The Daily Explorer

August 8, 2008

Man of a Thousand Days (Part Two) – How it All Began…

Chiang Mai, Thailand: August 8th 2008

Mozzie Byte, Editor - The Daily Explorermozzie-byte-profile-44pt.jpg

Today, our global traveller reaches a significant milestone in his personal journey. Since he left England on 12th November 2005, he has been living nomadically for one thousand consecutive days. During that time, he has visited or travelled through twelve countries spread around the world.

During the last couple of years, many of you have requested more information about the background to Ray’s decision to swap his conventional life for one of travel, exploration and uncertainty. We have interviewed him at length to get the whole truthful story, uncut and straight from the source. For the first time, Ray lets us into his personal and private world. He reveals what really happened, reviewing the events that were taking place back in 2003 that signified enormous change and desribes how he responded to them. He helps us join the dots in a seemingly randon chain of events that led to the start of the incredible journey he has been on and recalls how things curiously unfolded in a way he could never had foreseen.

You can read Ray’s story below. When you have, if there is anything you would like to know more about, if you have a question for Ray or you would like to share your thoughts or give us your feedback, we would really welcome your message, at the

In Man of a Thousand Days (Part One) which was published a few days ago, Ray trawled through all 60 previous issues of The Daily Explorer and our sister publication, The Daily Lama, selecting some of his favourite moments from the last two and half years for a photographic special feature. If you have not seen it already, it is well worth a look!

When I sat down with Ray, like many of you, I was also curious to know how this whole thing began. “It’s a great question Mozzie.  Back in July 2003, I was 42 years old, happily married, running a successful business and living in a lovely house in Parsons Green, West London. My life appeared to be settled – most things were certain and if I projected forward in my mind, I could see how the rest of my life was going to look and was relatively happy about it. Except at a deep, deep level, something was not right. Physically, I was in poor shape and I was starting to question the meaning about what I was doing. I felt like I had lost access to my spiritual intelligence so could not make sense of what was going on. And at times, it felt like I was living someone else’s life – not that there was anything wrong with it” he recalled.

Above: Ray, with his ex-wife Charlotte, in October 2002. He is pictured here receiving the Daily Telegraph ‘Best Business Leader Award’ that year – “I was the person with everything to be happy about – great wife, successful business, a reasonably affluent lifestyle and wonderful friends and family. I had no idea that what was about to unfold within the next year would change everything in my world ….” recalled our traveller

“In the summer of 2003, I decided to go on my first ever health retreat in Portugal for ten days. It was a wonderful experience and gave me a chance to reflect on things. Staying at that remote, idyllic and peaceful farm house, close to nature seemed to feed a deeper part of me that had not received much nourishment for quite a while. So having gone there, I was ready to return to my life with a new sense of optimisim and remember thinking the time was right to start a family” he told me.

“At the same time, my dad was very ill and had undergone a second major heart operation just before I left, so my family were feeling quite unsettled and we were all experiencing a lot of anxiety about him. He was struggling to recover after his surgery and had been unconscious for a couple of weeks. I was actually summoned back to England prematurely and rushed to the hospital where he was being treated. When Charlotte (Ray’s ex-wife) came to meet me at the airport, I had a strange sensation that something about her had changed while I was away, but could not put my finger on it and needed to get to the hospital to join my family as soon as possible” said our traveller.

Above: Ray pictured in 1986 (aged 26) with his dad, Joel (centre) and his older brother Paul (left). Although Joel survived the second round of heart surgery in the summer of 2003, he was unconscious for weeks after the operation and when he eventually came round, he never really re-gained the strength he had lost during the episode. This drastically reduced the quality of his life, keeping him in hospital where he died in January 2004

Returning from the hospital, Ray sat down with Charlotte to try and find out what, if anything was bothering her and what had happened while he had been away. “This was a difficult time Mozzie. Like the rest of my family, I was very uncomfortable about my dad’s health and facing the potential of losing him. Now I was about to discover that my marriage was also in trouble – when I look back on it now, I cannot believe how calm I was about it!” recalled Ray. “Just before I went away, Charlotte had met someone whom she had a ‘compelling attraction’ towards and this had developed while I was in Portugal. Ironically, he worked for one of our clients. They had met when she had been summoned to their Head Office to be told our consultancy contract was being terminated – had I gone to that meeting instead of her, which had been a distinct possibility at one point, this reality may not have materialised. It never ceases to amaze me how life can totally pivot around such tiny moments of chance” reflected Ray.

“I could see that Charlie was torn in two by this and I really felt her pain about it. My father had always said to me “If you truly love someone, let them go and if they return, it is meant to be” which I thought was good advice under the circumstances and decided to follow it. However, my fear about the future was growing – if our marriage was going to come to an end, it was highly likely that our business would also radically change as Charlie had indicated she would not want to continue with it. She was such a key part of the whole thing, I simply could not imagine doing it without her. Can you imagine Torvill without Dean? Or Morecambe without Wise? I know that no one is irreplacable but there was something about our creative partnership that was. It was hard to believe that within the space of two or three months, everything I was certain about looked like it might be disappearing, but that was the reality I was facing” he told me.


Above: Ray (centre) with Charlotte (standing) and key members of the First Place Consulting team in 2002 – “Charlotte and I had built a really successful business in five years and we were really proud of it. Not only had we achieved our vision of enabling our clients to outperform their rivals, we had trademarked a set of Principles known as ‘Heart and Soul Management’ and were gaining recognition for it. We recruited a great team of people to work with and created financial prosperity for ourselves. Looking back in hindsight, It felt to both of us as if our reason for coming together was complete and that we both needed to pursue our own paths from this point onwards, which were very different” recalled Ray

By October 2003, Charlie’s predicament was still the same. After many long and difficult conversations and much heartache, she and Ray separated. I asked him how he felt about this. “It was devastating at the time. My father was still very ill in hospital, which was stressful in itself. Charlie moved out of the house, but we were still working together every day at the office, which was totally surreal on one level. We decided to let everyone in the company know what was going on between us, which really helped and they were very sensitive to our situation. Luckily, Nic Meredith who is a really good friend of mine, was in London and he really looked after me at at time when I most needed it” he recalled.

