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Bugsy Drake, Diane Byrne
Diane Byrne 00:01
Welcome everyone. Today my guest is Christine “Bugsy” Drake, a superyacht stew who some of you surely know from the Bravo television series Below Deck Mediterranean, but more importantly, Bugsy is a seasoned yachtie and also a new book author. To say that she knows her way around a good tablescape or a good theme party is absolutely an understatement. She has wowed television viewers with her extraordinary creativity, the way that she has been wowing yacht owners and guests since joining the yachting industry a few years ago. And she is sharing her favorite decorative and theme tips plus a lot more in her new book, which is called The Art of Tablescaping: Deck Out Your Table With the Queen of Theme. So we’re going to talk about what it’s like to work on board superyachts, the so called Below Deck effect on the industry, and of course about her book. So with that Bugsy, welcome to Megayacht News Radio!
Bugsy Drake 01:01
Hi, Diane. It’s so exciting to be here with you today. I’m thrilled that you’ve had me on, so yeah.
Diane Byrne 01:08
Awesome. Great. Good to have you. So I know you’ve been working in the industry, like I said in the intro, for a couple of years now. But what was your “a-ha” moment? What was it that convinced you that you wanted to make a career out of it?
Bugsy Drake 01:23
Right. So it’s actually been a good long, eight to nine years now which, which I’m shocked about because, you know, I still feel like it’s just as exciting to me when most people are like, you must be really over by now and ready to go land base. But I actually am not at that stage yet. I’m still loving it. I’m still finding so much joy in yachting and teaching younger girls and whatnot. And but when I first joined, I think it was something that I always thought I would do for a season. You know, one of one of my best friends who I’d studied with, she, she kind of introduced me to the world of yachting because she’d graduated the year before me. And she said you need to join this industry. You know, when I found out that it was a lot of cleaning, doing laundry, you know, vacuuming, I just thought I don’t really know if that’s something for me. You know, not to think that I’m above it or anything, but it was just something that I thought sounded really tedious and monotonous. But when after I’d studied I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So one of my, my very close friends and I thought well, why not give this yachting industry, you know, a little bit of a go. And we flew out. I got my job onboard an 80-meter yacht for the first time, so was the junior stew of six girls. And I was the bottom bottom feeder, like absolutely, we weren’t even called by our names on that boat. It was quite funny. We were called by our numbers. So I was number six of the girls. And I was kind of you know banished to laundry and cabins for the first good year of being on the boat. And I would say the first couple of months on I was so homesick, I cried a lot. I thought, Oh gosh, this is not really for me. There’s nothing glamorous about this. Yes, we are in really beautiful places, but I’m a lot of the time down in the laundry room where we didn’t even have windows. And so you know, I would see the guests every so often and hear all the stories from the rest of the crew who were interacting with them and doing the table setups and doing the dinner service. And I just thought, Gosh, what have I gotten myself into. But I actually had a fantastic crew and captain. And we had a crew of 21. And I think you know, it was just my drive and ambition to want to excel and move my way up the ranks. You know, where I saw the chief stew had ended up and how she was able to create these theme parties for the charter guests and how she was able to, you know, design the uniform on board, which are all thought was so you know, exciting. And the minute I got it in my head that that was the career path I was going to take. And I was going to do whatever it took to work my way up to chief stew. I think that was just my a-ha moment. And so yeah, long story. But the short of it is just you know, I saw so much potential and growing within the industry. And I’m also a highly ambitious person. And so so that was that. And you know, here I am today I’m doing just what I set out to do.
Diane Byrne 04:35
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, it’s clear to me that you really love what you do. And I find that to be a pretty common theme. When I talk to people who’ve been in the industry for a while on the crew side, there is, like you said, an incredible amount of hard work and really long hours that go into what you do. But at the end of the day, just hearing you talk about what you do, it’s so apparent that you love it. So, what makes it so much fun for you? Is it the dynamics of the crew who you work alongside? Is it the interests of the owners, trying to come up with different things to make their lives more fun and more engaging?
