Patrick Jephson Podcast Script

Adam Twidell interviews Patrick Jephson, Patrick started his career in the Royal Navy, before become Princess Diana’s Equerry and Chief of Staff. He spent 8 years travelling around the world with Princess Diana – including flying on Concorde with the Royal family.

Listen to the full interview here

"Hello I am Adam Twidell, CEO of PrivateFly. This is the first of a series of PrivateFly podcasts where I will be talking to leading innovators from the world of aviation, technology and business. So thanks for tuning into this first episode.

Our aim is to bring you exclusive interviews and travel secrets in an accessible and portable way so that travellers and aviation enthusiasts alike can be kept up to date.

I am delighted today to be talking with writer, broadcaster, New York Times best seller author, pilot and aviation expert Patrick Jephson. Patrick, hello."

"Hello glad to be with you."

Adam: "Fantastic, so Patrick my thanks to you for joining us today at PrivateFly.

From my introduction it’s clear that you have had an incredibly varied and exciting career and you are now based in the States."

Patrick: "Yes I suppose it is true to say Adam that I have always had a bit of wanderlust in me, I have always enjoyed departing, you know it’s a great way to get the pulse racing always good to set off on a new journey wherever it is and now it has brought me to America not least having had the good fortune to marry an American and I am now a permanent resident here and reminding myself that America really is a big place and if you like travelling America is a great place to do so."

Adam: "So travel is still very much a huge part of your life?"

Patrick: "It is. Well my wife and I are lucky. We have the opportunity to travel a lot with our work which we are back most recently from speaking at corporate telecommunications conferences in Kazakhstan, Bulgaria but we also have continuing links with the UK.

Next week I am going to be at the Oxford Literary Festival and before we finish one trip we are usually planning the next."

Adam: "So busy times and from the beginning we both actually share an Armed Forces background.

You, I believe, were in the Navy and I started in the Air Force, I flew for ten years. When did you join the Navy Patrick?"

Patrick: "Well perhaps like you Adam they got me young. I joined shortly after I left school where I was at University in Cambridge and I have got to say it was one of the things that I can look back on with almost absolute pleasure.

It was a 15 year overall career for me and although there were bits that seemed a bit challenging at the time, it was the most tremendous experience.

I think probably there are quite a few young men who think themselves pretty clever who benefit from having been given a bit of service discipline.

I know that is where I learned to shine shoes, iron a shirt and clean a lavatory, all skills that have come in very useful since."

Adam: "Yes I was just about to ask actually, as many people ask me about my military background, and how it shaped my business life and life in general.

Do you think your background in the Navy has had a big influence in your life now?"

Patrick: "I think that it probably never leaves you. I think if you are lucky you learn some very good habits from service experience. I know there is some friendly banter between the light blue and dark blue, but I am sure you would agree that a service experience does give you self discipline and indeed a good self knowledge, both of which are very useful in the wider world.

And also it teaches you that you really can’t produce an excuse and expect to get away with it especially if you are away at sea in a warship or in an aeroplane with a crew to command, the buck stops with you, you have to sort out problems there and then particularly where personnel are concerned, there isn’t a HR department in a warship, you have to solve problems as you go along and the nice thing means that you tend to be focused upon doing things right in the first place, on planning well and learning from any mistakes, so that you can do better next time.

I always rather admired particularly the RAF attitude to safety although the Navy of course put a very high priority on flight safety as well.

Some of my Air Force friends I noticed were able to sometimes form their own judgements about what was or wasn’t a safe course of action. It was not a mark against them if they in their judgement decided not to do something on grounds of flight safety, the Navy apart from when aircraft were concerned the attitude was very much you have got to get on and do it whether you think it is a good idea or not and whilst that achieved historically some tremendous results.

I think these days people tend to operate much more by their own judgement, we have to give people credit for using their own judgement and I hope that the dark blue has learned from the light blue a bit on that."

Adam: "Yes it was really interesting what you were saying about flight safety. I joined the Air Force in 1994 and even then human factors, the fact that a Captain has to listen to everybody on board an aircraft or if it is a single seat aircraft maybe somebody on the ground can be helpful and that was drilled into you right from the early days and now it’s almost spread to the civilian world.