Round about now is where the first one of the seemingly unconnected ‘dots’ appeared in Ray’s life. “It was very serendipitous that a few months earlier, I had signed up to take part in a major fund raising event called Enduro India” he said with great excitement. “It had appealed to me for ages – I had a growing sense that I wanted to give something back to society and raise money for a good cause, plus I was re-discovering my love of motor cycling, having recently purchased a bike after 25 years absence.  If you do Enduro India, you are required to complete a gruelling 2,000 kilometre journey over seven days across Southern India on an old fashioned Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle, which are really old British motor cycles that are still made in India” explained Ray.

Above: Ray had been an avid biker in his teens but had long since given up two wheeled transportation as he became older and more ‘sensible’ . However, in 2000-01, the urge to ride again started to return. Encouraged by Charlie, Ray purchased this Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle in December 2001 – “Buying the bike was a really good decision for me, and it felt like I found a little piece of myself that had been lost for quite a while” explained Ray. “If I had not bought the bike, I don’t think I would have signed up for Enduro India – something which turned out to have a significance far greater than I could have ever imagined” he told me

So why was Enduro India so significant? “There were many reasons as it turned out, but the first was that it gave me something purposeful to be distracted by during my period of separation with Charlie, as I had committed to raising a huge amount of sponsorship money for the event.  Basically, I was on the phone every day between October and December 2003, talking to my friends, clients and associates to recruit them as sponsors and persuaded as many of them as I could to back me in taking on this amazing challenge” recalled Ray.

Incidentally, Ray was required to raise £3,000 in sponsorship to take part, but believed he could do better with the various business contacts he had. “My team in the office were brilliant. They responded to my call for help and we set a target to raise £10,000, which was £1,000 more than the highest ever amount raised previously by a participant” added Ray. By the end of 2003, Ray and his team at First Place were well on the way towards achieving their target. However, with his father still in hospital, and deepening sadness about his separation with Charlie, the strain of doing business as usual was taking its toll on our nomadic traveller. “By the time 2003 came to an end, I felt emotionally exhausted and really needed a break” said Ray. “Before this horrible situation started, Charlie and I had made plans to go to the USA for a Christmas holiday, so I already had something booked. I asked my friend Nic who had been looking after me so kindly if he would like to be my travelling companion in place of Charlie and he accepted” recalled Ray.

Above: Nic Meredith (left) went travelling with Ray through California and Arizona in December 2003 – “I am so glad he was able to go with me – I really needed support at that time. He was very sensitive to my situation at home and helped me get through a very difficult phase” said Ray

Something very strange happened during his trip to the USA which would come back to feature later in our travellers story. “I am sure Nic will not mind me saying that at this point, his own life had not been going so well for him either, and he had returned to the UK after several years of living in the USA and Canada, where he had created businesses that were involved in film and TV production” explained Ray. “Some problems with one of his company’s and difficulties with his visa made him decide to go back to England for a while. From what he had told me in the time he had been back, I could tell he was at a bit of a loose end and had been for some time. In a strange way, this really helped me. It was as if he was much farther down the road of an inner journey that I was about to start in a few months time, with my divorce looming, so I was observing him with great interest to see what I could learn” recalled Ray.

“One day during our trip, we were driving towards the Grand Canyon when we both looked at each other at the same moment and spontaneously said “Let’s head for Sedona” as we had both wanted to go there for many years and had never quite managed it” Ray told me. “A few months before, in London, we had been watching a feature about Sedona on the ‘Holiday’ programme on BBC television  and to our amazement, one of our ex-colleagues from 15 years ago was now living and working there as an artist. They interviewed him on the programme and we recognized his voice immediately, although he looked a bit different than before. So we suddenly had a mission for going there – we decided to see if we could find him, with no knowledge of his whereabouts” he added. “Bizarrely, from our arrival in Sedona to locating him took us no longer than one hour!” added our intrepid traveller.

Above: Paul Lawrence Curtis, originally from Barnsley in England, whom Ray and Nic Meredith managed to find in Sedona, Arizona in December 2003 – “We had not seen each other for 15 years. He was really surprised when we showed up and very pleased to see us” said Ray

I reminded Ray that I was trying to understand how he became a nomadic traveller and asked him to explain why this particular part of the story was relevant. “Let me see if I can get to the point for you Mozzie” he said. “By this time, I was starting to get a growing sense that our lives are sometimes guided by a series of random events which we do not or cannot understand the significance of with our conscious mind. Proof of this phenomenon was about to emerge and it was about to happen to my friend Nic, but neither of us had any inkling at all about it. The gift in this moment for me was that I was going to witness the unfolding events first hand!” said Ray rather mysteriously.

I asked Ray to explain what he meant. “OK. Once we had met Paul, he started introducing us to members of the community in Sedona who were friends of his. So we were dining at people’s homes and getting involved with them, as opposed to being tourists and observing the whole place as outsiders. One morning, Paul introduced me and Nic to a friend of his called Regina Campbell – a lovely, atractive woman who made an instant connection with my friend Nic. It was as if they were meant to find each other. To cut a long story short, Nic and Regina are now married and are living happily together in the USA, which proves my point” said Ray emphatically. “If I had not been separated from Charlie, then Nic would not have come with me on the trip to the US and if we had not been watching the Holiday programme, we would not have gone looking for Paul and if we had not have found him, Nic would not have met Regina. From observing this chain of events, despite my fears about the future, I was also starting to experience a feeling of comfort at some level about what was happening to me in my life. It didn’t really make sense in my head, but instinctively, I knew that everything that was materialising was meant to be and that it would work out OK if I just went with the flow of things” recalled Ray. “This felt like some sort of turning point. However, a set back was waiting just around the corner – immediately upon my return to the UK on 5th January, my father died. It was the beginning of 2004 and it was to be the start of my most dreadful year” said our traveller.

