1999 was probably the worst year of my professional life. Unsatisfying office jobs followed by long periods of unemployment and claiming benefits. I’d also missed out on an opportunity to train as a Microsoft certified programmer because I was unable to find a placement. The dream of making my way into the world of employment had turned into an absolute nightmare, at times I felt like a total failure.
Towards the end of 1999 an opportunity arose for me to work in a casino. I’d always loved card games after seeing the glitz and glamour of casinos in James Bond movies. Dissatisfied with life in Northern Ireland, at the age of just 20, I packed a couple of suitcases and ended up going to the Isle of Man to train as a croupier (casino dealer) in January 2000. 18 months later I was working on my first cruise ship, and 18 months after that I was boarding the QE2 (the most famous ship of them all) to do a world cruise.
For a young man from a housing estate in Antrim, Northern Ireland this was beyond even my wildest dreams. On a ferry from Belfast to Liverpool in 1997, I’d once seen a pontoon table and croupier and dreamt what it may be to work as a casino dealer on the high seas.
Everything aboard the QE2 was as you would expect, starting with Captain Ron Warwick, who looked exactly what the captain of the QE2 should look like (Google the name if you don’t believe me). Passenger facing crew were immaculate in their appearance. I could probably have shaved with the crease on my pressed tuxedo shirts, and on a number of occassions when I had been sunburnt in port, I could feel the creases cutting into my tender skin as I dealt the cards that evening in the casino.
The great thing for croupiers on cruise ships is that they only work when the ship is in international waters, in port, the casino must close, and casino staff are free to do pretty much whatever they want. Casino staff have a cabin steward who cleans their cabin and takes away their dirty laundry and brings it back fresh each day. We did a 103 day world cruise which included stops in places like Hong Kong, Sydney, Cape Town, Hawaii, Mauritius, Nagasaki, Tahiti and Singapore to name a few. I managed to do some amazing excursions like diving in the great barrier reef, quad biking in the Namibian desert, and dining in all sorts of fine restaurants, trying delicacies like Springbok, Kangaroo, Crocodile and Kobe beef. We made stops in 5 continents, crossed the equator and even experienced living a Tuesday in consequetive days when we crossed the world timeline. Imagine that, you go to bed on Tuesday night, wake up the following morning and its Tuesday again, but this was far from groundhog day.
The role in the casino was not about taking passengers’ money like in a land-based casino, it was about providing them with fun and entertainment. The passengers were friendly and pleasant, many of them being extremely successful people (I understand the lowest cabin cost for a world cruise on the QE2 was about $50,000 in 2003). A lot of the passengers had never played in a casino and were fascinated to learn and experience the one onboard. Just getting to know some of these people was an experience in itself, and a large part of the role in the casino was simply to entertain them whilst they were in the casino.
There were also celebrity passengers. We would finish work and go to the crew/members bar where we would have guest entertainers like the late Des O’Connor and the magician, the late Paul Daniels down to have a drink. God bless them both.
Was my job the best job in the world? Maybe not for everyone, but it was beyond even my wildest dreams and the 6 month experience, as well as the amazing people I met will be something I treasure forever. I was very lucky to have lived this experience and will always be incredibly grateful for it.
Many years have passed since then and I’ve always missed the buzz of casinos which is how Fun 21 Casino Hire was created in 2021. My celebrities now are anyone who hires the No Money Fun Casino that I provide for parties and celebrations, and I aim to give the same experience that you would expect onboard the QE2.