Tales from the Departure Lounge

#31 Nick Golding (I Slept with Michael Jackson)

December 06, 2023 Andy Plant & Nick Cuthbert Season 2 Episode 31
Tales from the Departure Lounge
#31 Nick Golding (I Slept with Michael Jackson)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

He has the charisma to be a lead singer in a band but instead he became a rockstar entrepreneur as one of the founding partners of CATS colleges and Cambridge Education Group. Nick Golding takes us on a walk on the wild side including mafia controlled Russia, bathing naked in Japan and sleeping with the King of Pop. 

From being the bad smell in the room to the champagne moment of selling your business and looking at your bank account, we dissect what really gives us purpose in life. A little bit of luck goes a long way, and for everything else you can pack a Leatherman.  

Final boarding call: Russia 

This episode is sponsored by AHZ Associates - trusted UK university representatives helping students from all over the world to enrol in British universities. Find out more at www.ahzassociates.co.uk

Tales from the Departure Lounge is a Type Nine production for The PIE www.thepienews.com

Nick:

I went to see Michael Jackson Wembley in 1990

Andy:

We should record a live, episode there

Nick:

He flew out of the stadium on a jet pack. Welcome to Tales from the Departure Lounge. This is a podcast about travel for business, for pleasure, or for study. My name's Nick and I'm joined by my co-pilot, Andy. And together we're gonna be talking to some amazing guests about how travel has transformed their. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey. Welcome to the podcast.

Andy:

Today we talked to Nick Golding. He's a business development director at the Pi, and he's also a member of Cambridge Angels, an investor group,

Nick:

I've really enjoyed this talk. I've known Nick for a while now and he's a real extrovert. wanted to be a film star or a lead singer in a band, but instead he became this rockstar entrepreneur, a founder of Katz colleges Cambridge education group.

Andy:

He talks about building a business and then he talks about selling a business and that euphoria of actually getting to that point of looking at your bank balance

Nick:

that champagne moment

Andy:

He was around in the Wild West days, of international recruitment and pathways

Nick:

he was part of that early group that were going out and breaking new territories And unbelievably he slept with Michael Jackson.

Andy:

has slept with a He's the founder of a pathway provider and international colleges who sold up but didn't check out, staying in the world of international education. From Mafia controlled taxis to bathing naked in Japan, let's get some tales from the Departure Lounge with Nick Golding.

Nick Golding:

Little did I know that an hour and a half later, I would be stark bollock naked with Fujio in a bath that was only made for three or four. that's me and my fight with society. I grew up in the 70s. We were all punk and rebellious. I said, I have to go to the cash point and print out my balance. And I kept it, but of course it was thermal paper, so it faded can I be indiscreet? I've slept with Michael Jackson,

Nick:

before we get into the episode, I want to quickly tell you about a new sponsor for the show. AHZ are a company close to my heart. They are official UK university representatives and they support students from all over the world to study in the UK. For more than a decade, they've grown with the UK sector to be one of the most trusted of agents. Their enrollment data now places them easily as one of the top recruitment partners for UK universities. You may have noticed that their competitors have all started to promote other study destinations, such as Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand. So for British universities, it is becoming harder to stand out. a strategic decision to stay loyal to the UK and remain destination specialists. Students literally have a world of university choices now. But if a student is passionate about studying in the UK, AHZ are perfectly placed to represent your institution, your unique features and your recruitment objectives around diversity and quality. They are proud to represent the UK and they want to work hard for you. We always say that they are a local agent with a global reach. So if by some miracle you're not already partnered with them, I suggest you get in touch for 2024. AHZ are one of the biggest success stories in the sector. Don't take my word for it, just ask around. There are many people who will vouch for them. Check out ahzassociates. co. uk Now let's get on with the episode.

Andy:

welcome to the podcast. Nick, it's great to have you on.

Nick Golding:

thank you very much. it's a privilege to be invited.

Andy:

The first question we always ask our guests is, If you could take our listeners anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Nick Golding:

I'm going to cheat here, because my first choice was Japan, but that's already been covered by,, a number of people, so I thought I'd add a second one, which I don't believe you've talked about yet, which is Russia.