Above: February 2004: After the death of his father and having started divorce proceedings a couple of weeks earlier, Ray went off to take part in Enduro India and ride this Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle from dawn till dusk for seven gruelling days – “It was an amazing challenge and it took my mind off everything else that was happening. Being part of it really lifted my spirits at a time when my life as I knew it was falling apart and although I did not realise it at the time, going to India was also opening my eyes to the possibility of more travelling” recalled Ray

Below: Enduro India completed! – “With the help of my team and friends, I managed to raise £13,750 which as far as I know is still the largest amount raised by an individual to this day” said Ray. “I knew that things were going to change dramatically in my life when I got home from India and started to mentally prepare myself for what was about to come” said Ray

After his triumph in India, Ray returned to face the full horror of getting divorced and disentangling himself from the life he had constructed with Charlie. “This was a real low point for me” recalled Ray. “When I began the divorce proceeding after my father passed away, I discovered that it was only going to take 12 weeks for us to become legally divorced, including the approval of our agreements around our financial separation. I could not believe how quickly it was all going to be undone. Charlie knew that I was willing to consult her regularly throughout this period, so that if she wanted to re-consider, she had the option and I was open to talking about it with her. However, the twelve weeks was soon up and on 26th April 2004, I was granted a decree absolute from the Wandsworth courthouse, meaning we were no longer married” recalled Ray. “Like everything else we had done, we even went and collected the certificate together, which was quite surreal. Charlie had also resigned as a director and shareholder of our business at the end of March, which meant I had some serious thinking to do about the future – but the sense of loss was overwhelming and for a while, I didn’t really know which way to turn” he added.

Above (left): Ray and Charlie had been in a relationship for 12 years and were married for seven of those, yet it only took 12 short weeks for their marriage to legally come to an end. “One gets very philosophical at times like these” said Ray. “She is a very special woman who contributed an enormous amount to me during our marriage and this was the truth whether we remained together or not. There was never an option for me to disconnect, blame her or run away in emotional terms because I really wanted us to part in such a way that our friendship and love for each other could still be expressed in the future. I truly believed as we parted that if she could say in five years from now that she was really happy, she would have made the right decision and was as encouraging as I could be” Ray told me. Four years later, it has turned out that way – Charlie and second husband Patrick (right) were married in September 2005 and have two gorgeous children. Ray and Charlie remain close friends

After their divorce, Ray decided to continue living in their marital home in Parsons Green whilst Charlie moved to Switzerland to begin her new life there. “With my dad, my marriage and the company we had built all disappearing, I felt very insecure and bewildered so I needed something in my life to remain constant for a while, hence I decided to continue living in the house” recalled Ray. “The problem with that decision was the cost. It was very expensive to service the mortgage and live in the area and I was now doing it alone, and without the same level of income from our business. With no full time staff remaining, it effectively meant that I was tied into doing the kind of consultancy work which paid well, but that I did not particularly enjoy. As you can imagine, this was an unsustainable situation, but I decided to run with it temporarily, hoping some natural intelligence would come through about what I should do about it” he explained.

By September 2004, nothing much had changed. Ray decided to take a holiday and visit America again. “My friend Nic was now living there with his new found partner Regina and making plans to create a permanent life with her in Sedona. I was stuck in a rut and it was frustrating me. I wanted to tap into some creativity in my own thinking so decided on a change of tack for a while” recalled Ray.

Learning how to play the guitar was something he had always wanted to do and this seemed like the perfect time to start. “There was not much work and I really did not have the energy to find more, so I searched on the Internet to see if I could locate a guitar teacher in Sedona, which luckily I was able to do. Nic and Regina agreed to let me stay with them for a month whilst I was learning which gave me the chance to hang out with them while I was practising. It was perfect!” said Ray.

Above: Ray returned to Sedona in 2004 to have guitar lessons with local teacher Bob Murnahan (right,with Ray) who he found on the Internet. He had a lesson every day in the small studio at Bob’s house (left) and then practised at his friend Nic’s home – “I learnt a few basics from Bob but have not really put in the necessary practice since then so I have not progressed very far. It is still on my list of things to learn” admitted Ray. (Editors Note: By now, a ‘travellers’ pattern was emerging as Ray had spent nearly two months outside the UK in 2004 – three times more than in any previous year)

Returning to London, Ray made a more concerted effort to become focused back on his work. “As you can imagine, my motivation to continue with my business without any of my former colleagues around had dropped to a dangerously low level, yet I did not want to fully acknowledge this to myself and soldiered on” recalled Ray. “I started to network intensively and the next ‘unconnected dot’ in the picture materialised” he told me. I was curious to know what he meant and asked him to explain.

“You know Mozzie, it is another example of tiny ‘chance’ events that conspire to take you in a new direction but you do not realise this until some time afterwards” he said cryptically. “You remember I was telling you earlier about Enduro India and the huge fundraising effort that I was making for it at the beginning of the year? Well, it prompted me to get in touch with virtually everyone I had ever worked with who I thought would support me and ask them for help. One person I tried to contact to ellicit sponsorship from was my former colleague Elisabeth Gluck, who was living in India with her husband James, also an ex-colleague” explained Ray. “I called her on her mobile and when she answered her phone and told me she was in London, I was really taken aback as I had expected her to be thousands of miles away. Unfortunately, the reason she was in London was that her father had recently died and the family were in mourning. I felt a strong sense of empathy for Elisabeth under the circumstances and offerred to attend her mothers home to mourn with the family as a mark of respect” explained our traveller. “That evening at the Gluck’s home, I was introduced to a friend of her’s called Laura Jacobs” added Ray.

Above: Ray was introduced to artist Laura Jacobs (pictured here) by his friend Elisabeth Gluck (now Hutchinson) who happened to be in London to mourn the passing of her father, Sydney. Like Ray, Laura decided at the last minute to attend the Gluck’s home that same evening, meaning that their paths would cross – “Had she decided not to come, we would never have met. It did not seem important at the time, but it really turned out to be significant” said Ray

Why was it so important? Naturally, I wanted Ray to explain. “Well Mozzie, Laura is an artist and a couple of weeks later, she just happened to be exhibiting some of her work up the road from where I was living, at the College of Art in Hortensia Road. She seemed like a very friendly person when we met, so I went to see her work as a gesture of support” he told me. “We stayed in touch, and after I returned from my trip to Sedona, with my finger tips bare from practising guitar, I called her and happened to mention I was looking for work” recalled Ray. “Let me introduce you to my brother Richard” said Laura. “He is in a similar line of work to you and may be a useful contact for you”.

Laura then organised a dinner at her home so Ray and Richard could meet. A few weeks later, in December 2004, Richard invited Ray to a business network meeting with friends and colleagues in Clerkenwell, London. “I was definitely feeling sorry for myself when Richard’s invitation came in, but had this sense that some kind of invisible hand was guiding me and I knew I should go to this meeting ” recalled Ray. “It was at this event that I first met Nikki Ashley, and although I did not realise it at the time, it was going to dramatically change my life” said Ray.

