Monty Hall - Television Personality, Explorer & Marine Biologist
Monty Halls sits in his new shop, holding his new baby girl Isla, chatting casually about the places he’s been in the world, his amazing experiences, and how he ended up in Dartmouth.
He moved to the town in January this year, and could be forgiven for taking a while to settle here, as he is immensely busy with a new baby, business and a series on national TV.
Not a bit of it.
The main interruption to our conversation is not Isla – and there are few more welcome interruptions – but the people walking past the window waving and saying hello.
I comment that Monty, his partner Tamsyn, Isla and the famous dog Reuben seem to have settled in quite well.
“The welcome we have received has been nothing short of phenomenal,” he said. “We have been overwhelmed with the kindness, generosity and friendliness the community has shown us. It’s more than we ever could have hoped for and we are incredibly grateful.”
Monty and his family move here as he is on the crest of a wave: his most recent TV series, The Fisherman’s Apprentice, has just finished going out on BBC2 – his eighth TV series and one which has seen him shift into the national consciousness more than ever.
Born in Wakefield – but brought up in the South West – Monty is the son of a RAF navigator father and a mother who was a teacher. The peripatetic life of the services’ family saw him move all over the country and the world in his early life – and this is where he gained his love of the sea.
“We moved around a lot,” he said, “but when we were in Malta - I can’t have been more than three - I remember being on the beach with my big sister and loving being in the sea and discovering things in rock pools. Since then I’ve just loved being around the sea and sea creatures. It was an amazing environment and it inspired me in a way nothing else did. I think that’s why I dive and why I’m a marine biologist.”
Sent to boarding school at Bedstone College in Shropshire at the age of seven, Monty thrived and spent ten happy years there.
“People think going to boarding school must be horrible,” he said, “but I loved every moment – with my dad’s services job it actually gave me the stability I hadn’t had before.”
When he left the school he went travelling in Australia, and found his life’s true passion: diving.
He got a job at a dive centre down under and learned how to dive, showing such talent that he was soon an instructor at another centre in Cyprus.
After this he joined the Royal Navy with the aim of becoming a mine clearance diver.
This was when he first came to Dartmouth.
“I really loved the town as soon as I arrived – and had great fun here,” he grins.
But he soon realized that the three years he would need to wait to become a navy diver was not for him – so he transferred to the Royal Marines.
“I fitted into the marines very well,” he said. “I loved the challenges and opportunities it gave. I was never wild as a young man, but I think I was a bit rudderless and didn’t know what to do with myself. It gave me a focus and a target. I did ok, enjoyed the physical and professional aspects of it very well. I also got to mess around in very fast boats which was fun!”
He was hand picked to become part of a special British forces group that helped the transition to a new regime for Nelson Mandela’s ANC party in South Africa between 1993-94.
“It was a real honour to be there at that time, and I found a deep and abiding love for the country of South Africa,” he said. “I still return once a year. The shark diving there is the best in the world, and the people are very welcoming.”
His last years as a Marine were spent in Dartmouth as a Physical Training Instructor and Security Officer, and he got to see even more of the Dartmouth community, playing for the rugby team and having a great time as a member of staff at the college.
Monty left the Marines in 1996 – he had one aim: to become a marine biologist. He studied at Plymouth University to gain his qualification, but again his story is not typical.
“I financed my degree by leading expeditions around the world,” he states simply. “It sounds romantic but it was real hand-to-mouth stuff. When I gained my degree I continued to lead expeditions with my own company. I was diving in the world’s most beautiful and incredible places but was sleeping on friends’ couches when I came back because I didn’t have a home.”
He was then selected for the Channel 4 programme ‘Superhuman’ in 2004 – where high achievers were brought together to undergo a series of physical and mental challenges over a number of months. Monty won – and his life began to change forever.
Channel Five filmed his next round the world diving trip and released it as ‘Great Ocean Adventures’ in 2005, and then produced another series in 2006. He followed that with BBC history series ‘The Perfect Weapon’ and then came the series that made his name: Great Escapes.
In 2009 Monty became a crofter in the West of Scotland, spending months on his own (with Reuben) and learning how to live as a smallholder.
He followed this with the ‘Monty Halls’ Great Hebridean Escape’ in 2010 and his ‘Irish Escape’ in 2011.
At the beginning of this year he has had his ‘Great Barrier Reef’ series and the aforementioned Fisherman’s Apprentice screened, both on BBC 2.
“It’s great to have series on TV,” he says, whilst changing Isla, “and the small bit of fame I’ve experienced has been 99 percent wonderful, people are so kind. But we’re here to settle and build a happy life as a family. That’s why I’m setting up the business.”
Monty’s Great Escapes will be an adventuring business, like his previous ones, but based around the River Dart. Monty will also be offering wildlife filming courses and even presenting courses for budding David Attenboroughs.
“The shop is a base for us,” he says. “We hope to have a successful business which will allow us to have somewhere to bring up Isla and make a lot of friends. Dartmouth is a wonderful, beautiful and friendly town. We already feel this is a place we can be for a long long time.”•
Monty Halls Great Escapes. 4 Market Street, Dartmouth 01803 431858
First Published May/June 2012 By The Dart