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NaomiSimsonSharkDive My life as an undercover volunteer

Secret Millionaire – Channel Nine 9.30pm 29 Oct 2009

Episode Four: Features Naomi Simson

I sit here in my bed in a motel on a GoldCoast highway which seems a million miles from home – I can hear the traffic and my neighbors. It’s not so bad, just different – I wake up the first morning away from my family to that feeling of ‘where am I’ and then the realization -‘oh that’s right I’m in a strange place, without anyone I know, I’m on my own, no business to run, no meetings to attend. Yet I still have an impending sense of urgency. I must find people I can contribute to, I must learn about volunteering, what if I don’t find any one? Oh and I must get used to having a film crew with me the whole time.’

I’m usually pretty confident – now I experience self doubt… this is new, it has been a long time since I have been out of my comfort zone.

The channel nine crew has been with me on several occasions. They came to the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year lunch, hung out for a couple of days at home and at RedBalloon – came out with family and friends on the boat. And also accompanied me on a couple of RedBalloon experiences.

The producer, Suresh Devadas has become a constant companion. I’m not an actor or have had anything to do with the entertainment industry. (I laugh when I hear him sometimes refer to me as ‘the talent’). Being in front of the camera at every hour of the night and day is all part of the experience. It is surprising how quickly I get used to having four people with me when I’m out and about.

I’m not a particularly extreme sports sort of girl despite the fact that I’m the Chief Experience Officer – I tend to choose cooking classes, pamper days or the more creative experiences RedBalloon has on offer. I don’t like swimming particularly – or water. When I was a kid underwater photography would scare me. Sharks scare me. I have never been a keen snorkeler or diver (I do it – but every time I will dislocate my jaw because I bite so hard on the mouth piece).

The producer wanted to get some more diverse experiences for the program.  Doing a Shark Swim would ‘make good television’. However I was not so convinced given that: it was the middle of winter, and the water was freezing, I don’t scuba dive, and I am petrified of sharks.

As I listened to the briefing prior to the dive – I convinced myself that it would be fine, the sharks are clearly well fed. I always enjoy getting to know our experience suppliers better. Surely this would be a walk in the park… well just a swim in the pool any way.

When I finished the dive I was asked ‘would I do it again?’ – the answer ‘no’, I had had an absolutely exhilarating time – but much of it was getting over my fears. Also there would never be another first time. There was nothing lame about swimming with these sharks and sting rays, in fact whilst you are in a massive pool with them, the shear size is humbling. I only ever get that exhilaration of a ‘first’ experience once. Some how next time I would know what to expect. When I fish touched my fingers I wouldn’t jump back in fear at the sensation – I would know it was ‘just a fish’ – when a very large shark (3 metres – looking 10m underwater) appeared behind my right shoulder I would know that he was just cruising past. And when a massive sting ray (the size of a queen bed) swam directly towards me, I would trust that she would swerve and swim by.

I was surprised at my absolute fear. The panic. When these creatures came close I just wanted to get out of the water really quickly. I was so panicked at one point that I dropped the respirator and the only thing going through my mind was my children’s voices saying “how embarrassing Mum you choose to drown on National Television”.  And yes I did dislocate my jaw by biting too hard on the mouth piece. When I come out of the pool it sounds like I’m slurring my words – not a good look.

But this is all part of the story – I do, do a lot of RedBalloon experiences, and it was wonderful to meet the people at the Shark Swim. It was all fine to be out of my comfort zone, and get a bit cold and wet – but I’d be home in an hour for a hot shower. Being away from home for ten days would be a much bigger challenge.

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  • Lovely conversation with @katewaterhouse7 for the @sydneymorningherald today thanks @betabarsydney for hosting
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