Above: The wonderful Nikki Ashley (right) – “Although it was Richard that introduced me to Nikki, she also knew Laura (left)” Ray explained. “Had I not bumped into Elisabeth Gluck during my fundraising for Enduro India several months earlier, I would never have met any of them. Anyone who has seen the film ‘Sliding Doors’ will recognise how our fate can sometimes rest on the smallest of decisions or the briefest moments of hesitancy” said Ray, “which is one of the things that I find truly amazing and exciting about being a human being” he added

So what happened next? By now, I was eager to find out. “Well Mozzie, the story probably does not go how you might think. Remember, at this point in time, I had only been divorced seven months and was struggling to come to terms with working and keeping my life ‘together’, so I was definitely not feeling at my most attractive. When I was introduced to Nikki, we only spoke for a couple of minutes, and I knew there was something special about her. I really hoped I would see her again at some point – I just didn’t know when or how” said Ray.

After a very depressing Christmas spent mostly alone, our traveller entered 2005 determined to have a better experience than the previous year. “I was so glad when 2004 was over” Ray told me. “It was as if all of the crap that could happen to one person was over in one big, depressing hit – my dad passed away, I got divorced, dismantled a really successful business, struggled all year to get myslef interested in work and on top of that, had very painful throat surgery in the week before Christmas. And I did all of this whilst feeling like crap most of the time” laughed Ray as he told me about it. “On the other hand, I was glad it had all come in one big, relatively short burst, rather than a prolonged period of misery and decline over a number of years. Up until then, nothing really terrible had ever really happened to me, so it was probably the right time for me to experience these things and garner the lessons life was giving me as a result. I felt determined to make 2005 a better, more creative year, even though I really had no idea about what to do going forward” recalled Ray.

But what about Nikki? “I thought you would ask, Mozzie. The next time I saw her was in March 2005, at the same business network meeting as we had met before. In fact, if the truth be told, the only reason I went there that evening was to see her! I was returning to London from Warwick from an intensive, two day training course and was really tired as I hit the outskirts of the city. I was sorely tempted to go straight home, but she had made a great initial impression in my mind and I really wanted to find out more about her, so I carried on and went to the meeting. Luckily for me, she decided to go as well and there were only five or six people in total, which meant the two of us spent most of the evening talking and getting to know each other.

Above: It was not until March 2005 that Ray and Nikki met properly and had the opportunity to really talk – “I discovered that Nikki was an actress – this is one of her ‘professional’ photographs. She was attending these meetings because she was working with training companies that serve the corporate marketplace to perform in ‘role plays’ – a training technique in which professional actors simulate a real scenario as a learning experience for trainees” said Ray. “I liked her a lot. Although I had been on a few dates with people since I got divorced, she was the first woman I had met who I felt strongly attracted to” admitted Ray

Like so many actors in London, Nikki was not regularly working and was having to make do with part time jobs whilst trying to find the type of acting work she really wanted to do.  This scenario had been going on for some time and had made her consider her long term future in the capital. “When I met Nikki that evening in March, she looked really fabulous and I was really pleased to see her. Trying to make a good impression, I asked her if she had just been on holiday” recalled Ray. “Yes I have actually – I spent a few fabulous weeks in Thailand and I loved it there so much, I have decided to go and live there – I just need to get my flat rented out and I am off” was her reply. “Having waited four months for the chance to ask her out, I felt immediately deflated” recalled Ray.

As he was explaining this to me, I realised that Ray took this information at face value and did not really see any potential for a relationship with her, asssuming that she would be gone within weeks. “You have to remember Mozzie that according to the way I was defining myself at this time, I was still a London based businessman looking for ways of keeping my career and lifestyle going. It really never occurred to me  that I could let go of my existing life and try something completely different, like travelling or living in Asia – no, that realisation came later and I will tell you how it happened” said Ray.

Thinking that Nikki was only going to be around a few weeks, Ray set his expectations pretty low. “As far as I was concerned, if we managed to spend a few nice evenings together before she left the country, it would be great. I never expected more than that to happen and I certainly did not think we would ever see each other again after she had left. Meanwhile, a very dear friend of mine called Elizabeth Taylor had developed breast cancer and I was very concerned about her” recalled Ray. “She lives with husband Matthew and son Pete in Sydney, Australia and I wanted to offer my support. As I believed that Nikki was soon to be leaving for Thailand, I arranged to spend a month in Australia from the middle of April so that I could spend time with Elizabeth and her family and visit one or two other friends in the region. My work had started to pick up a little by then, so I could not be away for too long, or so I thought” added Ray, with the slightest hint of intrigue.

Above: Elizabeth Taylor, photographed in 2000 after the birth of her son Pete, who is now eight – “Elizabeth and her husband Matt are two of my dearest friends. We used to share a house together in England before they emigrated to Australia” Ray told me. “Like anyone who knows her, I was deeply concerned for her and the family and very happy to visit at this particular time. It certainly made my own issues seem trivial by comparison” reflected our traveller

Ray spent the first couple of weeks in Australia with the Taylor family, going to the hospital with Elizabeth who was undergoing Chemotherapy treatment. “I am delighted to let readers know that she eventually made a full recovery and has now been clear for quite a while” he said smiling. “She was very brave and matter of fact about her illness and I was particularly impressed with the way she talked to her young son about it, helping him to understand it in a simple way without it frightening him – I learnt a lot from witnessing that interaction” he added.

Some years ago in England, Ray had been introduced to an Australian woman called Julie Parker by a couple of friends. “We had re-established contact towards the end of 2004 and often spoke on the phone” said Ray. “She had been helping me deal with the aftermath of my divorce and was helping me with a book I was thinking of writing, or more specifically the proposal for the book which you are required to submit to agents and publishers to assess their interest. I would send her a copy of what I had written and she would give me feedback to help me improve it – and at the same time, I would talk to her about what I was experiencing following the divorce and the demise of my business. Her support was extremely encouraging and the conversations we had always helped me” explained Ray. “Julie lived in Cairns, in northern Queensland, so I arranged to go and visit her for a few days after leaving Sydney” added Ray.

