Riviera People – Mackenzie Moulton, Police Diver, Artist, Author & Musician

Posted by: on Mar 31, 2020 | No Comments

Riviera People – Mackenzie Moulton, Police Diver, Artist, Author & Musician

Mackenzie Moulton, with his wife Kay, arrived in Brixham nearly four years ago after a career and life experience of startling variety.  Anita Newcombe pops by to discover more about his fascinating life and why he has chosen Brixham as the perfect place to finally settle.

Mac, as his family and friends know him, has found a very pretty location to live right at the top of Brixham where he has built an extension allowing a stunning view across steeply rising fields owned by the Lupton Estate. 

Mac was born in Exeter and spent 30 years in the Metropolitan Police in London with the last 13 years working in the elite Police Underwater Search Unit. He explains, “It was a very specialist unit – only about 9 divers, so it was very difficult to get in.”  Having spent time in Traffic and on Thames Patrol Boats, where he attended lots of river accidents (many caused by too much alcohol on pleasure craft), joining the diving team was an exciting prospect for Mac. He tells me, “It’s very different from normal scuba diving as 90% of the work is carried out in nil visibility. You can’t see your hand in front of you.”  He chuckles and says, “They called us the ‘best gropers in the business’”.

In fact the work was extremely challenging, so a bit of humour was essential – they were often tasked to find dead bodies and body parts as well as guns, cars and safes that had been dumped, along with security searches for explosives, and working in co-ordination with Customs and Excise mainly on drugs cases. They had to find a way to cope. Since school Mac had shown a talent for art (he had been offered a scholarship to Art College but his father wouldn’t let him take it up). So now he dealt with the horror of what he was experiencing at work by painting – he found it tremendously therapeutic.

He tells me, “Lots of people can’t handle police diving work – it does take a certain type of person. Although your normal shift was 7am-3pm we could be called out late at night when a major crime had been committed. We worked like blind men, feeling for things underwater – you became quite good at identifying things underwater just by the feel of it.”   Whilst they were always tethered by a line to a handler for safety when searching underwater, early communications relied on a system of pulls and bells on the line (like Morse Code) but after a police diver died in the course of duty, proper modern communications were introduced to the unit.

Mac married at the age of 21 and the couple produced two daughters and now four grandchildren. Once his children were a little older, Mac continued to paint – in oils, watercolours and pastels – he tried most mediums but his preference was for oils. He painted subjects ranging from police boats to portraits, underwater scenes and sailing ships. He soon started exhibiting and then selling his work – art was to become a major part of his life.

In 1996 he retired and started a whole new life in Spain with his second wife Kay whom he had met when he taught her to dive in the 1980s. In fact they shared a dream to sail around the world and had lived on a boat in London for many years, taking their RYA Yachtmaster and Oceanmaster tickets in preparation.  But fate got in the way and they couldn’t resist a villa they spotted in Spain with wonderful views of the Mediterranean. Mac says, “We just fell in love with it and we bought it even before I retired.”

The villa needed lots of work and took nine years to renovate. Initially they used builders but once they had retired and moved in, they started doing most of the work themselves. From a rather dilapidated house they gradually created a spectacular property with six bedrooms, four bathrooms, a swimming pool and a large artist’s studio. Life was good and Mac worked full time as an artist. When he wasn’t painting, he was teaching art to the international community in Spain. His works were often in demand and he managed to sell a large number of them for sometimes substantial sums. The location offered a superb lifestyle with diving, sailing and eating out. Jávea or Xàbia as it was known in Valencian, is between Alicante and Valencia on the easternmost point of the Mediterranean coast.

Since his retirement, Mac had started to write a series of books. He wrote about his diving career in The Metropolitan Police Underwater Search Unit 1983-1996 and other books. He also wrote a number of children’s books, a couple of volumes of poetry (some relating to Brixham and the South West Coast Path), A Queen Elizabeth Cruise Diary and a couple of rather racy novels called Sugar Spice & All Things Nice and another called 50 Shades of Blue. Having struggled all his life with what was probably undiagnosed dyslexia Mac had lots of trouble with his spelling and grammar but persevered and later relied on a good proofreader to set him straight.

After nine years, Mac and Kay both needed to care for aging parents who were unwell so they moved back to England, initially living in Crediton. Following their parents’ deaths, they wanted to stay in the UK and could now look at choosing a new place to settle. They decided to head to Torbay (Mac remembered visiting the area as a child, when his family travelled here on Grey Cars’ coach trips). They had an initial scout around Torquay and then arrived in Brixham. Mac exclaimed delightedly, “Brixham hasn’t changed a bit.”  Together they decided, “This is it…”   They’ve now been settled at their new Brixham home for nearly four years and just love it. The rolling hills offer a wealth of wildlife for them to enjoy and they’ve built extensions and viewing windows to take it all in. Deer, badgers, foxes, birds of prey plus two resident pheasants are regularly sighted.

Shortly after his return to the UK, Mac was commissioned to paint Lady Cynthia Stevens who replaced the late Queen Mother as patron of the famous Thames Police Association Museum in London. An oil painting on canvas, it now hangs on permanent display at the museum in Wapping High Street along with three of Mac’s other paintings.

Now well established in Brixham, Mac volunteers with Paignton Zoo as a Guest Experience Volunteer and from April to September as a bird handler in the Winged Wonders Bird Show. He tells me, “They train you to handle birds, to keep the area clean, chop up the food and to fly the birds during the show.”  He loves the Harris’s hawks, the kestrels, the Eagle owls and especially a rather noisy, little barn owl called Breeze who is always screeching.

He also plays violin regularly in an Irish band called The O’Marleys and their next big gig is on the main stage at Brixham Pirate Festival. The O’Marleys play quite a few Ceilidhs, which are popular for weddings and family celebrations and Mac can also turn his hand to a bit of bagpiping as needed. Painting and writing are still on his menu of activities so there’s no danger of him becoming idle even though a stroke had cost him the loss of sight in one eye.

Mac and Kay thoroughly enjoy the life in and around Brixham and love to eat out, mostly in fish restaurants with Shoals, Simply Fish and Dart Marina Hotel’s restaurant among their favourites. Mac tells me, “I’m 72 in June; we’ve been around the world, visited 52 different countries and can honestly say that Torbay is the best place in the world. We plan to stay here now forever – we just love it.