing, everyone was on their feet shouting for more and I was blowing kisses. In my moment of glory, just as I was leaving the stage (floating on a scented bed of self satisfaction, actually) I walked in to my microphone stand and tripped over. There might as well have been a bunch of bananas on the stage. Of course the audience screamed with laughter as I limped off thoroughly humbled. I'd blown one kiss too many.

So, how did you react to that story? Did you laugh at my misfortune or feel sorry for me? Your reaction will almost certainly give you away as a typical American or Brit. I say typical because what I'm about to say will irritate the exceptions.

I told that story to an American lady right after my show. I just wanted to make her laugh. She didn't. "Oh my goodness," she was concerned, "are you all right?" Not the reaction I was expecting. "Yes, I'm fine, it was just funny," I assured her but she wasn't convinced.

I went outside for some air and told the same story to a British passenger. He burst out laughing and ran off to tell his wife.

These reactions are typical and good examples of the differences in American and British humour. It's important for anyone performing to international audiences to understand what makes different nations tick. And by tick I mean laugh.

Here's another example. This happened just last week.

I've been telling (a true) story for years about a time a passenger inadvertently insulted me right to my face. The night after performing my Sinatra show I was sitting in the audience waiting for the next show to start. I started chatting to the guy sitting next to me and said, “Have you noticed how people always seem to sit on the end of the rows first when they come in to the theatre, and then spend the next 15 minutes having to let people squeeze in past them?” “Yes,” he said, “my wife and I were just talking about that.” “You know why they do it don't you?” I said, “Because it the show's rubbish they can just get up and leave!” “Oh yes,” he said, “we did that last night for that Sinatra bloke.”

I always tell this story in my show. It's true and gets a nice laugh. A week ago I was outside the theatre chatting to guests after my show and two young women came up to say how they had enjoyed the show. They seemed very earnest. One of them put her hand on my arm in a reassuring way, "You are wonderful," she said, "we felt just awful about what that man said to you." I was lost. "Which man?" "The man who said he walked out of your show. So rude and really, you're not awful." They'd completely missed the point. I tell the story because it's funny, self-effacing and as it happens, true. They thought I'd told it as a plea for sympathy. As if I'd do that in the middle of a show! Bless there hearts, but no.

A final example. When I work to British audiences I like to close with a quote from Dr Johnson:

"Taking a voyage is like being in prison. With the added risk of drowning."

Brits love this kind of dry, dark wit. Not Americans. "Did he say drowning? Why would he say that when we're on a cruise ship?" They simply do not get it and actually, with this particular line, they do not like it. It makes them feel uncomfortable.

Many comics revel in making their audience feel uncomfortable (listen to my Podcasts with Anthony Davis and Harry The Piano) but I'm not a comic. I sing nice songs punctuated with pleasant humour. Unless it makes everyone feel good I've no business doing it.

Lesson: Understand your audience; if it doesn't work cut it; and always, always remember where you left your microphone stand.

So what do you think? Do Americans different find different things funny to the British or is it just my imagination? Leave a comment and let me know.

Do you find this funny?

Like the picture? Thought so. Let me tell you what happened last night on board the Serenade of the Seas. Who put that there?

I'd just finished my show. The band was playing, everyone was on their feet shouting for more and I was blowing kisses. In my moment of glory, just as I was leaving the stage (floating on a scented bed of self satisfaction, actually) I walked in to my microphone stand and tripped over. There might as well have been a bunch of bananas on the stage. Of course the audience screamed with laughter as I limped off thoroughly humbled. I'd blown one kiss too many.

So, how did you react to that story? Did you laugh at my misfortune or feel sorry for me? Your reaction will almost certainly give you away as a typical American or Brit. I say typical because what I'm about to say will irritate the exceptions.

I told that story to an American lady right after my show. I just wanted to make her laugh. She didn't. "Oh my goodness," she was concerned, "are you all right?" Not the reaction I was expecting. "Yes, I'm fine, it was just funny," I assured her but she wasn't convinced.

I went outside for some air and told the same story to a British passenger. He burst out laughing and ran off to tell his wife.

These reactions are typical and good examples of the differences in American and British humour. It's important for anyone performing to international audiences to understand what makes different nations tick. And by tick I mean laugh.

Here's another example. This happened just last week.