Above: Ray arranged to visit Julie Parker, from Cairns after his visit to Sydney – “Meeting her turned out to be a major turning point in my life. In fact, our numerous conversations released me from a perception of the world that had kept me stuck in looking at things in an unhelpful way. She even suggested I consider becoming a traveller for a while, which at the time, made me laugh. “Me? Travel? You have got to be joking – I am not going to waste my life, bumming around the world. I’m a professional businessman and have more important things to do” is how he responded to her idea. “Now I realise that I have much to thank her for” said Ray

What follows from this point can only be described as a one in a million chance – the stuff of legend and something that could easily be the subject of a fantasy novel, except it really happened to our nomadic traveller! “One of the great things about meeting Julie was that she was really living her life in what I would describe as an ‘unconventional’ way” said Ray “which enabled me to see that I also had other options to the one or two I was perceiving. She was probably the first person I had met whose decisions seemed strongly governed by her energy and intuition, as opposed to her rationale and logic, and her life was really working well as a result” he told me. “At the age of 40, she had let go of her successful career in the corporate world to pursue her interest in and thirst for self-knowledge, travelling solo around Asia for nearly four years before returning to Australia. She had even created the chance to have a one to one meeting with the Dalai Lama himself while she was in India – I was really intrigued by her travel stories and our conversations helped me remember things about myself that I had long since forgotten” said Ray.

I asked Ray if he could give me some examples to explain what he meant. “Of course Mozzie. One that springs to mind is how I had forgotten about my simple, unsophisticated view of life when I was a child and some of the dreams I had growing up. When I was about five or six years old, I used to love pretending to be a travel agent! My parents would give me their out of date holiday brochures and I collected used tickets from trains, buses and aeroplanes so that when visitors came to our house, I could set up my ‘agency’ on the coffee table and try and get them to book a holiday! Another memory that came back was related to my father. He always had a wanderlust and loved to travel and I think this somehow rubbed off on me”.

Above: Even at a young age, Ray (left, aged 5) was obsessed with the idea of travelling, expressed though his desire to play at running his own travel agency at home for guests. His father Joel (right, aged 17) had also been a keen traveller at heart, although he was not always able to fulfill some of his dreams due to family responsibilities and other commitments – “I think my mum and dad certainly made up for lost time after my brother and I left home and travelled extensively in their later years” said Ray

Ray gave me a further example that felt very relevant to his story. “When I was at school, I remember seeing how hard my parents worked to raise our family, run our home and make ends meet.  The same was true for the families most of my friends came from. It struck me that the model society was conforming to at that time was that men worked until they were 65, which as far as I could see was most of their lives. They then had a few short years in which to do everything else they had ever dreamed of, if they were in good health and if they could afford it – these were two really big ‘if’s’ and in my observation, many people never really got to live out their dreams so died unfulfllled”.

I asked Ray what he thought and felt about this. “As a naive schoolboy, it just seemed ridiculous to me that anyone would want to work for most of their lives. I used to ask myself “Why don’t people create all the money they need for their whole life from working twice as hard in the first half of their life, leaving them to retire at 40 with the money and the health to do all the things they want to do before they die?  That’s what I am going to do – I’ll work until I am about 40, become a millionaire and then stop working so I can enjoy life!” said Ray, as he recalled making his bold declaration.

Although I had forgotten having made that promise to myself for many, many years, it must have been influencing me at a deep, sub-conscious level as I grew up. Whilst I was in Australia, reflecting on recent events through my conversations with Julie, it suddenly dawned on me that here I was, aged 45 with a clear opportunity to live in a different way, without work at the centre of my life and with no dependencies and few commitments. OK, I had not become a millionaire, but when I worked it out, if I sold my house in London (which was far too big for my real needs) and moved to a smaller place, I would potentially be free of having to take out a mortgage and that would give me quite a few more options for the way I was living than my current situation was allowing me” recalled Ray. “Suddenly, these new possibilities seemed very exciting and my energy levels were rising fast!”


Above: Ray as a schoolboy – “Being in Australia and the many conversations with Julie Parker helped me remember some of the dreams I had and some of the promises I made to myself in my early teens, which I had long since forgotten” said Ray

As I was listening to this part of the story, Ray was getting very animated. I wanted to know what ‘unexpected’ event was about to take place. “I’ll tell you Mozzie. In Cairns, I was beginning to see the possibility of a different kind of life, at least I was getting small glimpses for a while. But I still lacked the courage to make the major changes required without some evidence or certainty that things would work out OK for me if I did. I realised that such certainty would probably come afterwards but that felt too risky. It was a conundrum – a classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Looking back, I guess I was hoping for some sort of catalytic event – something out of the blue that would really shake up my reality and enable me to take those big decisions. And it was about to come in the most unlikely of forms” said Ray as he remembered the events of the time.

“Two or three nights before I was due to return to England, Julie and I were looking for something to do for her mum’s birthday. The local theatre group were performing a play which sounded like the kind of thing she would enjoy, so I bought three tickets to see the show. During the interval, I was reading the programme and I noticed a small box in the top corner of one page which seemed to be magnetically drawing my attention. I went back and looked at it several times – it was headed “Forthcoming Auditions for ‘Out of Order’ and saw that it was a British play about a Member of Parliament who has a secret affair with a typist from the opposition, discovers a dead body and calls in his bumbling Private Secretary to clean up the mess! A kind of ‘Carry On…’ style farce” explained Ray.

Above: A typical scene from ‘Out of Order’ – MP Richard Willey (Terry Grant) meets typist Miss Worthington (Jacki Porter) for a secret rendezvous at the Westminster Hotel before mayhem ensues and he has to call in his Private Secretary, George Pigden, to rescue him – very British indeed!

Why was this relevant? “Well Mozzie, as I was reading about the audition, something compelled me to turn to my two Australian friends and flippantly say “They should ask me to be in this play. I have the perfect English accent and I am sure these Aussie actors will not sound as authentic when playing a British Member of Parliament”. I can assure you Mozzie that I was saying this completely tongue-in-cheek, for a laugh, to pass the time in the interval. It was not meant at all as a serious suggestion. Most people knew that I had no acting experience whatsoever, had never been trained or attended drama school, in fact I had never been in anything since a nativity play in school, so I was not expecting the response which came back. “Why don’t you go to the audition?” said Julie.

