‘Below Deck: Sailing Yacht’: Gary on Daisy, ‘cringe’ moments

You wouldn’t know it from watching “Below Deck Sailing Yacht,” but Gary King likes to have space to himself. Before he starts the summer charter season, he likes to book a hotel room for a few days. “If I can have my own space, and just relax a little bit, it makes the season a lot easier,” says the 33-year-old via video chat from a hotel room in Sardinia he’s booked for exactly this purpose.

King, who is from South Africa, has just finished a day of work aboard Parsifal III, the 177-foot sailing yacht that provides a setting for some of the most outrageous antics in the Bravo universe.

Each show in the dangerously habit-forming “Below Deck” franchise follows the hard-partying crew members and demanding guests aboard yachts in exotic destinations around the world, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific. Now in its third season, “Sailing Yacht” is arguably the most dramatic incarnation of “Below Deck,” thanks to tighter living quarters, wind-tossed working conditions and adventure-hungry crew members.

King, who joined “Sailing Yacht” in Season 2, has become the show’s breakout star, a mischievous charmer with a tousled man bun and a husky smoker’s voice who is almost bafflingly irresistible to his female co-workers. (King has hooked up with nearly all the women in the Parsifal III crew as they sailed the Balearic Islands of Spain this season, but his abundant chemistry with plucky chief steward Daisy Kelliher is what has viewers in a frenzy.)

In other words, King makes for great TV. But he also happens to be very good at his other job, as the Parsifal’s first mate; this season viewers saw King spring into action when the yacht nearly ran aground during an early morning wind storm.

Gary King and Daisy Kelliher embrace in an episode of “Below Deck Sailing Yacht.”

(Bravo/Laurent Basset/Bravo)

King has always gravitated to the water. Growing up in Knysna, a city in South Africa known for its large lagoon, he’d often hitchhike to the beach after school. “My mom would come and pick me up after work. I’d see her sitting in a car when it was getting dark flashing her lights at me,” he recalls. He became a “yachtie” by accident: During a gap year in Majorca, he learned quickly the South African rand doesn’t go very far in Europe. Unwilling to ask his mom, a single parent, for money, he decided to go “dock-walking.”

“It’s the most demoralizing thing in the world,” he says. “You go from one boat to another: ‘Hi, do you have work for me?’ ‘No.’ ‘Hi, do you have work for me?’ ‘No.’” Eventually, he got a job on Creole, “a lovely old classic schooner built in 1927,” and he hasn’t looked back since. “I kept getting paid to travel and I was making good money. Here I am, 12 years later.” King says the hardest part of yachtie life is being a hemisphere away from his family: His mom is in South Africa, his brother in New Zealand.

The job also makes it hard to settle down — something King wears he wants to do sooner rather than later. Mostly, though, he’s eager to film more “Sailing Yacht,” should the powers-that-be at Bravo decide to bring him back for another sail. (The network has not yet made any announcements about Season 4; King says he didn’t get the call about Season 3 until a few weeks before it began filming.)

Tell me how you ended up on “Below Deck Sailing Yacht.” Had you heard about the show before you were cast?

If you work on boats, you hear about “Below Deck,” but I don’t actually watch any reality TV to be honest. I’d never watched the show prior to getting cast.

There’s a woman named Diana Wallace. She’s the casting agent. She joins yachtie pages all over Europe and the States. And then she just sends [messages] out to random people. So I received a few messages from her asking me to be on the show. I was like, “It’s COVID. What’s the worst that can happen?” Never thought I was gonna get the job. Done two seasons and never looked back.

Do you watch the show now?

Some episodes. I send them to my mom. She’s my number one fan and my number one critic, so she’ll let me know which episodes I have to watch. She’ll be like, “Gary, I wasn’t very happy with you on that episode.” Then I go watch it and see what I did wrong. My mom’s proud of me but she’s also like, “Gary, come on. This is not how I brought you up.” Obviously, I’m a mother’s boy.

What has been the hardest thing for you to watch back?

Just hooking up with girls on TV. It’s a little bit cringe. Also just getting drunk on TV. It comes with the industry. We need to blow off some steam. But I don’t think it’s a very good look, us being so pissed while on TV.

How do the yachties on the show compare to those in real life? Is everyone really as crazy as they are on “Below Deck”?

I think the yachties in real life are a lot crazier than they are on “Below Deck.” If “Below Deck” actually knew exactly what went on on boats, this show would go on for thousands of episodes.

So you think “Below Deck” is tamer than real life?

To a certain extent, yes. There are some things that are far-fetched [on the show]like the charter guest, Chuck [who said he could get better food at a ballpark and left a terrible tip]. You wouldn’t really have a charter guest that would say something like that, because these people have got class, and [outside of the show] they’re paying upwards of $200,000 a week to charter this boat. But how the crew parties afterwards — that’s pretty accurate. I’ve heard stories that I don’t really want to share but are a lot worse than what happens on “Below Deck.”

So the guests in real life are not as bad as the ones on Bravo?

As a rule. On sailing boats, I think the guests have got more class. They come from old money. But friends that have worked on motorboats, some of the stories they’ve told me it’s like, “How could you even work on that boat?” But a charter’s a charter. You work for a week, you kind of forget all the bull— that happened because you’ve got a €5,000 tip.

