When people move out to Spain, they very often end up reinventing themselves and doing something completely different to anything they’ve ever done before. It’s easier for some than for others. For example, until I medically retired due to the effects of Lupus, I always worked in catering at one level or another. When I could no longer work for a living, I studied for a couple of degrees to pass the time, and when we bought our place in Spain I started writing, first for pleasure, and then for a second career. It was a natural progression. Rai Woods is a different proposition altogether though, because before he moved to Spain, he’d pretty much seen it all, done it all, and got the various t-shirts.
Originally, he was destined for a career in medicine, but decided he couldn’t go along with the prevailing philosophy of keeping people alive for the sake of it, and prescribing drugs before looking at the causes of the symptoms. He calls it ‘Sticking a plaster over it and hope it gets better, rather than looking for the real problem.’
Medicine’s loss was broadcasting’s gain, because Rai ended up working on cameras and sound desks in England and Northern Ireland. Always behind the scenes, but a vital part of productions small and large, he’s worked with the best in his time – notably with John Schlessinger on Far From the Madding Crowd in 1967, and with Clive Donner on Here We go Round the Mulberry Bush in 1968. Rai also worked on The Avengers when Patrick Macnee was in full Bowler and Brolly mode. You won’t find him in the credits, because as he self-deprecatingly puts it:
I was third assistant director, with particular responsibility for making tea and coffee, and crowd control.
Rai’s tea and coffee must have been pretty special, because over the years, he’s worked for ITN and Ulster Television, among many others, and seen many wannabes become household names. He calmed young Rosemary Brown’s nerves before she sang her song for Ireland’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest live on television.
Being a pretty laid back person himself, he was well qualified to do that. There’s laid back, and there’s so laid back as to be close to falling over, and Rai definitely falls into the second catergory, as he’s pretty much unflappable. In fact, if he so much as drummed his fingers on a chair arm during a production meeting, his colleagues would say, ‘Watch it, Rai’s about to have a meltdown!’
He did a pretty good job on Rosemary, because she went on to win with All Kinds of Everything. The nervous schoolgirl with the fabulous voice was better known as Dana, and even then, her potential was clear.
You’d think this was enough to keep anyone occupied, but Rai also found time to qualify as a pilot and learn to sail. Again, he became so good at it, he is entitled to use the handle Captain as an official rank on both counts. He’s pretty much the exception to the rule when it comes to the old saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’
In 1969, he purchased the former lifeboat Dornovaria. Like her new owner, Dornovaria had experienced quite a few adventures, having served twice as a lifeboat, and also featured in the Dunkirk evacuation as one of the Little Ships. Built in 1905, she’s older than the Titanic, and still seaworthy. Rai lived on her for a number at years at Teddington, before moving to Northern Ireland. Then in 1999, Dornovaria sailed from Donaghadee to join the flotilla of 55 former lifeboats commemorating the 175th anniversary of the RNLI at Poole, Dorset.
A few years later, Rai sailed his floating twin flame single-handedly to start a new life in Torrevieja, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. Once there, he put his broadcasting knowledge to good use by setting up several English speaking radio stations in the area, and even owning a couple! I’ll save Rai’s blushes by not going into details here, as he doesn’t like to blow his own trumpet. However, speak to anyone who is anybody in local radio on the Costa Blanca, and they will tell you about his valuable contribution to broadcasting on the Costa Blanca. In fact, his nickname is ‘The father of local radio on the Costa Blanca.’ You’ll have a job to find any local broadcaster worth his salt who has not worked – or is still working – with Rai.
These days, he’s still in radio – both driving the desk and hitting things with a hammer to get them working again – or something like that! His popular Country Rodeo show, which airs on Big Radio Spain each Wednesday evening at 8.00 pm Spanish time, has regular listeners all over the world. Many of them have gone on to become friends, going out of their way to visit Rai if they land in Spain for a holiday.
Rai also has standing invitations to countries as far afield as Norway, America and Vietnam, if he wants to travel outside Spain. Over the years, he’s built up a loyal family of listeners, and the regulars get a mention each week. For Rai, the show is all about the music and the audience, although he’ll often come out with a cheeky quip to keep his fans smiling as they enjoy the show.
Rai loves all kinds of music, but he’s in his element with country music, as is clear when you hear him in action. He also takes his music out in the local area, playing at various events, either as one of the Big Radio Spain presenters or flying solo. When he gets together with Los Pistoleros re-enactment group, you can really feel the atmosphere of the old Wild West, and he’s a great promoter of local talent such as Charles Cole and Bobby Valentine.
Since he moved to Torrevieja, Rai has also found time to direct his first full length feature film. The Cucaracha Club is the first film made entirely in and around Torrevieja, and the production team, Siesta Productions, managed to pull off a coup that even the big guns at Eon Productions – home of the James Bond franchise – couldn’t manage. They obtained permission to film for the first time ever in Torrevieja marina. You can read more about Rai’s part in the making of the film here, and there are more exclusive behind the scenes stories and interviews with the cast and crew in the Cucaracha Club category on the website.
So, what does the future hold for Captain Rai? Well, the Country Rodeo is set to continue for the foreseeable future, and there are two more Cucaracha Club films waiting to go into production, as well as a possible television series collaboration with a Spanish TV company. And Rai’s also helping to promote the film that’s already in the can, using his broadcasting and media contacts to get the film out to as wide an audience as possible before it goes to DVD.
Although the Dornovaria has been moored in Torrevieja Marina since Rai moved to Spain, he spends a lot of his spare (???!!!) time keeping her seaworthy, and is hoping to take her on at least one more trip ‘before he gets too old to be able to.’
Although Rai is now seventy-something, it’s difficult to imagine him ever being too old for anything. As the saying goes, ‘You don’t stop having fun when you get old, you get old when you stop having fun.’
By that criterion, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Captain Rai before his final ‘Cheers and Away’ farewell from the Costa Blanca media scene. Former doctor, pilot, sea captain, engineer turned broadcaster, radio presenter and film director, Rai Woods is certainly No Ordinary Expat.
Image credits: Slide show photos are a mixture of my own images, and images supplied by Rai Woods and Siesta Productions.