Ray paused for a moment to consider the idea. “That is absolutely ridiculous” was his reply, “and I will tell you why. First of all, I am not an actor and there will be many ‘real’ actors wanting to be in the play. Second, I live nearly 10,000 miles away so could not possibly turn up for the rehearsal schedule over the next two and a half months and third, I have to be back in London in three days to work with clients. There is no way this is going to happen” he stated emphatically. “Fair enough” said Julie, who was quite peristent. “Why don’t you go to the audition anyway, just for the experience – don’t try and get a part in the play – just go and enjoy yourself. You will be here while they are happening and you only live once! – right?” Ray thought this was a reasonable assertion and decided to go to the audition. “Why not? I thought to myself – Julie is right – I am sure I will enjoy it”.

Above: Auditions for ‘Out of Order were held over two days, The Director, Wayne Rees (red shirt, centre) is very well known in Cairns and a personal friend of Julie’s family, although this did not give Ray any unfair advantage – “We were all asked to read different parts of the script and ‘try on’ different characters” Ray told me. “Although I had never done anything like this before, I am a big fan of film and television and have spoken publicly at many business conferences, so I was feeling quite comfortable about it. Besides, knowing I was never going to be selected meant there was no pressure on me! So I threw myself in at the deep end and gave it my best shot” said our global explorer

At the end of the session, the Director Wayne Rees thanked everyone and asked Ray to stay behind. “My immediate thought was “Oh gosh – I am in trouble, or something like that” recalled Ray. I remembered that I had given Julie’s home address as my own. On may way to the audition, I reckoned that if they knew I lived in London, I would never get selected, even if I was good enough. And as I believed I would never be chosen, I thought I might as well lie about living there, if you see what I mean!” he explained. It actually turned out to be something quite different. “I want to ask you some questions” said Wayne Rees. “What is your situation? If we were to ask you to be in the play, would you be able to meet the rehearsal schedule?” These questions were giving Ray a sense that he had done well at the audition and there was a chance he might be asked to participate. “Even though Wayne had asked me to stay and was asking me these probing questions, I was still convinced that I was never going to be offerred a part, so I just kept up the pretence that I was living in Cairns for the forseeable future” said Ray. “I left the theatre after that conversation with a growing sense that an invitation was probably going to come, although Wayne Rees made it clear that he was not going to be making any decisions about who they wanted until after I was back in England”.

In case of the unlikely event that he would be selected, Ray carefully briefed Julie on how to respond to Wayne’s ‘never going to happen’ telephone call. “Just say to him that I am living here and have had to dash back to the UK for two days to deal with a family crisis, and I am coming straight back – oh, and ask him which part they have got in mind for me” was how Ray left things with her. He explained to me that although he would be flattered to be offerred any role, there was no way he would return to Australia for three months for a ‘one line a night’ part. “It probably sounds a bit arrogant for me to say something like that, given my lack of experience, but the cost of going back was going to be considerable, so I decided that I needed to land one of the two leading character roles or I would have to say no. And these were complex characters, so there was no way I thought this would happen” recalled Ray.

Above: Ray returned home to London after the audition in May 2005 and eagerly awaited news from Cairns – “It did not take very long. Within a few hours, Julie called me and told me that Wayne wanted me to play George Pigden, the central character of the whole story! I simply could not believe it! This character had over 400 lines of dialogue in the script, was like a cross between Kenneth Williams and Frank Spencer and was on stage for over an hour in each performance, plus he had to kiss two women on stage every night! It was all a bit unreal but also one of the most unexpected, exciting opportunities that had ever landed in my lap” said Ray. “He thought you were great and he really wants you to come back and do this” said Julie

On hearing the wonderful news that he was being offered the lead role in ‘Out of Order’, Ray was anxious to call Wayne Rees and talk to him about it. “First, I thought I would talk to my sister-in-law Kitty to get her advice and run it past Nikki Ashley, who (to my pleasant surprise) was still in the UK. As they are both experienced actors, I wanted to ask if this was something I could take on and do well, even though I totally lacked the professional training that they had both received” said Ray. “Kitty and Nikki were both very encouraging. Nikki even offerred to show me some techniques that would help me learn my lines. As I wanted to see her once more before she left to start her new life in Thailand, I gratefully accepted her invitation and arranged to go and have supper with her the following evening. I then called Wayne Rees to double checked that the message he left with Julie was true” said Ray rather cynically.

“Have you gone stark raving mad? was my question to him”. “What do you mean?” asked Wayne as he tried to make sense of my very abrupt line of enquiry. “I mean, you will have hundreds of paying customers coming to see the show every night and they will be expecting a really professional performance – I am a high risk choice for you. Totally unproven, I could be completely rubbish!” he told Wayne. “You let me be the judge of that” said Wayne. “We thought you were great at the audition and with our support, we think you can do a marvellous job as George, so come on over – the part is yours” he said, very encouragingly.

Ray accepted and thus took a major leap into the unknown. I needed to check with my clients to be sure I could postpone the work I had agreed to do with them during the next three months, but I hoped they would be supportive if I told them the truth about what was happening, and they all were” added Ray. “After calling each one of them, I immediately purchased a return ticket to go back to Australia a couple of days later to begin rehearsals. Which left me just enough time for one more evening with Nikki”.

Above: The opportunity of a lifetime and the catalyst that was about to change Ray’s life forever – landing the role of George Pigden in the Cairn’s Rondo Theatre Production of Ray Cooney’s ‘Out of Order’. This is one of the official promotional photographs taken for the press

It was very fortunate for Ray that Nikki’s departure to Thailand had been delayed by problems she was having in getting her apartment rented out. “I had really expected her to have left because she had been so enthusiastic about going back there. Perhaps this was another example of fate lending a hand?” thought Ray. “Whatever it was, I was really pleased to see her again and ask for her help with the play. But I also had another reason I wanted to see her which was much more personal” Ray disclosed. “When we sat down, I asked Nikki if I could tell her about something that had been on my mind while I had been away, and she gave me the thumbs up” he recalled. “Well Nikki, for most of the month I was in Australia, you were in my thoughts. I know you are going off to Thailand and I am about to leave for Australia for three months, but it does not stop me thinking about the possibility of us two having a proper relationship of some kind” was roughly what Ray said to her.

Ray continued telling me about his conversation with Nikki. “I don’t know how this can work Nikki, with you in one country and me in another, but in my heart, I feel like you are someone I would like to have a relationship with and wondered if you if you would like that too?” He then waited silently for a response. After a few seconds, which felt like an hour, she replied. “Ray – I appreciate your candour and it’s very sweet of you to ask, but I am not really interested in starting anything new right now. I want to go to Thailand with no complications and start creating my life there, so thanks but no thanks” was what she came back with. “I must admit Mozzie, I was quite disappointed to hear this but told her that I completely understood where she was coming from and respected her choice. I wished her well in her new life and I left to go home and start packing. I honestly thought that would be the last time we would see each other” said Ray.