Andy:

when was the first time you went to Russia? When was the last time you went to Russia?

Nick Golding:

My early career was working for one of the colleges we founded, CATS. And, Back then, we did everything, teaching, taking on school trips, typing up the reports, the invoices, And, I went on a school trip in 1992, we took a party of about, 20 students aged 16 to 18, which is kind of risky. but 92 was... an extraordinary time. It was like the wild west at that point, mafia were embedded. a colleague of mine who went out just a little bit later, she checked into the president hotel in Moscow. And as she was going to her room, a body bag was being removed from the room next door. If you got into a taxi at that point, you had to be flashed by a car that was sitting about a hundred yards away because that was the mafia controlling whether the taxi driver could take that ride.

Andy:

Amazing.

Nick Golding:

A friend of mine lived out there. And we went to the ballet that night, and I said, you'll have to, Help me get a cab back to the pre Volta's car. We stood at the rank, the flash happened, flash came back, Jeremy put me in the car, he didn't come with me, and we set off. In those days, you didn't have to get a mile out of the city centre, and there was no electric light. So, we were suddenly driving through. The blackest forest in Russia. So something like five, 10 miles to get to this hotel, and at that moment, I genuinely feared for my life here. I was in what was clearly a Russian controlled taxi in 1992 when. Anything I had was valuable and of course, not a word spoken between us. We finally got to the pre Volta sky And he let me out, I heaved this huge sigh of relief, paid, had a cigarette, and then I was going up to my room, 2. 30 in the morning, and there was this woman walking towards me. wearing only a camisole and French knickers walking her King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. She was one of the, how can I put it, in house ladies. That was the Russia at the time. Everything was an intense experience and completely off the wall.

Andy:

An awkward moment. You couldn't really ask to stroke her puppy, could you?

Nick Golding:

They had a member of staff on every single corridor. And their job was to give you your key, make sure the order was kept, what, in fact, they did was run the subracket of selling weed, vodka, and getting girls. I mean, really intimidating

Nick:

I've Realised how much of my view of the world has influenced, particularly by American culture, American films, and our relationship to Russia is always in the lens of them being the villains of the peace.

Nick Golding:

my understanding of Russia is in part informed by Japan because I used to fly back over Russia from Japan during the day. This is a country with 11 time zones. you can fly over it for 10 hours. Can you imagine unifying and governing a country of that size, let alone then taking that to form the USSR? You can't go to Russia without getting a sense of The historical suffering,

Nick:

what things did you find about Russia and about Russian people that you liked?

Nick Golding:

When, I got acquainted with Russians, their pride in their country, their desire to talk about Russian ness, if you like, what it is to be Russian, why they feel like they do, they're very, very, very forthcoming, but of course, When you dig into all of that, you also then dig into these stories of loss, and, relatives who've been, scuttled away in the night to the archipelagos, and all of that kind of thing. But above all else, it was the warmth, and a sense of fun. Russians like to party in quite a spectacular way.

Andy:

I read a study around, adherence to law, the test was that, you're the friend of somebody who's on trial and they have hit somebody with their car and they were speeding. You're in the car with them, would you testify to say they were speeding or would you not testify? And, 8 British people would testify. That the friend was speeding because they trust the rule of law to have the right outcome and that's a morally right thing to do, and then you go through different countries that changes dramatically. Russia is right down there, in terms of, hardly anyone would testify

Nick Golding:

Absolutely. And yet, they have a deep respect for leadership I know that's a gross generalization. But you only have to look at the events of the last 20 years, don't you? to see that actually a strong leader is deeply valued by Russian people

Nick:

How many years did you live in Japan, Nick?

Nick Golding:

I didn't live in Japan, but I used to travel there four times a year for about ten days. So I, I worked out that I've spent over six months in Tokyo. Nick, you've just been there. It's sensory overload at night. it's like Blade Runner. Countryside is beautiful. But it's also an incredibly impenetrable. As a Westerner, when I went there had absolutely no critical apparatus with which to interpret what was Going on. On one level here is a charming, beautifully mannered country and yet underneath there is really quite a corrupt underbelly and a very chauvinist society. This is the country that on the one hand, values, punctuality, manners, And on the other hand, you see men traveling on the Shinkansen, reading soft pornography in front of their wives. There are vending machines where you can buy women's used underwear. It's. A very, strange society.