I've been telling (a true) story for years about a time a passenger inadvertently insulted me right to my face. The night after performing my Sinatra show I was sitting in the audience waiting for the next show to start. I started chatting to the guy sitting next to me and said, “Have you noticed how people always seem to sit on the end of the rows first when they come in to the theatre, and then spend the next 15 minutes having to let people squeeze in past them?” “Yes,” he said, “my wife and I were just talking about that.” “You know why they do it don't you?” I said, “Because it the show's rubbish they can just get up and leave!” “Oh yes,” he said, “we did that last night for that Sinatra bloke.”

I always tell this story in my show. It's true and gets a nice laugh. A week ago I was outside the theatre chatting to guests after my show and two young women came up to say how they had enjoyed the show. They seemed very earnest. One of them put her hand on my arm in a reassuring way, "You are wonderful," she said, "we felt just awful about what that man said to you." I was lost. "Which man?" "The man who said he walked out of your show. So rude and really, you're not awful." They'd completely missed the point. I tell the story because it's funny, self-effacing and as it happens, true. They thought I'd told it as a plea for sympathy. As if I'd do that in the middle of a show! Bless there hearts, but no.

A final example. When I work to British audiences I like to close with a quote from Dr Johnson:

"Taking a voyage is like being in prison. With the added risk of drowning."

Brits love this kind of dry, dark wit. Not Americans. "Did he say drowning? Why would he say that when we're on a cruise ship?" They simply do not get it and actually, with this particular line, they do not like it. It makes them feel uncomfortable.

Many comics revel in making their audience feel uncomfortable (listen to my Podcasts with Anthony Davis and Harry The Piano) but I'm not a comic. I sing nice songs punctuated with pleasant humour. Unless it makes everyone feel good I've no business doing it.

Lesson: Understand your audience; if it doesn't work cut it; and always, always remember where you left your microphone stand.

So what do you think? Do Americans different find different things funny to the British or is it just my imagination? Leave a comment and let me know.

"Berkhamsted Living" meets Gary Williams, singer, artist and HP4 fan.

Much of this edition of Berkhamsted Living celebrates the artistic side of the town. There are other artists, though, for whom Berkhamsted is a retreat from the demands of performance and a place to rest and recharge. One such is singer and actor Gary Williams. Gary starred as Frank Sinatra in The Rot Pack in the West End and he's been compared to Michael Buble. A regular with big bands and orchestras, he has performed all over the world - on land and sea. Whatever the world has to offer, Gary gives the clear impression that having time to spend and enjoy in Berkhamsted has become his yardstick of success.

Born and raised in Yorkshire, he and his American husband Mark moved to Berkhamsted from Islington when the need for a London base diminished in the face of recession.

“We both spend a lot of time away and Islington was becoming expensive,” Gary says. “Berkhamsted seemed perfect at the time and now we're here I see it as an idyll. It's close to London, not as expensive, but it's also absolutely beautiful; it's the kind of place you would go on vacation.”

Getting a kick out of you

“We had friends who lived nearby and we had visited them so we knew the town. It feels like a village - it's almost in the country but it has a buzz that we like, and I get a kick out of being able to go out with a list of things I want to buy and get them all in Berkhamsted. We love the Rex, of course; it's startling that it should be in Berkhamsted. And we're fortunate enough to live on the canal, in a really beautiful spot.”

Someone in the Hertfordshire tourism office should sign him up. The way Gary articulates his affection for the town is highly evocative: “Our lives away are very hectic,” he says. "We travel a lot and don't spend much time in one place. This is a beautiful place to come home to. When you've been for a night out in London you come back to this: a warm, quiet evening, the canal perfectly still, the atmosphere calm and serene.”

Gary started out in Immingham. a town best known for docks and petrochemicals near Grimsby. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be a musician. “I can't read a note,” he admits. “At the age of 19 I had a regular job, in admin - but I always loved music. I could sit at a keyboard for hours, just enjoying the notes. When I was at school I put on small shows for school friends; later I found my voice in amateur dramatics and did some of the pubs and clubs. “I loved it, dragging my PA around and getting paid for it. And I got lucky. In Hull, someone heard me in a club, and he knew a man with restaurants In Hull who wanted live music.” Gary found a mentor and, to a certain extent, a patron. With the “fearlessness of youth” he took the chance with both hands and has not looked back.

