We started off with one television presenter learning to dive in the UK through the club system. To keep a balance, here's another TV personality, wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan, who has kept well clear of British waters since learning to dive through the PADI schools system!
Michaela Strachan - a warmwater kinda girl
Working as a wildlife presenter, I knew it would be useful to learn how to dive, but that's not why I did it. I'd always been interested, and there happened to be an instructor at the BBC. He was a PADI teacher which, for me, was a stroke of luck, because it meant that I could do a referral. I had one-to-one training for all the book- and poolwork in the UK, and flew out to Florida to do the open water dives. It was definitely the best way to qualify.
STUDY ON HOLIDAY? When it comes to training, there's nowhere better than the UK - a lot of dive centres abroad just want to push you through the course and get your money. And, anyway, who wants to study on holiday? There's a lot to learn, and it takes a while to get your head round it all, so you should definitely do the coursework before going away. And when it comes to revising, I would strongly recommend buying the PADI training video. It was really helpful. I used it alongside the book and found it much easier to learn with a visual aid. The problem is, if you do all your training in England, you end up doing your qualification dives somewhere like Stoney Cove (the most famous diver-training centre in the UK, a lake in Leicestershire). I've only dived once in England and consider it my worst-ever dive, so I may be biased, but I honestly think training in such conditions could put you off diving for good. The water is freezing cold, the visibility is so bad that you can hardly see your own hand, and there just seems to be so much heavy equipment everywhere. As a hobby, forget it.
BACK TO BED If you get a referral to somewhere hot, you have the best of both worlds, or at least you should do. My first training dives were a disaster. I arrived in Florida with a cold and had to delay the training for two days. On the third day, I forced myself to go out on the boat, and felt so ill that I could hardly get the equipment on. So in the end I just did the dives in shallow water and went straight back to bed. If you want to learn to dive, you must take it seriously. During the course, you are constantly reminded that it's a dangerous hobby and that you can't afford to be complacent.
SENSITIVE EYES I wasn't a natural diver - the course work was more involved than I expected, and I really struggled with the exercise where you have to take your mask off under water. That was a few years ago, and I've since done a few more qualifications - PADI Advanced Open Water, NAUI Advanced Shark Diver and PADI Speciality Diver Shark Awareness. I have just logged my 100th dive, but I still hate taking my mask off. I have very sensitive eyes and have a problem with salt water. Unless you're diving all the time, it's easy to forget your training, so dive centres will often make you do a pool session to check your skills before taking you out for the first time. I had to do a check last week when I was on holiday in Madagascar, and was surprised how rusty I was - I had to keep practising that mask exercise. Being forced to do a pool check is a bit of a bore when you just want to get out and dive but, after last week, I realise that it's a very good thing to do. It reminds you that your training doesn't end when you get your qualification card.
UNDERWATER RAINFOREST To anyone thinking of doing a dive course, I'd say this: If there's even a little bit of you that wants to dive, then definitely do the training. You won't regret it. It is an incredible experience to go into an environment so completely different to our own - you almost feel you shouldn't be there. It's such a rich world, an underwater rainforest with amazing wildlife, and so magical. I feel sad for people who never get the chance to see live coral. It's a huge privilege.
AND FINALLY Final words of advice? Find a good instructor, do the theory and poolwork in the UK, and get a referral to the Red Sea - it's reasonably priced, easy to get to, and the diving is fantastic. And don't worry about buying your own equipment - I can't see the point in lugging heavy kit around. Just buy a wetsuit, mask and fins, and hire the rest when you get there.
Michaela's wildlife presenting has brought her into contact with such wildlife as great white sharks...