Safety was everything. I think one of the most valuable lessons I learned from a Wing Commander who was in charge of 47 Squadron, Willy Dobson, said with every decision you have to look at the positive outcome of it and weigh that up against what would happen if it went wrong and make your decision based on the upside and the downside and if you apply that in business you don’t go too far wrong either.

Yes you have got to take risks, but you have to balance those risks before you make that decision."

Patrick: "There was one thing that I certainly learned in the Navy towards the end of my time, which has transferred across quite well to the civilian world and that is that mistakes are going to happen, that mistakes are inevitable, things will go wrong.

The critical question is what you learn from them and how quickly you are able to put them right and that a risk adverse culture is one that is not going to succeed either, that you have to give people the freedom to make their own judgements and if need be to make their own mistakes because in the long run you have to trust them, that they have to learn from their mistakes and go on to perform well for the benefit of the whole organisation."

Adam: "And we can bring that into business decisions like, “do I go into social media?”. So many businesses are scared of what is happening online and I guess you have just got to get involved and as you say learn as you go along.

But bringing the subject back to when you left the Navy, you went onto to do an incredible role where you were Private Secretary to Princess Diana. Was that immediately after leaving the Navy or was there a gap in-between?"

Patrick: "No I went straight from the Navy to the Palace, in fact my first two years were on loan as an equerry to Princess Diana.

Normally I would have returned to the Navy after my time at the Palace, but that was a particularly difficult time for the Royal Family.

The Prince and Princess of Wales were obviously on diverging paths and so when they split up and their office split, Princess Diana asked me to leave the Navy and set up her own office and in effect become Chief of Staff and although it was a wrench to leave the Navy.

It was also one of those opportunities you couldn't let go by, so I became a full time courtier and was lucky enough to have, from most points of view, the most exciting job in the whole business."

Adam: "So you spent eight years with Princess Diana, presumably travelling all over the World with her. You must have had some incredible experiences together?"

Patrick: "I won’t make any secret of the fact Adam that the travel was always one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, there were days when you can imagine things could be pretty tense and particularly when the Prince and Princess were getting divorced, there were a great many very stressful days when we were in unchartered territory constitutionally, but always for me I was glad to be able to take comfort in my enjoyment of flying and travelling and we did a lot of flying and much of it was very interesting stuff.

And I think it helped introduce Princess Diana to the idea that aeroplanes were interesting and that flying could be fun. No matter how hard the work might be on arrival, or how complicated a situation that we had left behind, the journey itself could be not just useful in terms of preparation, but also enjoyable and it began I think as a bit of fun between us that I would enjoy it and she would endure it, but I am pretty sure by the time we stopped working together she recognised the potential for enjoying it not least for the reflection that flying gives you.

I remember going back to New York after a particularly successful trip on Concorde and there we were flying along at twice the speed of sound and there was the Princess of Wales busy with some needlepoint, some embroidery and I am not sure how many people have done supersonic needlepoint.

But that to me was a sign that she was able to relax while in the air, that she used it as a time to replenish her own batteries and she was quite indulgent towards allowing me to not just enjoy the flying we did but to even seek out interesting new aerial adventures for her as well."

Adam: "So eventually Diana loved travelling, got the bug of it and presumably now she would have been thrilled that her two sons are aviators themselves?"

Patrick: "Yes I mean she was always well aware that her little boys were going to be interested in aeroplanes and even if they were not flying with her, they would often for example come to watch her fly off in the Wessex from the back garden at Kensington Palace and I wouldn't be surprised if that was where their love of helicopters came from.

She would be thrilled I am sure but most of all she would hope that they were careful pilots. She would know that they were very well trained, but I am sure she would be happiest of all to know that they were doing the job they love, but doing it carefully."

Adam: "And a terrific job they are both doing. So you talk about Concorde, that is at one end of the spectrum, but were there some smaller aircraft that you travelled on?"

Patrick: "Well so often the aircraft was the backdrop to the bigger story, always the aeroplane is my way of indexing my memory, so if I can remember the aeroplane I can remember what we were doing and what happened next.

Certainly one of my happiest memories was flying around a bush in Zimbabwe in a Zimbabwe Air Force Kausa which was flown brilliantly and put down on a rough strip in the middle of nowhere to a time schedule that the Queen's Flight itself would have respected.

That was good fun. Also for me it was always flying in the Wessex that was a very leisurely and enjoyable way of watching the countryside go by.

