Spending a morning with superyacht supremo Chris Cecil-Wright comes as much as a breath of fresh air as his New Forest centre of operations comes as something of a surprise
Boundless energy, a zest for life and a passion for action and adventure… couple those characteristics with a razor-sharp business brain, a knack for closing deals for prestigious yacht sales and charters and for creating the perfect superyacht from scratch for each of his ultra-wealthy, high profile clients and you have Chris Cecil-Wright. For a man at the forefront of the most unrestrained and luxurious business on the planet, you would probably not place Chris and his operation – a boutique brokerage for yachts over 40m – in a quiet, rural corner of the New Forest, but here is his base (with offices in London, Monaco and Jersey), here’s where his heart is and here, surely, is why -he is so grounded.

It was not ever thus. For 20 years, Chris lived in Monaco where work and play were bound together in one heady existence. ‘In the first ten years I never took a single holiday because my whole life was a holiday. Sure, I went skiing and to the Caribbean and the Bahamas and all over the place, but it was all bound up with furthering my career.’

Great British Life: Chris runs his hugely successful yacht brokerage business from his home in PilleyChris runs his hugely successful yacht brokerage business from his home in Pilley

It was a career that hadn’t been meant. After military training at Sandhurst, Chris joined the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards, but a paragliding accident which resulted in a broken back and months of rehabilitation made him realise that long-term army life was not for him. Instead, as a result of a personal introduction to managing director Nick Edmiston, Chris joined yacht brokers Camper & Nicholson as an unpaid trainee. ‘A chap came in off the street, I sold him a boat and I knew I was in the right business.’

Three years later, Edmiston, who had set up on his own in Monaco, asked Chris to join him.

‘On the Friday that Nick called me with his offer I was living in London; by the following Monday I was living in Monaco. For two years, I slept on a mattress in the office, and I was completely happy. I was young, having fun, totally into my job, there was a shower…I didn’t need anything else.’ Edmiston flourished, both selling and creating superyachts for the rich and famous. ‘We did all of Roman Abramovich’s boats, and all of his friends’ boats, though later I focused more on America and Britain.’

In 2003, Chris married Kitty, the sister of his great friend from Rugby School, Red Johnson and the daughter of wine writer Hugh Johnson. Settled in Monaco, they had two daughters, Lily and Gracie and a son, Sam but around 2012 everything, in Chris’s words, started to go pop. ‘I’d walked to both North and South Poles, had become obsessed with nutrition and was probably anorexic as a result and it was affecting me mentally. I was doing deals of well over 200 million euros and at the same time I was struggling with the direction the business was going. It was crazy.

Great British Life: Chris has fond memories of his time at The Gun Inn, and has lovingly restored it now as its ownerChris has fond memories of his time at The Gun Inn, and has lovingly restored it now as its owner

‘Things needed to change. I did an amazing course in the States called the Hoffman Process which utterly changed my view on life and Kitty and I took the plunge, left Monaco and moved here. You pay no tax in Monaco, none at all, which I think is wrong. We looked at each other and said we’ve got all we can possibly need; we can come home, pay tax, live in the English countryside, and be happy.’

Why Hampshire? Chris’s family had – still have – a holiday home a few miles away at Keyhaven and he spent all his childhood holidays there, sailing constantly. ‘I love everything about boats’ he enthuses. ‘I love thinking and talking about boats; I love port and starboard, the Beaufort scale, the shipping forecast…everything. Many of my clients are also now my friends and, yes, I’m happy to be on their yachts, but my real love is my 1970 (same year as me) Nicholson 55, Eager, berthed at Lymington. My daughter and I are sailing her across the Atlantic this winter, then the rest of the family will join us for Christmas in the Caribbean.’

Chris is now the proud owner of Keyhaven’s Gun Inn, a pub he’s known all his life, working behind the bar in vacations. With a sympathetic makeover and excellent food from head chef Mark Young, it’s a local hotspot, superbly run by innkeepers Peter Troup and Jim Gedge, who also have the Bosun’s Chair in Lymington. ‘It’s definitely a learning curve, and it would be nice to break even’ says Chris, ruefully, ‘but the good thing is that we are employing 50 people locally and we all have a really nice pub to go to.’ With a couple of friends, Chris has just bought privately owned Hurst Spit at Keyhaven too ‘to protect it for the future. And I asked the council to let me pay to improve the dishevelled Keyhaven car park, such an eyesore as you arrive, but guess what, they said no’.

Chris and Kitty’s handsome Victorian house at Pilley feels like an airy sanctuary, full of beautiful furniture and pictures.

‘Did Kitty do the interiors?’ I ask.

‘As a matter of fact,’ comes the indignant reply. ‘It was me’.

Great British Life: 'It would be nice to break even' says Chris, but at least he has a lovely local pub to go to now'It would be nice to break even' says Chris, but at least he has a lovely local pub to go to now

As I arrive, Michelle Sopher of the Cut Flower Farm nearby is filling vases for the weekend with her wonderful natural arrangements; dogs are pottering about, friends popping in. Across the courtyard is the office, with a staff of seven. ‘No one works from home’ says Chris, ‘it’s really important for us all to be together’.

But if the New Forest seems far from Monaco, the epicentre of the superyacht industry with its billionaires, casinos, flashy cars and jet set lifestyle, it isn’t quite as distant as you might think. There are now so many people connected with the luxury yachting industry living and working in the area – top yacht designers, boat captains, technical specialists ¬– that Chris is planning to create a hub for them out of some converted barns so they can meet, swap news and do business. He’s good at that: he’s the guy who introduced his client and friend Jim Ratcliffe to Ben Ainslie over a gin and tonic. Ben left the bar with a pledge of £120 million from Jim to sponsor the 2020 America’s Cup. The sponsorship is continuing for the 2024 challenge in Barcelona. Chris and his family will be there on their beloved Eager.