Why buying a narrow boat has made Phil Campion 'the happiest he's ever been'

Phil Campion, 51, has gone from an upbringing in children’s homes, to the Army and SAS, then guarding the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Oasis to filming a documentary in Syria for Sky and Sky Atlantic.

But the one thing ‘Big Phil’ had yet to achieve was buying a home of his own – until this year when he bought his very own narrow boat.

How does it feel finally to own your home?

It was so nice to buy somewhere of my own. When I was in the Army you were always billeted so I never thought of buying my own home. Plus being brought up in children’s homes I never thought I’d have my own place.

Because of the treatment I had growing up I was told everything was out of reach and I accepted what I got. It’s sad, but it wasn’t very inspirational. It was like that at school and then in the children’s homes.

Buying has taught me that you can be happy without having a lot. It’s mine and I do what I want. I can go anywhere with my home, too.

Why did you decide to buy?

During the pandemic I realised I needed my own place. We had a bit of dough between us [with partner Wendy]. I’ve had no work during Covid and there
was nothing I could do but live off my savings.

We had two choices: watch the savings go down the pan in rent, or buy something. Now at least, I’ve always got somewhere to live and can work out what to do next.

Why a narrow boat?

I’ve always fancied one. There is a bit of romance in me. I only need enough space to make my dinner. I don’t need material goods or watch television much. I like being outside and fishing.

Living on the narrow boat is a scream. Rather than aspiring to buy a mansion I’m happy with what I’ve got.

It’s got one bedroom with a super king-size bed, a bathroom with a shower, and a walk-in wardrobe, then there’s a lovely kitchen, a lounge area and a little fireplace.

And that’s it. I love it.

I have a little garden, too, included with the mooring.

Has it changed your life?

Yes, it has. I’ve never painted anything since I was at school, and I think that
was with a potato.

I’ve just painted my narrow boat and the sense of pride and achievement I have is incredible.

I turned it from something honking, mostly matt black, into something pretty stylish.

It took a while to do it. It’s not the best. But I did it.

How are you settling in?

The amount of space takes some getting used to. But once you are inside with the fire going, how much more room do you want?

I have to go down the corridor sideways though because of the size of me. But we have more space on the throne.

You have to be efficient and have a routine – there’s not a time when you don’t have something to do.

If you compare it to Army life, you have to run both like an operation. You need to make sure everything is primed.

You are only one headache away from a nightmare on a boat.

What’s it like as an investment?

I got a good deal for my boat because of the condition, so it’s worth a few thousand more. But boat stands for ‘bring out another thousand’.

You don’t buy a boat to make a big investment. There is wear and tear. The living costs are cheaper, though. And I pay peanuts for my mooring.

Is this the happiest you’ve ever been?

Without a doubt, in my adult life, this is definitely the happiest I’ve been. I’m official Army Cadet Champion and it’s something that gives me a lot of satisfaction, too. I put out a video each week from the boat.

Any advice for anyone buying a boat?

Look at it first – I didn’t. People say, ‘You what?’ when they hear that [laughs], but I sent a friend to see it, who knows more about boats than me.

So definitely spend your time buying something, get a survey, don’t rush into it.

But my biggest advice – just do it. Otherwise you’ll be walking down the canal saying, ‘I was going to get one of those.’ Have the experience of having done something, it’s a great sense of achievement. The narrow boat world is
a different world.

Who Dares Wins by Phil Campion is published on Thursday, by Quercus, priced £20.

Find Phil on Instagram @bigphilcampion

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