You would do some very nice trips, throughout England, tripping over the English countryside in summer in purple aerospace was a terrific way of enjoying the view."

Adam: "I recently took my seven year son to the RAF Museum and there is a Wessex there and it is a fantastically regale aircraft when you look at it now."

Patrick: "Yes she used to refer to it though as a tumble drier. She didn't like it that much [laughter]."

Adam: "It wasn't as favourite as Concorde?"

Patrick: "[Laughter] Well no the Concorde she liked but also the Queens Flight 146’s were a terrific way of travelling, but of course they were designed specifically with Royal duties in mind so there was always plenty of room for spare clothes and changing and general preparation.

It was more challenging when we went commercial and the airline, Virgin especially, were extremely accommodating in giving us the extra space needed to produce a suitably impressionable arrival.

I remember there were a couple of trips with Virgin, when their 340 first came in, to Hong Kong and Tokyo, very long trips and they were very well arranged with a terrific crew to make sure that she was ready for action as soon as the doors opened."

Adam: "You know it is interesting that with the use of private aviation a lot of it comes down I think to time saving, but for a particular group of people who are as on the radar as being famous, it is very difficult to use a normal airport.

I am just thinking of some of our PrivateFly customers who are premiership footballers, it is almost impossible for them to go on holiday through a normal airport and that must have been the case with Princess Diana using commercial airlines."

Patrick: "Well yes and in fact Adam some of the problems aren’t very obvious, but in truth there is pressure on business leaders, particularly those on the public payroll, to show that they have been economical in their use of aircraft and there is great pressure to use scheduled flights.

That of course means that you have to work to the airlines schedule, I mean in some cases you can get it slightly adjusted, but I can tell you that in the point of view of the people who are in charge of a programme, it is a great deal more stressful that they have to communicate an airlines departure time to an airline with fare paying passengers expecting to get off punctually, it is a lot more stressful co-ordinating a programme with their schedule and airline timetables than if you have your own aircraft waiting patiently from the moment you decide to turn up."

Adam: "And that goes back down to time on the aircraft as well. I think when I left the Air Force and I joined NetJets one of my perhaps biggest disappointments was watching people behave in the back of a private jet, the majority of customers are actually working.

It’s certainly not sex, drugs and rock and roll that a lot of people would have thought that would be occurring in the back of a private jet."

Patrick: "Well it is true, and you must have seen this particularly with the success of PrivateFly, that people recognise that business aircrafts are tools, they are an aide to efficiency.

If you think of the time savings that you can make for example a business trip around Europe or landing at an airport nearest to where you really want to go, having the opportunity to hold private discussions in the aircraft, tailoring your entire programme to suit your clients and your commercial imperatives, that pays for itself many times over and I do hope that that perception is more widely appreciated.

Certainly here in America I think it is more readily understood that, not least because of the distances involved, business aircraft are a great asset to an organisation, but I think maybe the industry has to be aware of the fact that it is slightly unnoticed not least from this administration that you have to daily prove that it is used justifying what it appears to be a self indulgent form of travel. I know the responsibility is on everybody not to misuse this, not to let it be seen to be a luxury for an organisation like Angel Flight for example who use empty sectors for charity purposes, I think they are doing tremendous work."

Adam: "Yes there is a particular sector who really benefit from private jets and the medical transplant of livers and passengers who are not able to travel for one reason or another in airlines and Angel network is doing a great job, it would be fantastic to see a similar organisation in Europe take form. Are there any other differences?

You have been closely tied more recently with business aviation, as Editor of Hawker Beechcraft magazine.

Hawker are going through a dramatic change of structure at the moment, but generally between the US and the European markets, are there many big differences?"

Patrick: "Well the US market is obviously much bigger and I think that the consolidation and reorganisation is much further advanced. For example companies like nextgen are doing, I think the industry will continue to evolve.

What will be most interesting is to see how it develops in the big new markets like India and China in particular where, for example, a lot of new airspace has been freed up. There are a lot of people predicting explosive expansion of business aviation in China."

Adam: "Yes interesting times in Asia as the bureaucracy of flying is changed to allow for more flexibility of timings, we will be keeping a keen eye on the market in Asia. But Patrick you are also a pilot yourself, are you still flying?"