Performance

It's easy to see why he's popular. He's an engaging, thoughtful speaker who must make the gaps between songs entertaining - is this a Yorkshire compulsion? He sees his role in a particular way. “For me, there's the material, there's singing in tune and having good musicians, but so much of what is involved in a performance is about what you say and how you carry yourself: the links, your rapport with the audience, the arrangements.

Even in a room of 1,500 people I still want people to regard it as an intimate experience - it's like a conversation, in music or in words. The best in any kind of art is something that leaves you with a little more than you began with, a little enriched.

It ain’t what you say

“Songs can be very powerful and evocative. Quite often people will speak to me after a performance and they have been crying. A song is so much more than a collection of notes and words. The way you introduce a song has an impact. You might say: “This is a song from the early 60s” or you might sketch a picture: “Take yourself back to 1964... etc.” It can be very powerful.

Gary's website contains a blog that is worth a look for samples of his humour:

After a show in the middle of the Baltic the other night, a nice couple from Grimsby stopped me and said they first saw me performing when I started out about 20 years ago in a social club there. ‘Oh wow’, I said, ‘what was I singing bock then?’ ‘Exactly the some as you are now,’ she replied. Crushed.

A sense of humour is necessary. “This business, you never know how long it is going to last,” Gary says.

Back in Lahti for "Swingin' on Broadway" (and a refreshing dip!)

Gary with Emma KershawAs I type this we are about to go back to Sibelius Hall for our third and final concert of Swingin' on Broadway with the Lahti Sinfonia and Big Band in Finland. I think this is my fifth time here with the wonderful orchestra and it's great to be with conductor Rod Dunk and singer Emma Kershaw for this concert - the orchestral version of the album I recorded a couple of years ago. It's a real treat to hear some of those arrangements on the CD expanded for full orchestra, like Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and Surrey With A Fringe On Top. You can watch and listen to the whole concert from 17th February till 10th March - just click here. The last few times I've been here I've indulged in the local pastime of ice swimming. The temperature was a little lower this time, minus 13 outside and the water was zero (or minus zero as the sign said!). It was bloody cold as you can see for yourself on this little video clip.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgJXMPw9FBk[/youtube]

Gary outside Sibelius Hall

Gary on stage

Outside Sibelius Hall

Emma Kershaw with Rod Dunk

A first look video clip of “Oasis of the Seas”

P1000708With a total capacity of 8461 passengers and crew and weighing in at over 225,000 tons, the new Oasis of the Seas is… enormous. I am lucky enough to be onboard right now for one of the first cruises, before paying passengers come on board, and you can watch my little video showing you around some of my favourite parts of the ship below. You see the amazing Boardwalk area with restaurants, donuts, rock climbing walls and the Aqua Theatre, the ice rink, the Opal Theatre, the huge Promenade through the centre of the ship, Central Park with 100s of real trees and plants right through the middle of the ship, the zip line over the centre of the ship and me giving expert lessons in how not to surf on the Flow Rider! [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KGpBL3d3Aw[/youtube]

The "Boardwalk" with the beautiful carousel

One of the sundecks. The ship is so wide!

The Promenade for shopping and bars

Bevelling with "Tracey" and "Duane" from the cast of Hairspray

The view from our cabin, looking over Central Park inside the ship!

At last, an Indian massage with a happy ending

Having a head massage in India is as authentic as pork pie in Melton Mowbray and mint cake in Kendall. After a dreadful experience in Mumbai where I had to tell the owner to either call the police or let me go, I was looking forward to the “very good” treatment my driver organised in sleepy Cochin. Sebastian, my masseur, told me I would have a head and face massage then full body, and finally a body steam with wash. Nice. I was a bit worried I hadn’t brought my swim suit but was immediately instructed to strip naked while he tied a little string around my waist and looped a bit of gauze in between my legs. That fixed that.

After the invigorating face massage (next time I will shave first) I laid on the bed and Sebastian went on to drench me in warm oil and massage ever inch of me. The gauze was removed and he worked away. He would repeatedly go from rubbing my nipples to rubbing my... (what’s the best euphemism? “bits”?), and kept doing this at regular intervals. So it would be arms, nipples, bits, left leg, nipples, bits, sides, nipples... Now fortunately for me, Sebastian was not my type and I managed to control myself. Still when someone is doing this to you for 40 minutes it does take considerable mind control not to respond. My technique was to practise Portuguese verb conjugations. It worked and I managed to avoid the indignation of “you want happy finish, sir?”.