Bugsy Drake 05:15
I mean, I think it’s, I think it’s all around, you know, there’s so many different aspects to this industry, which just make it you know, so wonderful. And I think, for me, just speaking to other yacht crew, I’ve been very, very lucky with the people I’ve gotten to work with, and the owners I’ve gotten to work for, the charter guests that I’ve had on board, because not everybody has the same, you know, wow experience that I’ve luckily, luckily had, you know. I’ve heard some horror stories out there, that I just think, you know, shame, I wish this wasn’t your first experience of yachting. It’s sometimes led to people, you know, doing one and done seasons, they’ve done it, and they’re like, that’s not what I thought it was. But I was super lucky to, you know, have worked for wonderful people and with wonderful people. And I think just the whole dynamics of the crew, and having a good set of like minded people on board, who are all working together towards the same goal of creating the ultimate guest experience. And that, for me, is just in itself, so satisfying, you know. Like you said, going out of our way to find out how we can outdo one trip and just make it better and better as we go and what we can do differently. And I think that’s why I love themes so much and love creating these table experiences, because there is so much potential in wowing the guests. And you know, you even get guests on board that are not into themes or into table settings or into anything over the top, because they seem to think it might seem quite tacky. But I also think the other thing I love so much about yachting, is the challenge. And the challenge of turning people’s perceptions around, creating a new idea of what yachting is, even if it’s for an owner. You know, I’ve joined a lot of boats where the owners might not have got the best experience from the crew that they’d previously had. And you bring on a new crew full of like minded people who are trying to excel and show them what it’s all about. And all of a sudden, it breathes new life into the experience of owning a boat or chartering a boat so I think it definitely Yeah, is the challenge of how to make things better, and bigger and better. And that’s what’s super exciting to me.
Diane Byrne 07:37
Great. You know, you also just mentioned a second ago about perceptions and that’s something I wanted to ask you about. I’ve noticed that the Below Deck franchise has certainly made more people aware of the career opportunities first of all in yachting but also the charter opportunities, the experience opportunities. And, I’ve seen that there are probably maybe not always 50-50 but they’re certainly almost equally as many fans as there are critics of the of the show, and I’m wondering from your standpoint, as someone who’s been on it and who is also in the industry, what’s the feedback that you get? What are some of the things that people say to you about oh, you know, I never knew about this career opportunity or I never knew about this experience opportunity What do they say to you having seen the show?
Bugsy Drake 08:28
So I think that’s it’s such an interesting question to be honest because there are so many like you said fans and critics and people in the industry who are super into the show and people who are not. I know some captains who love it, and some captains will not speak to a person who’s who’s been on on Below Deck. But you know, I think again, it’s all about open mindedness. People, a lot of a lot of yacht brokers and charter brokers should I say more so, are actually buying into this new idea of what this franchise has opened up for the industry because I think it really has, you know. Social media has become such a big part of this industry. And nine years ago when I started you were not even allowed to take a picture of your boat and put it on Facebook or Instagram. Even if you didn’t mention the name or the location, it was just a no no and super, super private. And you know, I think a lot of boats are still like that today. But I also think a lot of captains, charter managers, and owners themselves are catching on to this new way of marketing their vessels and just kind of how it’s getting the name of the boat out in the industry. And you know, I’m on a yacht, Nita K II, and we we’ve got an Instagram page and the owners are very open about who we are and whatnot. And the more and more I search on Instagram, I see more and more charter yachts out there that actually all have their own own pages. And linking it back to the whole thing about Below Deck, you know people have been very overly critical about people just wanting to be on TV and trying to make a name for themselves but at the same time a lot of crew and people like you said it’s highlighted what the industry is all about. It’s showing people how hard the crew work and even if it does show how how hard they party as well, it’s really not too far off from the actual industry. And you know I always joke about crew because they say to me, oh gosh, I can’t believe you did the show, has it affected your career in any way, and I you know, I think about it and it actually hasn’t. i think, you know, I’d worked in the industry before, I’d made my connections, and like everybody knows, this whole industry is about networking, it’s about getting your foot in the door, making good connections, and working hard, you know, and showing showing kind of what you can bring to the table, and I think if if you establish those relationships earlier on, which I luckily did, you know, the people who knew me for going on the show were just open to it, and they were like well that’s the Bugs we know, you know. And even if they show your downfalls or your your crazy moments of being out on like you know at a party or one of the bars or whatnot, people do understand. But you know I laughed with a bunch of crew the other day because they were asking me about my experience on the show, and you know, it’s it’s given our owners a completely wrong perception of what we do, and my question to them was, but has it really? Like, the crew do behave like they do on the show, and it is very realistic to the work hard play hard mentality. But, I do feel like they do show the crew working just as hard, and then you throw in all the crazy personalities and different backgrounds and different cultures and yeah, I just think it is completely the same recipe as what it is in real life.
Diane Byrne 11:59
So let’s talk about your your tablescaping career, since that’s certainly one of the biggest focuses right now. You know, in looking at your Instagram feed, first of all, I have to say I could spend hours looking at those images. If ever there were a rabbit hole I was just going to fall into, it’s so much fun.