Patrick: "I fly when I get the chance, but I'm a private pilot. When I was little my greatest ambition was to fly for Aer Lingus, but sadly my eyesight wasn't good enough and so the flying I have done has been weekend flying I am afraid, but even so I have enjoyed it enormously.

I got my licence in Jersey and anybody who has flown there, particularly in the summer, knows it is not an easy environment for a novice to get familiar with, I found it very challenging and I had terrific fun particularly navigation solo trips to France where all the airports had very nice restaurants it seemed attached."

Adam: "Fantastic. That’s the proper use of flying, taking friends and family on adventures and actually when I fly the Citation XL two pilots amazing information at the front of the plane, I can see where other planes are, I know exactly where my aircraft is and then I bump into a KingAir pilot who is a low houred pilot who is flying in the bad weather in an older aircraft and that’s the real adventures of flying on those smaller planes I feel."

Patrick: "Well I would agree with you to a point Adam, although funnily enough I was lucky to get some time flying duel obviously on a KingAir not too long ago and I was hugely impressed.

The efficiency and the performance of the turbo prop particularly fully loaded over certain stage leg made it a very attractive option something like the 350i runs a lot of jets very close."

Adam: "Yes the new KingAirs have got all the flight deck that you would ever want, complete control of information and what a fantastic aircraft the KingAir has been over the time, a real workhorse of the sky with a large cabin, it can take lots of passengers, so flexible, great runway performance and now out of what is happening at Hawker Beechcraft, the one real survivor which is coming through."

Patrick: "Yes that’s true particularly now with the industry expanding in the special missions field where because it is a go anywhere sort of aeroplane and it has two engines, which in the many more remote parts of the World are a huge reassurance, I think we haven’t even begun to see its full potential in special mission configurations."

Adam: "Exciting times for that aircraft. You talked about landing in the Channel Islands and thank you, you are a part of our travel panel at PrivateFly where we asked a group of travel experts to choose their top landing approaches in the World and yours were very varied, one in Pakistan."

Patrick: "Yes I put top of my list Chitral which is a remote valley in the North West province of Pakistan.

From a place which you might think is like Shangri-la up there very high amongst the emergence of the Hindu Kush and it is a beautiful, peaceful green little valley with a stream running through it and a romantic old fortress and a very short runway and I had the pleasure of flying in and out of it several times in a PIA F27 but obviously also with the Princess, with the Queen’s Flight 146, and the 146 as you would guess made pretty light work of the altitude and the short runway, but the approach which of course had to be between the mountains was spectacular and that for me was why it was top of my list, quite apart from the beauty of the place once you got out of the aeroplane.

Also I mentioned like lots of people rave, about St Maarten coming in over the beach, I flew in there on the last row of seats on a KLM 747 so I really did think I was going to land along the sun beds."

Adam: "It’s quite an airport approach isn’t it as you land just 50 feet over the beach with holidaymakers there. Have you been on the beach as well Patrick?"

Patrick: "No, but I have made a note that I want to get back as soon as I can. I think the next best thing to being on an aeroplane would be sitting with a cold beer watching the air show."

Adam: "And from St Maarten many of our PrivateFly customers take a short hop across to St Barts which is an equally exciting short runway just a five minute flight, but boy do you get everything on that."

Patrick: "I think also people are obviously interested in approaches, I mentioned also the Karas approach at JFK but we shouldn't forget the departures either. The departure from St Maarten’s is very exciting at the end of the runway.

My favourite of all was flying out of JFK on Concorde and I was lucky enough to sit in the cockpit and there is the runway and I think it is 3:1 where as soon as the wheels are off the runway, they would turn the aircraft, bank the aircraft so as to avoid a noise monitor in Tobaccolot Bay.

That was the most lively and exciting of takeoffs I have done in an airline. I will never forget that."

Adam: "Just very special memories. So Patrick thank you for today, you have sent some tingles of excitement through my body thinking about the flights you have flown and also shared some very special memories of your time with Princess Diana.

She was an amazing lady and we all think of her in different ways, but now I've got one more to add to the list, the fastest knitter across the Atlantic on that Mac 2 Day with Concorde and a great way to remember her."

Patrick: "Well I agree and I will take the chance to wish you and everyone at PrivateFly all success. Happy landings."

Adam: "Thank you very much Patrick and to the listeners. You have been listening to PrivateFly's podcast. I hope you have enjoyed it. We would love to have your feedback and suggestions for future topics. "

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