Monday 20 May 2019

Working as a superyacht hostess was best job ever

Yes, a life on high seas with the jet set does have a few perks.

A LUCKY BREAK: A chance encounter on a beach led to Savannah Sharpe's job on a yacht
A LUCKY BREAK: A chance encounter on a beach led to Savannah Sharpe's job on a yacht

Simon Rowe

In the exclusive world of the haves and the have-yachts, Irish woman Savannah Sharpe has seen it all.

Working as a hostess on luxury superyachts owned by some of the world's richest men, including billionaires Roman Abramovich and Victoria's Secret boss Les Wexner, she has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Paris Hilton, Will.i.am and movie stars such as Adrien Brody.

For four years, Sharpe was hostess to those with the mostest - supermodels, Hollywood directors, A-list celebrities and billionaire businessmen - as they partied in luxury onboard yachts, touring the Mediterranean in the summer or celebrating New Year in the Caribbean.

Organising cocktail parties, silver-service banquets and VIP events was all in a day's work for the bubbly Carlow design graduate, who found the champagne lifestyle intoxicating.

"It is one of the most exciting jobs ever," says Sharpe, who admits she only became a superyacht hostess by a massive stroke of luck.

In 2010, she was living on the island paradise of Corsica and had been mulling over making a permanent return to Ireland.

Then, a chance encounter on a beach in Nice led to her first job working on a superyacht in the Mediterranean.

"I had no desire to move back to Ireland and I was pondering the next direction my life would take.

"I was sitting on the beach and I got into conversation with a local man who told me about the luxury superyacht industry. The next morning I had myself booked on my first one-week course to train to be a hostess for the richest people in the world.

"Three days after that course I had my first job as a hostess on a 22-metre luxury yacht at the Monaco Grand Prix. For the next few days we worked hard, with little sleep, but had the most fun one could possibly imagine."

With fluent French and bags of Irish charm, Savannah got invited to join some of her A-list guests "to party during the Cannes Film Festival".

"We went to four different VIP clubs in the same night and we were constantly surrounded by celebrities such as Paris Hilton, who was checking her make-up every two minutes, and Will.i.am. It was all quite surreal," she recalls.

Sharpe, who quickly rose through the ranks of the superyacht hospitality business, went on to work on US retail billionaire Les Wexner's superyacht, Limitless - one of the largest private yachts in the world. Wexner is the retail giant behind famous brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria's Secret.

Such is the secrecy around Wexner's superyacht, however, that few images of it exist, as Wexner will not permit any interior photography, nor does he release official exterior photos to the media.

Sharpe, who is currently back in Ireland mulling over her next big career move, also worked on Russian billionaire and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich's 164-metre superyacht, Eclipse, as well as a charter yacht which is a favourite of Hollywood star Angelina Jolie when holidaying near Cannes.

Irish chef, Paul McVeigh (32), has also tasted luxury life on the ocean waves.

He spent four years working on a variety of superyachts owned by billionaire traders and Russian oligarchs - and even cooked Christmas dinner in the Bahamas for one billionaire's family.

A graduate of Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery School, McVeigh caught the superyacht bug "when the economy went bust in 2009 and there were restaurants closing all around me", he says.

"I decided that I was young and free and easy, and a friend of mine who was working on the yachts told me that they were looking for a relief chef to cover a trip from the south of France to Abu Dhabi. That was my first introduction to it."

On his first job, McVeigh travelled to Antibes, on the Cotes d'Azur, to join a 70-metre superyacht owned by a well-known British billionaire, and never looked back.

"As a chef, I can't think of any better job," he says.

"Budget was never an issue. Where these boats are based, they are near the best of food markets, the best of seafood, the best of meat, and if the best meat isn't available in that country, you get it flown in. Quite simply, nothing is an issue. If you want Irish lamb or Irish beef, you get it flown over.

"On one of the yachts, I dealt with Harrods and my meat was being collected from there and flown out."

McVeigh travelled around the Mediterranean on the yacht, then sailed to Abu Dhabi and on to the Bahamas for Christmas and New Year.

"I cooked Christmas dinner in the Bahamas for the billionaire and his family," he recalls.

As well as touring luxury hotspots in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, McVeigh also had the opportunity to travel to South and Central America, the Galapagos islands, Panama and Costa Rica on chartered superyachts before establishing himself as a consultant chef back in Ireland.

Not only did McVeigh's bosses visit the top playgrounds of the rich and famous, but they had expensive toys to ensure it never got boring.

"Most of these superyachts have jacuzzis, every gadget imaginable and a lot of toys such as speed boats, jet skis, underwater sea bobs, as well as a cinema and an amazing collection of art and sculptures," he says.

While the seafaring part of the job took some getting used to for the young sous chef, who first studied law and sociology in Galway, McVeigh was never star-struck when it came to serving up banquets for billionaire bosses or celebrity guests.

With an impressive CV that includes working in Michelin-star Dublin eaterie Chapter One, as well as stints in top Manhattan restaurants and summers spent working as a private chef to one of the biggest restaurateurs in New York, McVeigh was able to draw on this vast experience when he was called on to cook for top music producers and Hollywood impresarios.

It's not all glitz and glamour, however. While the rewards are great - travel to exotic locations, meeting celebrities, and salaries that can reach €100,000 with lots of paid leave - the job can be very demanding.

"You are well looked after and there is substantial holiday leave, but it is the hardest work I have probably ever done," admits McVeigh.

"When I was in the Mediterranean on that first yacht, I was working for 55 days straight and you're talking about 14-hour days without any time off really, so it's incredibly tough but very rewarding at the same time."

The threat from Somali pirates is an ever-present danger too when sailing near the Middle East and Africa, he said.

Luxury superyachts with billionaire oligarchs on board are an obvious target for would-be hijackers.

"On our trip down to Abu Dhabi, after we got through the Suez Canal, we had to have an armed guard escort as it was around the time of the Somali pirates. We had six armed guards on board our superyacht for two weeks," he recalls.

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