Harrow to Perth via Alaska

Nathaniel Crewe, 39, is a paramedic in Perth, where he has lived for five years. He is separated from his wife and lives with a friend in a neighbourhood called Wembley. His sister, Candida, tells the story behind his expat status.

I remember receiving a call one weekday afternoon from my brother Nat’s housemaster at Harrow asking that I might collect him from school. My father and stepmother were abroad and Nat had not been expelled – but had simply decided he was going to leave, and he was apparently beginning to inspire other boys to do likewise. He was 16, I was 21. I replied that I couldn’t possibly collect him, as I was giving a party in the Groucho Club that evening; couldn’t he meet me in Soho?

“Are you sure that is entirely appropriate?” came back the horrified response.

I told the housemaster there was nothing else for it. Nat pitched up at the party and proceeded to charm everyone in the room. Lynne Franks offered him a job on the spot but he decided to go for one as the postboy at TV-am instead. As the fellow who delivered letters to every office in the building, he found himself becoming chummy with the MD and being promoted within weeks to graphics. It wasn’t long before he was lured by the money to Sky.

“Sky was a horrible place to work,” Nat says. “I was there for a year or so but quickly wanted a change of scene. I was drinking too much and taking too many drugs, so decided to give it all up and go on a trip round France with Dad (a travel writer), who was researching a book about food. I was 19, and have lived abroad pretty well ever since.”

After France, he went to India to manage a safari and to Argentina to become a gaucho and learn Spanish. Later, in Buenos Aries, he went back into television. After “throwing around a few ideas” at one station, he suddenly found himself presenting, in Spanish, a cookery show as Nat King Cook, a zany celebrity chef who was soon being asked for his autograph in the street.

“I stayed there for four-and-a-half years but returned to England to look after Dad till he died. After he died, (in 1998, from muscular dystrophy) I did a lone motorcycle trip from Alaska to Argentina for seven months to raise £25,000 for the charity dedicated to the disease.” He then spent two years in the US as a cowboy and studying outdoor recreation management before becoming a kite-surfing instructor. He met Shelly, an Australian waitress, in a café in the Portobello Road, and moved with her to Perth – “a great kite-surfing spot” – in 2005. He had never been to Australia before. They parachuted out of a plane together and were married when they hit the ground.

“I loved the beaches and weather from the outset,” says Nat, “but found Perth to be pretty isolated. The isolation itself doesn’t bother me – we’re only a four-hour flight from Melbourne – but it does mean the attitude is very conservative and the thinking very provincial. That took me a while to overcome and I didn’t think I was going to.

“In the UK there is great diversity within my group of friends and I get a lot from them. They are intelligent and like theatre and so forth and all get along. Here, there is the theatre set, the dance friends, the kite-surfing buddies and the motorcycle buddies, but they don’t mix. I have lots of different groups of friends here who don’t necessarily always overlap.

“When my marriage didn’t work out – though Shelly and I are still great friends – what kept me here? I’ve learned to adapt. That is part of the trick of being a successful expat. I don’t miss English things or hanging out with English people. Most of my friends here are Australian, as in Argentina they were Argentinian. I spoke the language; I immersed myself. I could have gone to Melbourne or Sydney, which are both fantastic, but I might as well have been in London. They are crowded and I didn’t want to be in a big city. I prefer the slower pace. There are 2m people here but it has the pace of a town. On the surface it is more middle-class and 4x4s, but there’s a whole movement of stuff going on beneath. Once I discovered that, it opened up Perth a bit more.”

Wembley, where he lives, is, he says, pretty central. It is on the coast, so has many waterfront properties. “There is a bit of money; a mix of people. The feel is quite suburban but it is on the edge of the metropolitan area, with the cool shops and cafés, and a two-minute drive from the beach.”

On his days off Nat is in a good position to go kite-surfing and walking the dog in the forests and canyons and deserts surrounding the city. He leads a healthy life – lots of exercise and good food, and no drink, drugs or cigarettes. “That’s partly why I left, wanting to break that cycle.” He enjoys four days off work after four days on – two 10-hour days and then two “brutal” 14-hour nights. The work is much the same as that for paramedics the world over – heart attacks, car crashes, asthma attacks. It’s always busy. The population, at 2m, isn’t huge, but neither is the ambulance service.

“There are three very good hospitals in the city. The part state-funded, part private health service is strained but, having travelled the world, it is one of the best I have come across – the waiting times, procedures, expertise. People here complain, but they haven’t seen the NHS!”

Nat earns the equivalent of £60,000-£70,000 a year but next year plans to become an industrial paramedic, which means he will fly offshore and to mines for two weeks on, two weeks off, and hopes to earn A$170,000 (about £106,000).

“I still have no particular hankering for home, which I visit roughly once every couple of years, especially now I am so settled here,” he says. “I rent a two-storey, three-bedroom house with a garden, close to the city and the beach. Try to have a comparable lifestyle in the UK? Forget it! It’s a lovely base – very happy, relaxed and the money’s pretty good.

“I do have a vague plan, though, one day in my twilight years, when I’ve made some money in the mines, to end up in Spain. It’d be close enough to visit home for the weekend but there’d still be the warmth, the beach and a bit more passion!”

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