Andy:

Japanese have this way of flipping, don't they, from being incredibly formal, and then the sun goes down, and it completely changes.

Nick Golding:

My First solo trip that I went to, Japan, I'd been once before and we already had an agent there and I firmly believe that one's experience of countries and one's views of countries is determined by the people you first meet or you first work with and so on. Anyway, Kazuko san said, look, we need to introduce you to some people. So, we've invited him to come and join us at a traditional bathing inn outside Tokyo. It was two boys, two girls we went off to the inn. Little did I know that an hour and a half later, I would be stark bollock naked with Fujio in a bath that was only made for three or four. happily we shared in common, our physicians at the time, Dr. Smirnoff and Dr. Marlborough. So we were able to deal with some of the inhibition,

Nick:

You furnished your home with Japanese furniture, that's right.

Nick Golding:

Gosh, you know too much about me. Yes, I went back, on a trip with my girlfriend Tina and we just came across, loads of different things, So there's quite a heavy Japanese influence in the house.

Nick:

When you started talking about Tokyo and Japan, me and Andy have actually recorded an episode which we didn't air, Maybe I'm going to stop talking I'm going to stop talking, okay. Uh,

Andy:

I know, Nick, keep going, I think we should explore this.

Nick Golding:

tHere's not much I haven't observed about Japan and have a thought about it. One shouldn't be beguiled by the surface charm because there are definitely unpleasant undercurrents,

Nick:

When I tried to describe Japan. yOu had this hugely respectful culture and then you had this overtly unusual obsession with young girls and acute culture which I found really quite hard to reconcile, what place that had in society and how that was so, accepted

Nick Golding:

The young girls you see in Harujuku, who dress up like dolls very innocently. That is not a, that is not in any way... sexually motivated, those are actually pockets of innocence, but I totally agree with you that this is a country that does not have, laws against child pornography. It's one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have them and the margins, get blurred You know, that upskirting originated in Japan.

Nick:

Yeah, signs, saying it's illegal to take sneak peek photos, they had to have that explicitly on all those subways that's what I'm talking about. It's everywhere when you're there.

Nick Golding:

Why is all of my storytelling revolving around pornography and prostitutes?

Nick:

I'm glad you pointed it out.

Andy:

Maybe it's a good time to move along. the next section of the podcast is called Any Laptops, Liquids, or Sharp Objects. So do you have any travel hacks or is there anything you have to take with you when you're going overseas?

Nick Golding:

I take, a leatherman if I can, Advertise that one. Particularly when I traveled early on, you were constantly trying to get dial ups working. You couldn't find a bottle opener in your room and that sort of thing that they came in incredibly helpful.

Nick:

Just describe what that is, Nick. It's like a Swiss army knife.

Nick Golding:

It's like a Swiss Army knife. It's a sort of multi tool really with everything from a nail file through to different size screwdrivers, plus scissors, plus a bottle opener, plus a corkscrew.

Nick:

That gets through customs.

Nick Golding:

that gets through customs if you put it in your luggage and not obviously your hand luggage, I've heard some of your, panelists say that on a short trip, they will take everything as hand luggage. I've had the experience of losing my luggage and having to go to an important presentation or meeting the next day. So now, I always travel with one set of formal clothes in my hand luggage. I've got a suit, shirt, shoes, tie, socks, obviously, and a toothbrush.

Andy:

I do exactly the same, for exactly the same reasons. Too many times my suitcase disappeared and It's not nice. few days being stinky in the same clothes.

Nick Golding:

it's horrible. And it makes you feel on the back foot and hopelessly underprepared when you know you're about to give an important presentation and you are on show here.

Nick:

If you've got your passport and your credit card, anything else is possible. You just go to the local, mall and pick up a new outfit.

Nick Golding:

I think it depends where you're traveling to, that wouldn't be very difficult in the States. I lost my luggage in Taiwan, so, finding my way around outfitters that were going to be suitable was not easy. It was a source of stress I didn't need, right?