Above: Back in Cairns, Julie Parker had agreed to do a house sit for one of her friends in an amazing property looking out to the ocean over hills and pastures in a quiet part of town just outside the main city – “She invited me to stay there with her, which was just perfect as it meant I could rehearse my lines in total comfort” recalled Ray

Below: Meanwhile, promotion of the play was well underway, with regular articles like the one below appearing in the local press

Above: (left) George Pigden (Ray) pushes ‘The Body’ in a wheelchair while a very angry Ronnie (Stuart Mann) looks on. (right) Ray practises his on stage kissing technique with Pamela Willey (Susan Elliot) – ” She played the part of the Minister’s wife and my job was to distract her from finding out that her husband was having an affair with a typist, when she drops in for a surprise visit to the hotel. It was great fun and surprisingly difficult to choreograph all of the moves that led up to our passionate snog!” said Ray

Below: George Pigden discovers where the sly Richard Willey has hidden the dead body found slumped over the window sill in his suite at The Westminster Hotel – “It was a big moment in the play and had to be done as if it were the first time I had ever seen a dead body, every time” said Ray. By the way, the ‘dead body’ turned out to be a private detective who had been knocked unconscious!

Naturally, I was keen to find out from Ray if it all worked out OK. “Oh yes Mozzie, it was brilliant. We were sold out for most of the shows and my friends Matthew and Elizabeth Taylor flew up from Sydney to see me perform, which really meant a lot to me. As the main character in the story, I had the honour of coming on stage last for the curtain call at the end of every performance to a very appreciative, applauding crowd. I can really see why some people love performing – it is a bit addictive” Ray told me. “But one of the best things for me was seeing the reviews in the newspapers. If I saw anything that sounded positive about my work (like the article below), it made me feel great for days” he added.

So what had Ray learned from the whole experience and was acting something he wanted to do again? “As far as acting is concerned, one can never say ‘Never again’ and be absolutely sure they mean it, but I do feel that this was a one-off for me. The biggest thing I took from that experience was the knowledge that I truly can do anything I choose, that I don’t need to mentally confine myself to only those things that are known, where there are little or no risks, where there is certainty (but also mediocrity) in terms of the experience. It made me realise how wonderful it feels to live much more spontaneously, pursuing opportunities that are exciting and challenging now. I became more aware of the fears and concerns I have that cause me to worry about my future security, but discovered that I do not need to let myself be dictated to by them. The idea of being controlled by those kinds of negative thoughts and the restrictive decisions they would most likely result in felt much more unpalatable to me after that experience” he said thoughtfully.

And how did this experience influence his decision to become a nomad? “When I was working in the theatre, it had felt like I was living someone else’s life and it was (by contrast) so creative, energising and exciting, in fact very different to the reality of my own life at the time. So I started thinking – what other ways of living could I try out? How might they compare with the way that I have known for the last 25 years? Would I be happier if I was doing something riskier and less certain? I even allowed myself to consider the idea of giving up my business life altogether!” recalled Ray. “I knew I was capable in the business arena and that if I were to leave that world for a taste of something different, I could always return to it should I choose to. “As I returned to London, I was clear that it was time to make some big decisions. So I instructed an Estate Agent to sell my house, thus creating the freedom that would enable me to experiment. Owning that house was probably the greatest drag on my energy at that moment in time and the one thing that kept me having to remain in a life that was no longer acceptable” explained our traveller. “The idea of travelling was taking on greater and greater appeal and I loved the stories that Julie had told me of her own experiences as a nomad”.

Above: Following the success of ‘Out of Order’ in Cairns, Ray returned to London in July 2005 to attend the wedding of close friends, Scanes and Sarah Bentley, who have both featured regularly in The Daily Explorer and are avid readers – “Having introduced them a few years ago, I was thrilled that things worked out and they decided to get hitched. They now have a beautiful daughter called Hannah” added Ray

Below: All change – Ray’s house in Eddiscombe Road, Parsons Green, went on the market in July 2005 and was sold about three months later – “At the time, my plan was to downsize to a much smaller property that I could purchase without having to take out a mortgage. But there was one further twist in my story that I had not seen coming and like most plans, things did not pan out like I thought they would” said Ray

So what was this ‘twist’ that Ray was referring to? “Basically, it was Nikki” was his reply. “A couple of days before I left Australia to return home after the play was over, she sent me an email saying she was still in London, but was having a ‘Farewell, I am off to Thailand’ party. Well, this came as quite a surprise to me as I believed she would have been long gone by now. I called her to say thanks for inviting me, but that I did not particularly relish the opportunity of watching someone I was keen on leave for another life, especially as she had explicitly said she did not see us having a future together when we met for the last time three months earlier. But I thought it would be polite to say goodbye, so I agreed to attend for about an hour so I could (once more) wish her a happy life in Thailand” recalled Ray.

“As the time approached for me to leave the party, I found Nikki and said goodbye, wishing her a safe trip and great happiness. “You cannot leave!” she said, which came as quite a shock to me. I am confused by this – why can’t I leave now?” demanded Ray. She hesitated for a moment and then said “Well, er…. because, I haven’t seen your footage of the play and I would really like to watch it before I go to Thailand. I want to see how you got on” she told him. “This seemed reasonable to me” said Ray, “although I suspected there was more going on below the surface than Nikki was admitting. Anyway, I agreed to go round to her house the following Monday and show her the play” said our intrepid explorer.

Above: Nikki wanted to see highlights of Ray in action in ‘Out of Order’ before leaving for Thailand – “There was something going on and I wanted to get to the bottom of it” said our leading man

Ray told me what happened that evening. “I arrived and we had a bite to eat, then we watched the play and when it was over, I started packing my things away to leave. “Where are you going?” she asked me, in a tone that made me feel confused and uncomfortable. I thought I should leave. “You asked me to show you the play and now you have seen it and I have to go. So have a great life in Thailand” I said, as I made for the door. Nikki stood in front of me. “But wait, er….. you can’t go, er….. I think I have changed my mind… I think I would like to have a relationship with you!” I was stunned to say the least, because based on our previous conversation, I had mentally constructed a life without her in it. She then continued on. “The thing is…. ” said Nikki, “although I have a strong gut feeling that it would really work out between us, on another level, I feel like I hardly know you which worries me …..”