Bugsy Drake 12:23
Diane Byrne 12:25
You’re very welcome. And I think one of the things that has has really earned you your reputation in terms of the creativity that you have is really how beautiful and how accessible these designs are. And I’m wondering if the the different things you’ve done over the years and the feedback you’ve gotten from the owners, from the guests, kind of in a way inspired you to do the book, or if you. if somebody even just suggested to you one day. Hey, you should do a book?
Bugsy Drake 12:56
Right. I mean, I think, I write about it in my book, the little story of the first, the first boat that I worked on and you know the chief stew had after I’d been on for for quite some time she’d given me a little bit of a break from the laundry and got me up to come and said one of the more relaxed tables I think we only had a couple of guests on board it was nothing too crazy and she kind of gave me the opportunity to try my hand at it and you know being the art loud and proud and are the type of person I am I’m absolutely obsessed with different colors and just the shock value of of making things quite over the top that’s just my style and I kind of went with the with a gold and purple theme and I went a little bit overboard and a bit crazy and you know she kind of looked at it and was like oh nice try but it’s a bit extreme and yeah, that’s not that’s not going to work and I think that kind of knocked me down because I was quite excited about it and I was quite excited to show her what I’d come up with and whatnot and shame she’s still a dear friend to me today and great mentors the chief stewardess but you know I think that also gave me the kind of kick in the bum I needed to to go down you know, go down the road and the path of something that I could prove to myself I could do and you know where a lot of people will get told that they’re not too good at something they might just find an alternate direction I was more like no I’m going to make this something I’m going to succeed at so you know, as I work my way up the ladder I became more and more in love with the idea of themes and the idea of playing with different colors and patterns and and whatnot and a lot of the boats I worked on had the budget and had the you know the resources to allow me to do that. And then got involved in their antiga charter show for the first time and they had the table setting competition and I think that was you know weird sparked off the fact that wow, this is actually something where you can compete and you know if you do really well on it, people will you know you can you can win a prize and I’m very I’m a very competitive person. So, you know, the more and more I worked for, for a fashion designer at one point, he also gave me feedback that complemented the table and complemented the different ways of balancing items and whatnot on the table. And I just realized how, you know how many aspects in life the the table setting can actually relate to. So yeah, I think I just, I just felt more and more in love with it, and more and more in love with excelling at it. And like I’ve said to a lot of people, you know, recently, I think, with COVID, and all of that, where people had more of a more of a chance to be at home, or even on the yachts, where we were all locked down. There were there was the time to play an experiment. And I’ve just seen so much creativity come out like in, in the industry with different stewardesses. And I’ve seen different stewardess account pages where girls are just so creative, and come up with the most gorgeous things. And I have such an appreciation for that, obviously. And it’s just so good to see everybody playing into this world of like imagination and creativity. And it really just adds that extra element to charters or bus trips.
Diane Byrne 16:10
Absolutely. And especially like you said after, after COVID I think we’re all ready to kind of shine a little bit more and have a little more color in our lives. Right?
Bugsy Drake 16:19
Right. Right, for sure.
Diane Byrne 16:23
One of the things I really like about The Art of Tablescaping book is that what you do is not just about the table, right? It’s about the whole experience. So it’s the playlist, its signature drinks, it’s all those full-blown party ideas. And I wonder if between holidays, and birthdays and anniversary celebrations and all the other special moments that people like to celebrate in life, and especially on the yachts, I’m wondering if you actually sat yourself down and said, Oh, my God, I have like 1,000 different ideas? How did you narrow down what, what you ended up putting in the book?
Bugsy Drake 17:08
Oh, it was so crazy. And like, I have to say, um, you know, I had such a great team who worked with me on on my book and whatnot, you know, I had someone overseeing the whole sort of end result, I had the people working on the publishing side. And you know, I had a photographer, I had somebody styling myself while I was sitting the table, and I just had this fantastic team of people. And that had to actually rein me in quite a lot. Because, you know, I could go crazy. I’m like a kid in a candy store when it comes to decorations and sitting tables. And I just had piles and piles and boxes and boxes of different items that, you know, I have a storage unit now just full of different things. And hopefully one day when I own a house somewhere, you know, I’ll be able to put everything out. But I had to be reined in. Because you know, I am quite easily distracted with creating more and more themes and thinking, well, this could work. And that could work. And I kind of wanted to initially go into several different ways of setting different holiday tables. So several ways to say Christmas several ways to say Thanksgiving, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, whatnot. And there was just too many themes to kind of fit into into the tablescaping book. And I remember putting a sort of question out there on my Instagram feed to everybody who follows me. And you know, I said, if one night you could rent a charter yacht with your friends, what would be the theme of choice? And that’s kind of the feedback of the people who kind of asked me on my Instagram, you know, would you come out with a book Would you ever consider I really wanted them all to be a part of it, even if I never met them before to know them. I just felt like, there was so many people who inspired me to ride it. Even if it wasn’t just, you know, owners, captains, crew, family friends, it was also the people who’d been following my journey that I thought, you know, really needed to be involved in this. So I put that question out. And the most popular answers kind of made it into the book.
