Monty's living life to the full
PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 June 2014
A life on the ocean wave turned into a life under it for the TV adventurer, as ALEXIS BOWATER discovers when she visits him at home in Dartmouth
Photography by Matt Austin
"As we walk over a rocky shore in Devon we don’t realise that we are walking over the gladiators of the animal kingdom "
Skipping showers, the sun streams through the front door of Monty Halls’ Dartmouth shop as the postman knocks, twice.
He’s popped in with letters to deliver and a friendly, cheeky request for one of this famous town’s most famous newish residents: can he help with a charity row over the weekend?
“Of course”, is the response, “if I’m around.”
For Monty’s a world traveller, a flipperty flipper-footed marine biologist with his feet in the world’s oceans but his heart in this town.
Ten things you didn’t know about Monty
1. I play the guitar very, very badly indeed.
2. I still play rugby, or a version of it.
3. My ancestry has a Governor of Jamaica in it somewhere.
4. My sister was one of the first female air traffic controllers in the UAE (very proud of that one).
5. When I grow a beard it goes ginger.
6. I’ve got a dolphin tattoo.
7. I owned a house pig called Phoebe once.
8. My hero is Blondie Haslar (look him up, it’s worth it).
9. I’ve got a scar on my bum where Reubs bit me by accident (or so he says).
10. I’m a Yorkshireman, having been born there at the insistence of my grandad so I could play cricket for them. Rubbish at cricket unfortunately.
“They’ll have to carry me out of Dartmouth in a box,” he says, emphatically, as we walk the streets to Café Alf Resco for a coffee and a chat.
Passers-by greet him warmly and you can see why. He’s somewhere over six foot of ex-Royal Marines Officer, turned marine biologist, friendly, humorous, energetic and organised: with an air of “it’ll all be all right” and “let’s do it!” about him. If you were on some crazy adventure on land, sea or mountain, you’d want Monty with you, just in case.
He’s best known to BBC viewers as the dashing, dash-about rugged scientist, bringing us his Great Escapes series in which he lived and worked in remote parks of the UK and Ireland with his dog and best friend Reuben.
But his true passion lies on, in and under the water. His Damascene moment, the one which made him leave the Royal Marines, was aqueous.
“I remember leaning on the rail of a Royal Naval boat in the Caribbean and looking over the edge and looking at a coral reef and thinking that I should be over there and not over here,” he recalls.
And so, with the memory of bobble-hatted, Gauloises-smoking diving heroes such as Jacques Cousteau pushing him on, there soon followed a Marine Biology degree at Plymouth University and the resulting TV career.
It took him to wild places, deep oceans, extreme climates and made him a globetrotting superstar. But love, and family, root him in Dartmouth now: “I have been round the world millions of times and there is nowhere like South Devon.
“Dartmouth comes through the soles of your deck shoes – it is a strong local community and layered on that it is also very cosmopolitan.”
There is clearly nothing pedestrian about his obvious terrestrial skills, undeniable leadership qualities, his shoreside blessings.
Yet it is when we step onto the shingle in a cove below the town’s famous castle that his landlocked world goes BOOM, blown out of the water and the marine biologist explodes from him.
The passion is palpable and he won’t – can’t - shut up.
He’s painting such pictures with words to colour and compliment the salty, slimy, briny world around us that I’m left standing in an imaginary oceanic Old Master.
It’s part Latin, mostly science, all vibrant, verdant and fecund. Spoken in perfect headlines and soundbites: “A great universal thing with us as an island race is our temperate shore: the environment you are looking at here is the toughest environment for any animal.
“As we walk over a rocky shore in Devon we don’t realise that we are walking over the gladiators of the animal kingdom.
“These are some of the richest waters in the world: everything in there is trying to eat, kill, tear each other apart and so if you are an organism that decides to live down that end of the beach then everything is going to try to eat you, going to try to kill you, trying to compete for space.”
It’s the best outdoor lesson I’ve ever had. It’s easy to see with absolute clarity why from the very first days of his career TV producers just said `yes’ to him, as did bank managers. He’s not so much driven as a driving force himself.
And for that reason he wears all sorts of hats now – an enormous skillset available to us all through his company Monty Halls Great Escapes.
What would you do if money didn’t matter? I ask.
“That’s a really good question,” he ponders. “I would still run diving expeditions. Pushing into a sapphire world, every time I roll over the side of a boat anywhere in the world I am that ten-year-old old boy again.”
But wherever he trips to now, life will always bring him back to Dartmouth: to his partner Tam “a serene and understanding character”, his little girl Isla and newbie baby Molly.
“Ground zero for me is the kids and it is all about them: we talk about great adventures - and they are the greatest adventure that I have ever had.”
Writer, inspirational speaker, expedition leader, corporate trainer, TV presenter, marine biologist. He’s all of those but none of them - for now, most of all, Monty Halls is a devoted dad.
For more information visit montyhalls.co.uk