Andy:

if you're quite big, like I am, then you can't find your size. If you can, it's nothing that you would ever wear.

Nick Golding:

exactly.

Nick:

It would be a memorable presentation if you turned up in your velour tracksuit, Nick.

Andy:

Silk pyjamas.

Nick Golding:

My trackie. Or my club class sleep suit.

Andy:

It's that quirky Englishman. Very memorable.

Nick Golding:

I've got to tell you my funny, sad, scary, or bizarre.

Andy:

This is a podcast about travel stories. So, fire away.

Nick Golding:

Can I be indiscreet? I've slept with Michael Jackson,

Nick:

Go

Nick Golding:

Talking earlier about CEG One of the strange features of what we ended up doing was that we became at one point the biggest institutional supplier. of Japanese students to British universities. That gives you a sort of sense of the scale of it. We also had a tie up with BA to fly these students back and forth. And as a result of that, our partners in Japan and I and anyone in my party automatically got upgraded, not just the one, but all the way up to the front. duvet I was on a flight back from Japan in 2008. I was already on the flight. And there was this commotion behind me. Someone had got on the plane and There was an entourage. There was a fuss being made about them. But of course, In first, you're too cool to turn around, right? That's just not done to see who is the person who's just got on behind you. But there I was, I looked up from my chair, because there's commotion going on above me, and someone was putting this bag into the overhead. And, slightly oddly, They had this line of white that delineated their chin. There was this very clear line of white. With a lot of what I would describe as bun fluff. It's unusual. couldn't get my head around it. Anyway, it all settles down and we take off. And I thought I really can't resist this any longer. I have to know who that person was. So I turned round, and this was one of those... Bugger me moments, you know, how many people are there in the world that you recognize instantly without a second take? And there was Michael Jackson sitting no fewer than eight, feet away from me with this most extraordinary face,, Epicene, absolutely androgynous, but very, very beautiful and perfect. He was there, with his kids and a small entourage. and I've never been that close to someone as stratospheric as that, and got to talk to them and of course, there was a point during the journey when he was asleep and I was asleep.

Andy:

Amazing. Did you speak to him?

Nick Golding:

I did speak to him, and he'd taken all of the magazines out of the rack and placed them on the floor in a fan, and I said, I hope you don't mind me, interrupting you, but, if you'd like any advice on any of these magazines and what they're like. And I'm not going to attempt his accent, but he did say, oh gee, that's very sweet of you. Thank you very much. He said, what were you doing in Japan? And da, da, da, da, da. Actually the most instructive thing about that whole process, when we landed and disembarked. All these walkie talkies were going on around the place. Is it him? We've heard he's on the flight, and I got up the gangplank, and there was this bank of photographers and reporters all just waiting for him. And I just saw God, fame's not what it's cracked up to be. You've been on a 13 hour flight. You have to look immaculate and be on your best behavior in front of the paparazzi, whereas I can just get off and have a cigarette and think, just slept with Michael Jackson.

Andy:

The next section of the podcast is called What's the purpose of your visit? So, why do you do what you do?

Nick Golding:

I Actually read law at university although that was quite a snap decision. I, Originally wanted to be an actor, but in fact I just wanted to be a film star. My dad died so I flipped immediately and did exactly the thing he'd always wanted me to do that I'd rebelled against, so I read law. But about halfway through my degree I realized that I could end up taking a whole load of assignments that might be for slightly questionable people doing questionable things or whatever. and that didn't seem to me... particularly worthwhile. Well, at the same time, my girlfriend was toying with the idea of setting up a college. So I was helping her with the first students and so on. And I realized that we could make quite a good living out of this, but crucially, this was a career that had a human dividend. We could genuinely affect lives, I won't say transform lives, but in those days it was about repairing lives, people who'd fallen through the net in the school system or their dyslexia had been missed and they hadn't been diagnosed. And retakes of course, were a big thing. And that resonated with me. I hated school and I had very bad careers advice. So that idea that we could provide a much more user-friendly education to kids really resonated with me. The travel became the icing on the cake and the cherry on top.

