Richard Butler has circled the globe 26 times in his role as an expedition leader for a tour company specialising in luxury holidays by private jet. So what’s it like to see the wonders of the world in supreme style, again and again?
Now here’s a dream job. For the past 17 years a tall, slim Englishman has been regularly leaving his home in the picturesque Somerset village of Charlton Mackerel to make the sort of ultra-luxurious, round-the-world journey many of us can only fantasise about. When I ask Richard Butler how many countries he’s visited he appears to have lost count, but then reckons it’s “about 130”. As well as this formidable tally, he’s also ticked off – repeatedly – numerous top-of-the-bucket-list experiences across the seven continents.
Exploring Machu Picchu, marvelling at the enigmatic moai of Easter Island, trekking to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda – it’s all in a day’s work for Richard thanks to his enviable position as a leader of global private jet tours and expeditions for the Seattle and London-based company, TCS World Travel. Founded in 1991, TCS has since taken its privileged clients on over 250 high-class circumnavigations using a custom-configured Boeing 757, equipped with plentiful champagne and Italian white leather seats. Blissfully ignoring the routes of conventional carriers (Taj Mahal to the Serengeti is typical), these go-as-we-please odysseys effortlessly drop into the world’s most iconic sights accompanied by all manner of treats from complimentary Bose head-sets, to expert lecturers, an on-board doctor and purses of local currency to spend at each destination.
Such journeys of a lifetime don’t come cheap – a classic, all-inclusive 24 day “Around the World” trip visiting nine countries costs from £65,000 per person – but then you are seeing the very best of the planet with a maximum of ease. Everything is meticulously planned in advance by a battalion of staff spearheaded by a multi-talented expedition leader such as Richard. Group sizes range from 52 passengers for tours in association with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts or up to 80 for more adventurous and fast-paced expeditions. The majority of guests are from the US, with many travellers having won their wealth through nothing more than hard graft or a long stint at the work force.
With expectations sky-high, Richard really does have a whole world of problems to deal with. One minute he’s getting everyone through airport security (“always wear slip-on shoes”), the next he’s masterminding one of TCS World Travel’s trademark moments of “surprise and delight”, such as a descent by skydivers into the Namibian desert to deliver champagne or an impromptu landing in Greenland for a barbecue beside a glacier. While not all of us like travelling in a large group, he points out that this has enabled him to fix things that would be impossible for individuals to arrange, such as a private view of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and an audience with an Ashanti King in Ghana.
So what’s it like, after touching down in so many amazing places, to then return to same-old Blighty? “I love it,” Richard responds emphatically. Driving back from Heathrow he always feels a buzz when passing Stonehenge, and he loves walking the Jurassic Coast and visiting the Somerset Levels with its extraordinary starling murmurations. Fly-fishing is another favourite way to relax and every May his family have a multi-generational get-together on the banks of the River Spey.
A life of fast-lane globe-trotting inevitably brings its personal challenges. Amanda, his wife, is also an expedition leader, which necessitates plenty of diary-juggling with their two young children – this year they’re facing a three month stretch in which they’ll only see each other for a week. When one of them drops the kids off at school, other parents invariably ask where’s they’ve just been “but you can’t really reel off a list of ten countries…”. It’s clear that while there’s a great big fascinating world out there, there’s equally no place quite like home. “I do like mowing the lawn,” Richard admits with a grin, “and having friends round for a barbecue”. From the steppes of Mongolia, to grilling sausages in the garden… now that really is coming down to earth with a banger.