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Philip Durdey: living on the edge

PUBLISHED: 10:30 30 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:30 30 May 2017

Philip Durdey, author of $500,000,000 & Some Goats

Philip Durdey, author of $500,000,000 & Some Goats

Matt Austin

Being kidnapped by pirates isn’t the only dramatic incident in the life of diver Philip Durdey, discovers Catherine Courtenay

when he went in the pub and recounted stories about his life, people would tell Philip Durdey: “You should write a book.” And that was before the kidnapping.

Philip, who’s from Kingsbridge, is only in his early forties, but so far he’s managed to survive several near death experiences, heroin addiction and rehab, and a gunpoint kidnapping. He also happens to have one of the most challenging and dangerous jobs, that of a deep sea saturation diver.

“Mum thinks I have a bit of a self destruct button,” he says, before admitting: “But I do crave adventure.”

Encouraged by the pub regulars, Philip did indeed write a book. $500,000,000 and some Goats was published last year and was inspired by the horrifying ordeal of being taken by Nigerian militants when he was working off the coast of Africa in 2007. It was his first diving job and the final day of work before he was due to return home, when the pipe-laying barge was boarded. Philip and a small group of colleagues were captured and taken deep into the jungle where they were held in appalling conditions and with constant death threats, for over two weeks.

His account of what happened to him makes for a gripping read; he describes the dangers, the conditions they had to survive in, along with the constant emotional and physical strain.

“Even if the kidnappers treat you well, everything is taken from you, all your choices; your life is completely in their hands. The day they want to end your life is up to them.”

Surprisingly, there’s also a fair amount of humour in the book, alongside the descriptions of terrible food, insects in their thousands, unimaginable toilet ‘facilities’ and the erratic behaviour of the various guards who one minute would be having a friendly chat, the next beating them and setting up fake executions.

“We’d huddle together like scared puppies. It’s amazing how much comfort you can get from someone else, and no matter how bad, you can still bounce off each other,” he says.

One of the ways Philip coped during his incarceration was to think back on his life and recall incidents from his past. There was the time he almost drowned as a boy (and was saved by his mother) to when he was probably the only paperboy in the south east of England who attempted to make his rounds the day of the Great Storm of 1987. He’s brutally frank about his desperate years as a heroin addict, going through rehab, and it seems the escapades didn’t stop when he moved to Devon to live with his parents - namely a tractor crash; the time he was arrested while waiting at a bus stop and when he was washed overboard from a fishing boat...

Despite the mishaps, Devon definitely marked a turning point in Philip’s life. It was where he found solace, work and where he met his wife, Sophie. And it was working as a carpet fitter in the home of a local diver that gave him the inspiration for his current career.

Saturation divers work at deep sea levels, but to avoid the dangers of constantly diving to depths of up to 300m, they are kept in sealed chambers on board the boat, taking turns to go down to the seabed. Philip lives with around six other divers for around 28 days in the chamber, breathing a mixture of helium and oxygen. Their food and clothing is passed to them through a door lock and teams of scientists constantly monitor their life support.

“It’s seven days of not doing anything, lying on a bunk and eating and drinking tea; you can’t get up and walk around or choose your food. It’s not great conditions but I quite like it,” he says.

Strangely, it’s this routine and boredom that appeals to him. “When I come home and see a bit of chaos I can freak out!” he laughs. “I can handle a mate’s arm being ripped off, but paying bills… it’s a bit silly isn’t it?”

He even seems to like diving in Nigeria’s waters where he says: “You can’t see a thing, not even your fingers. Things bump into you; you have to do it all by feel and touch.” In fact, following the kidnapping, when he returned to work in the much safer waters off Saudi Arabia, he found the conditions almost too comfortable.

“It was a bit dull and boring” he confesses. “You fly to Dubai where a driver is there to meet you...but when you land in Nigeria, you’re alert straight away; it’s edgy.”

Philip likes “edgy” and at the same time will be remarkably calm about his kidnapping ordeal. “You just crack on,” seems to be his philiosphy on life.

With plans for a second book underway focusing on his diving escapades, Philip has opted for the safer option of regular work in Qatar. With Sophie and their children waiting at home, it seems he’s very happy with his lot.

“The last couple of years have been quiet – but dull is really quite good.” he smiles.

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