By the end there was so much oil that I was literally sliding all over his little plastic bed and it was a relief to be invited to enter the steam bath. This was not the marble tiled oasis I expected. Instead a portable contraption resembling a one man tent with a hole in the top like the kind of thing you might find in Argos (see picture). Still it did the trick. Then it was wash down time, and I was ushered to the toilet where a bucket of hot water, a small bar of soap and a small towel awaited. Again it did the trick. Who needs power showers with 8 oscillating massage heads when you’ve got a bucket in a toilet?

When all said and done, the massage was great and the experience was authentic and real. I’d much rather have that than whatever the Hilton might be offering. I felt invigorated, relaxed and it only cost me £10. That’s my kind of happy ending.

My gym workout

When you travel on cruise ships a lot, as anyone will tell you, you put on weight. The shear quantity and availability of food on ships is a running joke. Everyday is like Christmas day and you can eat non-stop, for free, if that's what you want to do. And yes, that is what I like to do... I had been getting away with it for years, but eventually by ageing metabolism could take no more and decided to slow down the processing of daily bingeing - one large cooked breakfast, elevenses, large cooked lunch with desert, afternoon tea and cakes, dinner and supper - and the weight started to creep up.

Of course, ships usually have great gyms too, which are just as easy to get to as the buffet, so I decided to make the choice and go there at least a few times a week so at least I could feel a little less guilty eating the way I do.

In the Norwegian fjords

A gym instructor in the Crystal Serenity devised an alternating 2 days workout for me and I have been doing it most days since then. I shared it with a few people including a violinist friend of mine Christopher Watkins who claims it helped him loose loads of weight and now swears by it. So, I thought I would post it up here so you can download it as a PDF. This is my little typed version I print off and fold up pocket size for the gym. I hope it proves useful!

Next time you're on a ship remember the Collins' Dictionary definition of chocolate eclair: "A cake - long in length, short in duration."

The world's best recipe for Bircher Muesli

My favourite breakfast right now is Bircher Muesli also known as Swiss Muesli. Basically it’s cold porridge with fruit, and the best I have tasted is on Crystal Cruises. I was lucky enough to share a taxi with one of Crystal’s top chefs who gave me the recipe... enjoy!Note, I especially like their “...berries of your fantasy”.

Recipe for Bircher Muesli

Serves 6 portions

  • 2 cups of oats quick

  • ½ cup of walnuts, roughly chopped

  • ½ cup of almonds, sliced, lightly toasted

  • 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds, lightly toasted

  • 2 table spoons of raisons (if you do not like raisins, just replace by dried cranberries or any other dried fruit)

  • 3 table spoons of honey (sweetness is up to your taste)

  • 4 cups of milk

  • 1 medium apple, freshly grated

  • 1 medium pear, freshly grated

  • 1 cup of whipped cream

  • 2 cups of yogurt

  • 2 bananas, sliced

  • Seasonal fruits and berries for garnishing

Preparation

  1. One night before mix oats quick, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins, honey and milk and but in the fridge to soak.

  2. Before you serve add freshly grated apple and pear.

  3. Fold in whipped cream and yogurt.

  4. Garnish with sliced bananas and seasonal fruits and berries of your fantasy.

Diving with Manta Rays in Hawaii

Have you seen Gary's YouTube page yet? We've just added a new video clip of Gary diving with Manta Rays in Hawaii last year while working for Princess Cruises. Click here to have a look, it's less than 2 minutes long.

The wing span of the near-shore Pacific Manta Ray averages 5 to 8 feet but can reach well over 14! They have no real teeth, no stinger, and a harmless disposition. 

These huge and gentle creatures feed on a food source of almost microscopic organisms called plankton, so Mantas must work very hard to get enough of this tiny food. On this night dive you’ll see Gary and the other divers holding torches to attract brine shrimp, a form of plankton that ray feed on. Using their cephalic fins like big scoops, they funnel water into their wide-open mouths and filter out these organisms. It was an awesome experience.