Dock Tales: Marian Phillips
From the South of France to the shores of East London, Marian’s Royal Docks journey began in the 1980s, and now, nearly 40 years on, she’s Director of the Tereza Joanne on Royal Albert island and is one of the area’s most successful entrepreneurs. Here’s Marian with her Dock Tale…
“If you’re looking for the best sunset view in London, you’ll find it upstairs aboard the Tereza Joanne, early to mid-May when the sun sets exactly behind Canary Wharf.
We have photographers wait in our car park for hours to get the perfect shot. The view is second to none, every single person that steps aboard the barge is blown away by our views, no matter how beautiful we’ve done the décor for weddings on the inside, it’s the windows that get the most attention!
Our first business in the Royal Docks was in 1985 when my husband Mervyn and I set up a watersports facility in Royal Victoria. At the time we’d never heard of them, in fact, we’d never been further east than Aldgate.
Tereza Joanne has been our home since 1997 but our first business in the Royal Docks was in 1985 when my husband Mervyn and I set up a watersports facility in Royal Victoria. At the time we’d never heard of them, in fact, we’d never been further east than Aldgate. The only thing we knew about East London was the Kray brothers and we’d heard there were good pubs.
Originally, we ran a garage and breakdown recovery service but after a few years, in our early 20s, we sold the business and moved to the south of France where we set up a watersports company specialising in wet bikes near St Tropez. We had a fantastic time, a shop and an apartment above, and we were invited to participate in events like Bastille Day. But the work was seasonal and after the summer everyone went off to work on the ski slopes so we came back to London in search of water.
Making a splash
Mervyn came across plans for London City Airport. While everyone else admired the photos of planes, all he could see was the water and the fact it was empty. So we got in a car and drove to the Royal Docks. We didn’t know where we were going and we couldn’t get in. It was surrounded by walls. But we got talking to the right people and soon we were offering wet bike and jet ski hire in the East End of London, something no one had seen before. We set up our clubhouse at Royal Victoria next to Peter Chilver’s windsurfing school, he was the world’s first windsurfer and invented the sport when he was 12. There was also rowing and canoeing facilities; Royal Victoria became a mecca for water sports.
Our first job was convincing the public that the water was clean and they weren’t going to die.
Our first job was convincing the public that the water was clean and they weren’t going to die. We held lots of fun days for the local community but we had no funding, everything was from our own purse. We asked our members to help with whatever skills they had and they helped us build our bar, clubhouse, and showers. But then we were told we had to move to King George V dock as that would become the ‘power dock.’ We didn’t mind as it meant we had a lot more space so we moved there along with Peter and his windsurfing.
Again, we started from scratch with no funding. There was a desolate GLA canteen building there which we saved from being demolished by transforming it into a new clubhouse. We started offering parascending, had night-time bungee jumping, and got a license for live music.
But in 1996 more changes were afoot. The clubhouse building started to subside so again, we needed to find a new home. We heard about a barge parked up at Trinity Buoy Wharf and Mervyn went to look at it. He came back and said he saw potential and that we should ‘float’ our business so that we could continue doing what we loved without taking up valuable land, so we did.
The London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) who could see the value that watersports brought to the area helped us with the major structural work while we did the re-fit inside. Tony Banks the local MP and Minister for Sports opened the barge, named after our daughter Tereza Joanne. We were involved in lots of publicity appearing in TV shows, brochures, and were in the local newspaper every week. But then came our next hurdle, the recession hit and there was a change in the insurance policy. We were no longer able to hire out jet skis, people could only use their own. But there was a lot of negative equity in Beckton where a lot of our members lived and the first thing they did was sell their jet skis.
We didn’t like the situation, only those who had money could afford water sports, it went against our beliefs that private school children could row but locals couldn’t
We didn’t like the situation, only those who had money could afford water sports, it went against our beliefs that private school children could row but locals couldn’t, so it was time to diversify again. We had a huge boat but we were only doing small events so we decided to go big. We applied for entertainment and wedding licenses but continued to do some watersports events, including hosting F1 McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
Today, we’re a major venue for birthday parties, weddings, salsa nights, mendhis and have hosted student nights with the University of East London. We’ve had people come here and say they had their school prom on the boat and now they want to get married on board, it’s a real eye-opener to know that you’ve had such an impact on people’s lives.
We’re best known for our afternoon matinees for over 50s. We provide an alternative to going into the West End.
We’re also a restaurant and can host BBQs, but one of the things we’re best known for is our afternoon matinees for over 50s. We provide an alternative to going into the West End. People can come here, enjoy a meal and have a dance. We’ve had ‘Allo ‘Allo, Dad’s Army, Strictly Tea Dances and this year were set to start Abba Chic, an Abba sing-a-long. We’ve had coaches come from all over like Oxford and Southampton and then they leave by 3.30pm to miss rush hour, but because of Covid-19, the shows are on hold.
We’re still set up for watersports, we have the showers, changing rooms, the pontoon, and the equipment but it seems like watersport has lost its footing in the docks and it needs to come back. We used to do events on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and in the summer people would just come and watch and there was so much laughter. The whole of the Royal Docks should be active with activities for children too. We used to work with the police who would send us misbehaving children. We’d train them and take them out on our sausage which could sit around six of them and if they’d been disruptive we’d turn off the engine and they’d fall in! They loved it!
People need to see something going on in the water but if you look at it in winter it looks stagnant. Four or five feet down it’s complete blackness in the docks but when people learn to dive they need to do night dive training so this would be a great place to offer that. Waterskiing could come back too, you just need a boat for that.
Last year, I was awarded ‘Business Person of the Year’ by the Newham Chamber of Commerce. Since 1985 I’ve seen so many changes take place in the Royal Docks, some good, some not so good. There’s still a lot of work to be done. We were recently asked if we wanted to move to Gallion’s Point Marina but it’s too windy there. This spot has been our home for over twenty years and I hope it will be for the next. Though I will have retired by then and my business partners would have taken over. They’re my family and have been with me for 15 years. Adrian Manyusa (right) is our Catering Manager and Head Chef Michael Manyusa (left) is the General Manager. I know they’ll do a great job. It would just be reassuring to know that in the future there’ll be a return to people simply enjoying the area, and for the Royal Docks to be the go-to place for watersports in London once again.”
Planning a party for 2021 or somewhere to go for a Christmas meal with the best views over the Royal Docks? Check out www.tereza-joanne.com. You can also hear from Marian or ask her a question at our Dock Tales online event on November 30th.
Interview by Momtaz Begum-Hossain
Images: Marian’s photos by Emma Nathan
Chamber of Commerce awards photo by Ilyas Ayub
All other images supplied by Tereza Joanne
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