If you want a holiday that makes a splash, then talk to Jonathan Beckett. The chief executive of superyacht broker Burgess is in one of the meeting rooms of the company's London office recalling the biggest charter he's been involved in. "It was two weeks, on a 330ft yacht with 42 crew," he says. "For two guests." The cost? A mere snip at €4.5m (NZ$8.7m) – that's some fortnight in the sun.
The tale – told with a 5ft-long model of a US$200m (NZ$299m) yacht beside him – gives you an idea of the world in which Beckett operates. "It's a rarefied world I work in, but I don't play in it," he's quick to add.
It's a world away from his upbringing in Great Yarmouth, where his father rented out caravans. Beckett expected a career "building wooden boats for the Norfolk Broads" but between school and university, he crewed on a 55ft sailboat in the Caribbean. "It was the biggest yacht I'd ever seen," he says. "I loved it."
After graduating, 23-year-old Beckett bought a yachting magazine and wrote to everyone advertising in it. More than 100 letters generated five replies, and two offers of interview. Both were with yacht brokers: Halsey Martin and Nigel Burgess, the then-fledging business that Beckett now runs.
Nigel couldn't afford to take him on, but invited Beckett to stay in touch, so he took a commission-only job with Halsey in Greece. In 10 months he sold nothing. He was saved from his hand-to-mouth existence in Greece – "I was living on rice" – by a lunch invite from Nigel. In the intervening period, his business had improved.
Two lunches and six days later, Beckett was a salaried employee in the Burgess office in Monaco, the epicentre of the yachting world.
"I owe my job to a boat called Starry Sky," Beckett says. "Nigel sold it for US$2.5m. The commission meant he could employ me."
"It was a cultural change," Beckett says. "I went from working alone to having a great mentor. He was meticulous. You could only use a black or red pen, only write on one side of paper. It was great way of learning, as there was method in the madness."
The business he'd joined was no giant – it had three staff. But it had a good reputation, and with Beckett dogsbodying, was selling two or three yachts a year. During Beckett's first year there the company sold Bee Gees impresario Robert Stigwood's 219ft yacht Sarina for $6m, a sale he describes as "off the charts at the time".
It took two and half years for Beckett to sell his first yacht, a 76ft vessel for £42,000, earning a £2,500 commission. He returned to London in 1983, working out of the company's office in Empire House, Piccadilly, little more than broom cupboard despite the impressive address.
"We had a desk, a filing cabinet and two folding chairs for clients," says Beckett. But it didn't stop him landing sales and charters of increasingly large vessels. The deal which put Beckett on map was the 1987 sale of arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi's yacht Nabila to Donald Trump.
"We put it on the market at US$35m," says Beckett. "Four days later I answered the phone and then Trump was on the line," Beckett says, dropping into a US accent. "'Tell me about this boat: is it great? Is it really great? Have you got more photos? Come see me tomorrow at 10am'."
Hours later Beckett was on Concorde heading to New York. Trump didn't hesitate to question if the youthful yacht broker was really the vessel's agent.
Beckett drops into the accent again: "'You seem very young, how old are you? 29! My God, I've never dealt with anyone so young.'"
But Trump wanted the yacht – then one of the world's biggest. "He offered $30m and 10 minutes later the owner accepted."
It was one of the quickest sales of Beckett's career and earned US$1.2m in commission when it closed a few months later, as well as a spot in Trump's publicity machine: "I woke up to find the deal on the front pages of the New York papers."
There was a twist to the sale, though. Showing his deal artistry, Trump got a US$1m discount by agreeing to rename Nabila as Trump Princess. "He always intended to call her that," adds Beckett.
Not all sales are so easy. While some are settled on a handshake after a viewing with the paperwork done in weeks, others can take years.
When you're selling such wildly expensive playthings to the 1pc of the 1pc, client management is key. In a world of huge egos, there are two main kinds of customer, according to Beckett: "Those who trust you implicitly and won't do anything without your advice, and those who tell you the way it is, the way it's going to be and what the boat is worth," he says. "There's an art in building relationships with them."
Telling a customer their yacht is worth US$90m and not the US$120m they think is like playing poker. "You've got one ace and you have to play it at the right time," says Beckett. "It's when you've got an offer for US$90m, not when you first meet them."
Chartering yachts also involves relationships, not only with clients, but with yachts and their crews. Beckett likens it to matchmaking. "You've got to look at the client and the yacht – formal or relaxed? What's the crew like, not just the captain, but the chef, the masseuse, how old is the deckhand who's going to be driving the speedboat? The boat's important but crew is critical."
When it costs from €70,000 to €550,000 per week to charter a yacht, getting it wrong would be an expensive mistake. The company has grown from a few people to one of the largest players, with 220 staff across the world. Beckett bought the majority of the business after its founder's death in 1992 while competing in a sailing race and renamed it as Burgess. He still owns more than 60pc of the parent company, which is based out of Monaco.
Beckett won't divulge financials, saying only that it's "convenient" companies based out of Monaco don't publish accounts. However, Burgess handled the sale of US$1bn of yachts last year and it either sells, charters or manages almost 10pc of the global fleet of 3,500 yachts of 115ft or bigger.
He says building the business has been a "labour of love", never taking on shareholders, borrowing money or "doing what we couldn't afford to do".
"That's been painful, because others have come into the sector investing lots and at times overtaking us," Beckett says. However, when tough times hit, not being overstretched has meant Burgess weathered financial storms that sunk others.
It wasn't always this way. Beckett says the superyacht industry – worth about €25bn a year and employing 130,000 people globally – has largely professionalised since he started. But he recalls "pioneering days" when unsigned cheques were sent out to buy time, and multiple remortgages of his home.
A few "chancers and opportunists" still exist in the industry, types who Beckett describes as "working out of the boot of a car, or sitting in Annabel's nightclub trying to pick up business". Some of them make a lifetime's wealth out of a single deal. With Burgess taking commission at between 2pc and 10pc, Beckett agrees yacht broking "can be" a good moneymaker. A few top brokers could afford to buy one of the "lower end" vessels they deal in, but the running costs could be a problem. "Most cost about 10pc of the price in annual running costs, though that drops for the really big ones."
The amounts Beckett speaks about casually are stupendous to most. He mentions that Burgess has been "involved in three deals over €200m – and there have only ever been four over that amount". But even the superyacht sector isn't immune to tough times. "If you are worth €2bn and suddenly that becomes €1.4bn, that's quite frightening."
Then there's the optics of such conspicuous consumption. During the financial crisis Beckett recalls a client who had for years chartered the same yacht for the Monaco Grand Prix. "He said the crash meant he couldn't come. The boat's owner said he'd been such a great client he'd halve the price. He said, 'Even if you gave it for free I couldn't come – I just can't be photographed on a yacht right now.'"
The number of superyachts under construction last year was 822, up from 773 in 2017. And they're getting larger and more luxurious – one helipad is no longer enough if your pal wants to fly in, submarines have been added for underwater exploration, some yachts even have support yachts.
"A few years ago someone said that they thought they'd seen it all now," says Beckett. "I said we haven't seen anything yet."
It's a long way from the Norfolk Broads, to which Beckett plans to take his family on a sailing holiday in a small boat this summer.
Looking at how the industry has developed, if Beckett received a letter from a 23-year-old version of himself asking for a job now, would he get the job? "I like to think so," he smiles.