Diane Byrne 19:10
Very smart, very smart to get them involved. I like that. But that also is what makes people I’m thinking feel a little bit more endeared towards you. You know, they they’ve watched your journey, like you said, and now they feel like they almost in a sense, have your ear. Right? You know, you’re listening to them, you’re actively soliciting their input. So sure, why not say Well, yeah, I mean, hey, if I rented a yacht for a week, this is what I would do. And that could be a full blown crazy raging party, and then somebody else might want something much more upscale, much more intimate. And somebody else might want something somewhere in between, whatever that would be those extremes, but that’s the fun of it.
Bugsy Drake 19:54
Yeah, and I just love the fact as well that you know, like you say something crazy, something more simple. Pull, whatnot, these are all the different things we get to do on yachts. And you know last year for New Year’s for for my boss at the time we did this crazy over over the top Burning Man theme because obviously Burning Man was canceled due to COVID. And that was just like a mishmash of crazy things on the table floating around hanging from the ceilings. And you know, it was very effective and what it was. But yeah, people you know, have all these wonderful ideas and it’s just about creating them. And I love the fact that what I’ve kind of tried to relay in my book and translate is the fact that you can actually translate the tables that we do on these luxury yachts into into your own home. And you know, everybody can do it. You don’t have to be a chief stewardess. You don’t have to be a billionaire yacht owner, you can literally be at home and create these magical things. And I think that’s the the biggest thing that I’ve taken from COVID is that every day is a celebration. So why not celebrated in a meal and you know, even if you even if you’re just having a relaxing dinner at home with your, your loved ones, or your friends, you know, why not put on that fun play last you love or dress up or you know, make that cocktail that you love drinking, I think it’s it’s all about, you know, life’s there to be enjoyed. And that’s kind of what I, I hope to highlight in my book.
Diane Byrne 21:25
Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. Because I did want to talk about that, too. It is something I found really noteworthy about your book, that everything that’s in there does not have to be only quote unquote, on a super yacht, it can be in a studio apartment in the middle of Manhattan. It can be on a beautiful yacht, of course, in the middle of the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, etc. But the point is that anybody who has even a teeny bit of creativity can try this, and should try it, too. It’s not meant to be only the domain of those who are super creative and have unlimited budgets at their disposal.
Bugsy Drake 22:03
No, definitely. And I think also, in retrospect, looking back on it, there’s so many things that I’m like, Oh, I wish I had included this theme. I wish I had included that theme. But you know, as you go, and the more you sort of get into it, and the more you know, you you become invested in the whole idea of tablescaping, the more ideas you come up with, and you just have to allow yourself to grow. And I found since I started yachting and since I started becoming very involved in in setting tables and creating themes and whatnot, even my style has changed. You know, I’ve gone from, you know, being very over the top over the top and kind of scaling back on a few things and then like upping the ante on something else. So I think my style is forever evolving with with tables and themes and setups and whatnot and evolving not only because different chartergates have different preferences. But just within myself, there’s new ideas I want to try and you know, I want to go down the route of being a little bit too simplistic. And then I want to go down the route of being a little bit more techie and see what works and what doesn’t work and fine tune it. And I think that’s where all the fun in it comes from.
Diane Byrne 23:14
Absolutely, that’s exactly what life comes down to. Right. It’s trying new things, and enjoying yourself. Because if you’re not constantly learning, and certainly if you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re really never going to grow.
Bugsy Drake 23:27
Yeah, for sure. For sure. That’s what I found. Yeah.
Diane Byrne 23:31
Okay, well, it’s been great talking with you and talking tablescapes and all things yachting. And I’m sure that the people who’ve been listening have learned a few things themselves. And I know they’re going to be inspired to see your book.
Bugsy Drake 23:44
Awesome. Dan, thank you so much for having me. I’ve had so much fun just chatting about it. So thank you.
Diane Byrne 23:49
Absolutely. Thanks for joining us. So everyone, you can get a copy of Bugsy’s book, which again is The Art of Tablescaping: Deck Out Your Table With the Queen of Theme through major retailers or directly through her publisher, which is Flashpoint Books. Their website is flashpointbooks.com Thanks, everyone ,for listening. Until next time, I’m Diane Byrne.