A group of people on the deck of a yacht

Gary King (second from left) charms in an episode of “Below Deck Sailing Yacht.”

(Bravo/Laurent Basset)

How would you describe the difference between people who work on sailing yachts and people who work on motor yachts? Are there stereotypes about these groups?

People on a motorboat, they’re just there for the paycheck. Any motorboat you work on is pretty much the same. Whereas in a sailing boat, we’re out there for the adventure. We’re going from A to B sailing, getting propelled by the elements. And I find the clientele come for the experience on a sailing boat. If you’ve got money, any Tom, Dick or Harry can go charter a motorboat.

Do you get this attention from women when you are on dry land?

Well, clearly not, because I’m still single. I don’t know what it is about the boats.

It’s a tough industry for relationships.

For sure. I was actually chatting to Glenn [Shephard, the captain] today about going on rotation [after the summer charter season is over], maybe do three months on, three months off, so I can start settling down, try and meet someone. I can’t really commit to anyone when I’m going to leave in a week’s time. I’m starting to wig out about it: Am I going to be single for the rest of my life? I grew up without a father, and I want to make sure that I’m there for my kids, if I ever have the chance to have kids one day.

Fans are definitely shipping you and Daisy, as you surely know. What’s going on between you two?

I’ve definitely got a soft spot for Daisy. We still chat often. When I was in London, we had lunch together. We have a great relationship. But also, after watching that episode where she told the charter guests, “I would never date Gary. I’m not an idiot,” that hurt me a little bit. This is maybe my problem. When I like a girl, they don’t feel the same way for me. And vice versa. Because that’s what happened with me and Ashley this season. That’s another reason why I keep thinking, “Am I going to be single for the rest of my life?”

So you were genuinely hurt when she said that?

100%. I’m not gonna force anything to happen between Daisy and I. I definitely have chemistry with her, whether she agrees with that or not. But things like that [comment] hurt a little bit. Maybe she was just trying to make a joke in front of the charter guests. I just think her wording could have been different if it was a joke.

Do you think maybe she was being defensive?

Possibly, I don’t want to look too much into it. But I’m single. I’ve got a lot of time to think about things.

A lot of viewers were upset by your encounter with Ashley Marti constitute and thought her behavior towards youd sexual assault because you were drunk. You have repeatedly said that you don’t feel this way. But did that incident make you reflect on the hook-up culture in your industry and the difficulties of drawing boundaries when you live and work with people in such close quarters?

I’m not proud of all my actions [this season]. And I don’t ever want to do that again. That Ashley scenario was a big realization for me.

I want the next girl who I start hooking up with to maybe be my girlfriend. I haven’t had a girlfriend for five years now. I can’t remember what it feels like. I don’t want to just hook up with girls and have one-night stands. I say that now, but if I come back for another season, who knows what will happen. [laughs]

There must be some tension there for you — trying to be a better person but also wanting to be entertaining.

I’d like to [come back for another season] because then I could show people that I have turned over a new leaf and there is a different side to me than just hooking up with chicks. Most of my best friends are females. But on Instagram, people say I’m a womanizer, which is the furthest thing from the truth.

Are there things you do differently when the cameras aren’t there?

We definitely wouldn’t sail before they’ve had breakfast. That’s ridiculous. But also, the charter guests on [the show] only have three days, two nights. They’re still paying a lot of money to be on the boat. They want to sail as much as possible.

I don’t hook up with my stewardesses off-camera [that much], believe it or not. It’s happened once or twice, but it’s not like it happens on the TV show. Also, we don’t go out every three nights, because we’ll have a 10-day charter, and then [a few days for] turnaround, then a seven-day charter. We’ll be lucky if we can all go ashore to have a dinner and have a few glasses of wine.

Colin MacRae, Barnaby Birkbeck and Gary King in

Colin MacRae, Barnaby Birkbeck and Gary King in “Below Deck Sailing Yacht”

(NBC Universal)

What’s your favorite place to sail?

I absolutely love Greece. There is always wind. You can always find an island that has no one else around. The water is beautiful. The food is just phenomenal.

Glenn has a very interesting leadership style compared to some of the other captains in the “Below Deck” universe, who are a bit tougher. How would you describe it?

Glenn is very gentle. But also I’d say Glenn leads by example. If someone makes a mistake, Glenn would be the first person to say, “Listen, you make mistakes, you’re only human.” He’s just so patient and so humble. I think everyone needs a Glenn in their life, to be honest with you.

You and Colin have a very entertaining rapport.

We are like chalk and cheese. He’s very sensible and I’m not. He thinks before he speaks; I don’t. I think we both live vicariously through each other, me doing silly things, and Colin being the sensible person who I can always look up to. I actually just spoke to him yesterday, telling him I miss him. It’s such a bromance. As soon as we chat, it’s like, “Hey, loser. How’s it going?”

It seems like you and Daisy clashed at first but really grew fond of each other this season. Is that just the editing or did it feel that way to you as well?

I don’t know if both of us were in denial about liking each other. But it was like two little kids, when they like each other, they fight like cats and dogs. I’m still trying to work that one out, to be honest. But it was my highlight coming out of the season, being such good friends with Daisy. It means a lot to me. If it has to happen between Daisy and I — not that I’m saying it will — but if it has to happen, then so be it.

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