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René Dee
I was born in Switzerland in March 1946. My Swiss mother and English father came to England in 1948 where I have lived ever since. I had a very fragmented and inauspicious schooling in Brighton, Merton, Wimbledon and Northampton that resulted in me achieving only 1 GCE, French! Having exhausted most other avenues of gainful work and forsaking the opportunity to follow in my father's footsteps running a hotel, I fell for the romantic notions of a life in the Army in the Intelligence Corps. How I got in, I'm not sure, but I soon found myself travelling the lonesome railway journey to Tonfanau Halt from Northampton where I then lived. That was in April 1962 and I stayed at Tonfanau as part of the exclusive AAJLR in Knightsbridge Platoon, 'A' Company until December 1963. I particularly remember the winter of '62, the adventure training up Cader and the red hot stoves in our billets, not to mention the Globe Cinema where many Audie Murphy and John Wayne films were watched in awe. I played the clarinet so was nicknamed, 'Acker'. I also finished my D of E Gold Award during my time here and proudly collected it from the D of E himself at Buckingham Palace in 1963. After Tonfanau, I was posted to Intelligence Corps HQ in Maresfield, Sussex, where I learnt to drive on double declutch Land Rovers and learnt the core Int. skills, including interrogation techniques and typing! I also went to Lympstone, Devon and passed the Royal Marine Commando Course, after which I was posted to 3 Commando Brigade HQ Intelligence Platoon. I loved Singapore and Malaysia but increasingly realised that I did not want to stay in the Army any longer. I felt trapped and, after a painful process, secured my discharge in October 1966.
Back in the UK, as a civilian, I worked for my father in his small Commercial Hotel in Northampton, drove a freight lorry to Heathrow Airport along the newly built M1, sold ice-cream to the Spencer Estate amongst many others, encyclopaedias and packed warehouses before signing up in October 1967 for what was to become a life-changing expedition overland to Nepal and back, via Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Kashmir. This was the life for me and, shortly after in May 1969, I secured a job as a driver/leader with Safari, an adventure travel company that ran overland adventure holidays in North Africa. This was the start of a period of 5 years in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya where I operated pioneering overland expeditions up to 6 weeks with 3-ton ex-Army Bedford trucks, minibuses, camels and mules with my own company, René Dee Expeditions. It was not to last and my undercapitalised company closed in 1974 during the energy crisis but, I carried on working for a variety of iconic cutting edge special interest and adventure travel tour operators including, Treasure Trek's, Frontier International, Twicker's World, Transit Travel, Society Expeditions, Mountain Travel and Young World Holidays, both as a leader and as a marketer, having learnt these latter skills running my own business. I produced brochures, ran international advertising and PR campaigns, organised promotions and ran press & media trips to the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, the Red Sea and the Serengetti amongst other places. In 1984 I moved from tour operating to exhibition organising and co-organised the Daily Mail Ski Show for 4 years, where I was also responsible for producing Ski International, the Show Guide and Magazine. I also managed to get Princess Diana to open the Show in that year. My time working with the Ski Show enabled me to indulge in skiing and I took advantage of trips to French, Italian, Swiss and Austrian ski resorts, having also visited Whistler Mountain before its official opening as the major North American ski resort that it now is. I launched the first Public Relations Exhibition and Conference at Wembley Conference Centre in 1986 and, in 1988, acted as Sales Director for the BBC Radio Show at Earls Court. The latter ran as a 21st anniversary show to commemorate the launch of Radio 1 and the re-naming of the Light, Third and Home entertainment programmes to Radios 2, 3 and 4 and was opened by Prince Edward. Top line live acts featured Frankie Howard, David Frost and a very young Stephen Fry.
In 1991, I moved to become Sales and Marketing manager for the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Royal Horticultural Society. I was soon promoted to the Board as Sales & Marketing Director and in 1996 became its Managing Director. The Halls act as a high profile and important multi-purpose venue in the heart of London where events such as the Booker Prize, London Fashion Week, Classic Car Auctions, trade and consumer fairs take place. They were also used by the Metropolitan Police and Westminster City Council as the venue for the Family Assistance Centre, following the London Bombings of 7/7. I was also appointed one of several Visit London 'Business Tourism Champions' following a previous, 7-year participation as a Committee Member on the London Tourist Board & Convention Bureau's Advisory Committee. I became a member of the Central London Partnership's Tourism Advisory Group and advised Westminster Council on its own strategic tourism policy. I also held the post of Deputy Chairman of the Exhibition Venues Association for 2 years before its amalgamation with the newly formed Association of Event Venues. I left the RHS in 2008 after a total of 17 years.
In 2003, while I had been at the RHS, I founded ‘The Westminster Collection’, a marketing collective of prestigious and iconic venues in the City of Westminster that I continued to spearhead as it Chairman and CEO from 2008-2012, during which time it grew to a membership of 57 venues and one of the most successful Business Tourism Marketing organisations for venues in London. I retired in March 2012 but continue to be active as a voluntary and non-executive ‘Expert Advisor’ to the Ashdown Academy in Lewes, East Sussex, who run Event Management Degree Courses.
I continue to be physically active running across my beloved South Downs most weekends. I have climbed Mt. Ararat in Turkey, Mt. Toubkal in Morocco, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the Pamir Mountains in Central Asia. I have walked the 630 mile South West Coast Path and the Classic Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt in the French and Swiss Alps. I have sailed in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and sky-dived for charity. My other interests and hobbies are writing poetry, philately, genealogy.
In September 2011 I had my first book published called, Sweet Peas, Suffragettes and Showmen: Events that Changed the World in the RHS Halls.
Last but not least, I am married to Eileen who has helped and guided me through some difficult times and was a fervent co-traveller with me in the early days. Together, we have brought up our only son, Matthew who we are immensely proud of. Having gained a History degree at Kings College and then a Master of Science Degree in Disaster Management at the Royal College of Military Science, Shrivenham, he now lives in Rome working for the UN World Food Programme, having been active in logistics in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Indonesian Tsunami, Somalia, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
As a postscript to this, I have to say that my success in life has certainly been down to experiences that I encountered during my time at Tonfanau, in particular. As a middle-class kid from a 'soft' environment, Tonfanau and everything surrounding it, was a shock. However, I learnt how to survive and thrive. I have always, consciously and subconsciously, referred back to those times that told me that, if I could get through those situations, I could get through anything else. It hasn't always worked but it is still a crutch I rely upon today.

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