Nick:

For listeners that don't know, you were one of the founding partners, as you've described there, with your girlfriend and then wife of Cambridge Education Group. And it's really interesting to hear then that it wasn't formed with an international market in mind,, but that grew as the market opportunity presented itself.

Nick Golding:

Absolutely. So we set up Cats. It was then called Cambridge Arts Tutors in 1985, and it was all about addressing a market. We set up something that we thought was more modern at that time. schooling was very backward. And it was only in the nineties particularly actually when I saw what was happening with Bella and the formation of study group. It was at that point that we decided that we needed to go international, but it was a rather naive decision, suddenly we owned an international college and some language schools and I didn't really know how to manage them.

Nick:

I want to hear about the moment that you sold the group to a private equity firm. That champagne moment that I think a lot of us can only dream of. When you've built a business literally from scratch, as you've described. And then that moment of selling,

Nick Golding:

it's a curious one because you feel euphoric. Unlike winning the lottery. You have spent your entire career building up to this moment. and it hasn't just fallen out of the sky and it's been quite a lot of hard work. I'm going to describe it in a really childish way. But it may just encapsulate the moment. We, we did the deal. And, the next morning, my bank phoned and said, Mr. Golding, there's a lot of money in your account. would you like us to, put it onto a deposit account or whatever? And I said, no, no, no, no, no. Please don't do anything until this afternoon. And, she said, why? And I said, I have to go to the cash point and print out my balance. And I absolutely did that. and I kept it, but of course it was thermal paper, so it faded after a while. so you don't think you're the greatest thing in the world at that point necessarily, you don't feel like a master of the universe. I think the other very strong feeling, but this is partly my neurosis, at that point I thought, right, I'm unassailable. They can't get me. They can't undo this.

Nick:

Yeah,

Nick Golding:

that's me and my fight with society. I grew up in the 70s. We were all punk and rebellious. and assumed that everyone was out to get us. But I do remember thinking that very vividly.

Nick:

thAt's a common feeling, isn't it? Amongst, entrepreneurs that it's sink or swim, do or die all the time. And often your own finances are heavily tied up in that. Then when you hit dry land, you hit that deal, It must feel like for the first time in a long time. You've hit a place that you're no longer at risk

Nick Golding:

I've got to be quite careful. I, I recognize how lucky I am to be comfortable. However, what I didn't recognize before we did the deal was how important to me my work was. Not just CEG that feeling of having a problem in the morning that you get up for and solve. That feeling of belonging. I think we underestimate how much identity we derive from what we do. I'm talking about validation, the people we talk to, who are around us every day, I missed all of that, when I stopped doing it

Nick:

but were you contractually obliged to stay on in that role? And did you lose a bit of passion then, after that

Nick Golding:

No, no. So, so what actually happened, I was always due to stay on. but my then wife, got A second, secondary to cancer. So one of the drivers to sell CEG initially was that she was diagnosed with skin cancer. And there were only three of us that were the main founders and directors. And then after we sold, and the decision was initially very much vindicated, she got breast cancer. So she had two primary cancers going on, which is, you know, a very, very, very worrying thing. And, um, it was obvious to me, I had to spend time with my wife and my very young son at the time who was eight. so I stopped work at that point. And that was when those feelings of displacement really hit me.

Andy:

At that point you can do Pretty much anything, Did you not think I would look at something outside of education, become a roadie for a 90s rock band, for example?

Nick Golding:

yeah, you think that, don't you, at that point, there was, restrictive covenant.

Nick:

I often talk to people in the sector who have a business idea, but they're afraid to take that leap. There's something different about working to build a company that you have a vested interest in, compared to working for somebody else's cause all the time. That's true to say, isn't it?

Nick Golding:

it's very interesting how attitudes have changed during the span of my career. there was no such thing as a startup in 1985. a founder was not considered a particularly respectable position. It's probably because you couldn't get a job. So I think Being an entrepreneur now is far more respected than it used to be.

Andy:

I don't know you Nick, but you've got the kind of aura of hedonist, I would say. Do you think that helps you in being an entrepreneur,

Nick:

You were doing naked business meetings before everybody else.