“I thought her honesty was great” said Ray. “In my mind, there was only one way to find out if it was ever going to work out for us and made a suggestion to Nikki. I told her that I was putting my house on the market and that I expected it to take 2-3 months before it was sold. I boldly invited her to move into the house with me for that period (the same thing happened with my friend Nic and Regina a few months earlier and it had really worked out for them). By doing this, I felt we would discover if we were meant to be together or not and to my delight, she accepted” said Ray.

Above: Nikki moved in with Ray in August 2005 and stayed until the end of September – “It was during this time that the idea of us two travelling together in Asia started to emerge. We obviously got on very well and we both thought that if things did not work out, we could easily continue travelling solo so there seemed very little to lose. Nikki had a lot of experience backpacking and hiking which was very re-assuring to me as I had none! By the end of September, Nikki was ready to go to Thailand, so she took off, while I completed the sale of the house. It took 42 days from the time she left until I flew out there to join her!” said Ray. “Although I never planned it like this, I have been nomadic ever since – an unbelievable 1,000 days so far!” added our experienced traveller

Below: October 2007; Ray walks barefeet across the soft, warm red sand in Mui Ne, Vietnam just after sunrise – “My tee shirt says ‘Live your Life’ which is exactly what I want to do. Exploring and discovering a path that is really fulfilling and expanding my consciousness are vitally important to me. I really don’t want to experience my life as mediocre and end up doing things or settling for something because I think I ‘should’. When I first began this journey, I thought it might last six months, and it has turned into two and half years so far! It has been thrilling so far and I feel it is far from over. There is still so much of the world to see and experience” said our global explorer. Editors Note (updated 2010): Ray and Nikki stopped travelling together in March 2007, after a year and a half on the road. Re-united a year later in June 2008, they spent a further 18 months together until Ray completed the New York Marathon (in November 2009), after which they separated permanently….

Editors Note: If there is anything you would like to know more about, if you have a question for Ray or you would like to share your thoughts or give us your feedback, we would really welcome your message, at the In Man of a Thousand Days (Part One) which was published a few days ago, Ray trawled through all 60 previous issues of The Daily Explorer and our sister publication, The Daily Lama, selecting some of his favourite moments from the last two and half years for a photographic special feature. If you have not seen it already, it is well worth a look!




  1. Hi Ray. I can see why I fancied you back then (re. pic 1986). Oops – that was a bit of a back-handed compliment… Not to say I don’t now of course… Oh stop digging Polly! Wonderful to read the full history in one go and in particular you highlighting how coincidences and serendipity can change the course of our lives so much, so quickly. A wonderful story – I look forward to the book!

    Comment by Polly — August 8, 2008 @ 10:32 am

  2. Well, I didn’t know any of this had happened, so it was a real story even though I knew you, Ray, already. What a great story! And not a ‘I found myself on the road to Katmandu/in a monastery/etc’ type of thing, but by dealing with whatever happened, and going with your intuition, even when it didn’t seem to be at all related to a future you could have, you a) had a great time (I loved the photos of the play!) and b) started a great journey with someone you love. It was an inspiring read – thanks for letting us into the story of your life.

    Jane H X

    Comment by Jane Harries — August 9, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  3. Hi Ray
    Congratulations on your 1000 days. I was pleasantly surprised to see my mush featured so largely in this grand issue, I think I was eating at the Red Planet Diner at the time of the photo. It’s been good to watch your travels around our globe, especially after your unsurity for your future when we met in Sedona. Watching you trust your own flow in life is a wonderful thing that ought to be a big inspiration to others. I’ve really enjoyed your info on ex programmes folk which has stirred me to think a lot about that time period in my own life. If it’s OK with you Ray, I’m including my web site for my art for anyone who wishes to see it (it will be considerably updated within approx 1 month).
    Take care and travel well my friend, and lots of love to all who remember me (20 years flew by,and I’m a much happier and more together person than back then)

    Comment by PaulLawrence Curtis — August 13, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

  4. Hi Ray,

    I am not sure if you remember me, however we crossed paths about 2 years ago while travelling in Thailand. For me it was a pleasure to have met you and Nikki, and as I said the first time we met, you are truly amazing people. Mate – I am currently in Sydney at the moment, and would love to get in touch while you are here. The story I just read about you is truly a dream that has become reality.

    Hopefully speak to you soon.
    Take care, and can’t wait for the book.

    Comment by Christian — August 15, 2008 @ 7:46 am

  5. Loved reading this one Ray. A truly inspiring story, and well written to boot! I always admire people making huge life changes and setting off into the unknown.

    Comment by Karla — August 26, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  6. Having read Part One, I just want to thank you Ray for sharing so many of the milestones which have brought you to this place in your life. Wonderful and heartwarming.

    Comment by Shirley Gould — August 27, 2008 @ 5:32 am

  7. Dear Ray, having met you today here in Brisbane I look forward to developing a long and fun friendship with you wherever you are on the planet. Your insights and views are valuable to all of us who are fortunate to call you a friend.

    Comment by Niels K — September 1, 2008 @ 8:36 am

  8. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey! Am excited for you and inspired by you! Best to Nikki and hope you both keep on going…..

    Comment by Angela — September 10, 2008 @ 1:11 am

  9. Hi Ray, I had lunch with Paul Richards yesterday and he told me about your story and sent me the link. What a wonderful and honest telling of events. Paul and I had been ‘catching up’ after not seeing each other for about 20 years and reading your story made me think about how all of us have these amazing lives, stories to tell but we often don’t take the time to write it all down, or recount it. And co-incidences: I saw Paul going down a staircase at a Venice evening and called out his name. I was late at the event because I’d had my handbag nicked outside Sainsbury’s that evening and had had to mop myself up!, and cancel all my cards. If I had been earlier I would have missed him. The synchronicities in life are quite mind boggling when you sit down and look at them.
    Love to you and looking forward to the next installments.
    Helena Dennison

    Comment by Helena Dennison — September 11, 2008 @ 11:17 am

  10. What a great story and truly an inspiration. Hope the training for the marathon is going well and look forward to reading further news of your travels.

    Comment by Geoff Newman — August 17, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

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