Nick Golding:

I think there is about some entrepreneurs. something of, dare I say it, the rock star. And what I mean by that is that they detect the zeitgeist or the market or whatever. and they live their work. So that there's no real separation between what they're doing by day and what they're doing by night. you're driven by it and you personify

Nick:

And you've talked about wanting to be a film star, a lead singer, a rock star entrepreneur, and now you've made it to the status of angel, a Cambridge angel. Tell us a little bit about that, you're an investor in the ambassador platform, which has been acquired by IDP,

Nick Golding:

I came across Cambridge Angels. And it's a group of people that invest in, principally technology companies. They have to be startups and they have to be young entrepreneurs that need mentoring. There were a lot of very techie people who are part of the network, but they had very few people who had an educational background, and or a brand building, background. So I was invited to join Cambridge Angels, and lo and behold, the Ambassador platform crossed my desk. And I thought, wow, that is a sensational idea. The idea of who, do students really want to get information from current students and, at the time, they hadn't really considered the international dimension of the platform. I talked earlier about luck and chance and everything. Here was a great chance meeting that came about. And, that was part, of bringing me back into international ed, Nick. I got back on the scene. Back out at ISEF and AIRC and all of that stuff,

Nick:

back on the horse.

Andy:

The final section of the podcast is called Anything to Declare. This is a free space for you to talk about whatever you'd like Nick.

Nick Golding:

I think part of the theme of what I've been talking about is getting out there and not being afraid to travel. There's a huge dividend for taking those risks and going out there and getting comfortable with the place and with yourself in that situation. And I think it's enormously important that people do get out of their comfort zone, have those experiences and also realize that, as we were talking about just now, We're not quite as important as we think we are, whoever we are.

Andy:

Great advice. And nobody's really looking at you that carefully either. Nobody cares. Yeah.

Nick Golding:

absolutely.

Andy:

Your entrepreneurial spirit as well, taking risks.

Nick Golding:

I hadn't realized I was a risk taker until I was described as one, and I should have realized it because I started smoking at 14, right?

Nick:

In terms of risk, and in terms of those early days, where there wasn't a trodden path, compared to now, how do things differ?

Nick Golding:

the first thing is I would say, recognition of the UK and of UK education. It was very poorly understood. Japan regarded, the UK. As being backward, and I had to spend a lot of time doing the job of the British Council and saying things are happening in the UK and it's not dusty and old corridors and stuff like that. The biggest thing really is that there doesn't seem to be a place that hasn't been trodden by someone within our ecosystem over the last 30 years. Before that, you'd get to places and the Bellabee's rep hadn't been there. It's like, wow, I've come somewhere that's completely undiscovered.

Nick:

We could probably count the major pathway groups and providers on two hands. Can you believe quite how much they've gone on to shape the entire industry? Uh, that the impact has been huge,

Nick Golding:

The pathway providers then were seen as commercial. Slightly unseemly, the grubby end of education. and we were genuinely regarded by, as the bad smell in the room. Roll forward ten years, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the pathway providers are the saviors of international education and universities. They're considered, I think, much more acceptable. Not necessarily by everybody, but, you look at how close some universities are working with their pathway providers and they're almost indistinguishable.

Nick:

I like to imagine there's some sort of WhatsApp group of the early pioneers. pathway pioneer founders, Saying, these kids don't know how easy that they've got it. This isn't music. This isn't the way we partied.

Nick Golding:

well, there were a few parties, that, that has to be said. It was the Wild West. And we did get into scrapes and we did bump into each other, but we also had a lot of fun along the way. I'm not going to deny it.

Andy:

Nick, thanks ever so much for coming on the show, it's been great having you.

Nick Golding:

My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

Nick:

Hello everyone. Thank you so much for listening. As always. If you are a fan of the show. Please leave a review or emailers at sick bag, a tales from the departure lounge.com. Tales from the Departure Lounge is a type nine production for the pie.

Intro to the episode
Word about our sponsor AHZ Associates
Final boarding call for Nick
Any laptops, liquids or sharp objects?
What's the purpose of your visit?
Anything to declare?