Michelle
She has fed sharks for years, been a stunt double in Hollywood movies, is a mother of two and gorgeous to boot. Could she be happy and fun as well John Bantin finds out that she is.

When the producers of the latest Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, needed to shoot an underwater sequence in the sea, they headed, as they often have in the past, to the Bahamas. More precisely to Stuart Coves Dive South Ocean dive centre, where the seabed is already littered with the remains of underwater sets from 007 movies. Even the centre itself has been a set - it was the fishing village in the film Flipper.
The Bond production crew spent five weeks here earlier this year filming a working operating model of a submarine. Without wanting to spoil the surprise at the end for you, the stunt in the closing sequence of the film sees James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) rescuing Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) from a sub seconds before it crashes and explodes. They then make a free ascent together.
Stuntman Gavin McKinney took the part of James Bond for the underwater filming and Michelle Cove that of Christmas Jones.
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A native Bahamian with dark good looks, Michelles Canadian education has left her with a North American twang, despite the influence of her mothers Oban upbringing. Instead this has instilled her with a dry, British sense of humour. She combines the business of diving with being a very capable mother of two. Shes the kind of woman that other women admire. As for men - they like her too.
The free ascent in the Bond film began at the 17m mark. Michelle and Gavin wore wetsuits under the clothes provided by the films costume department.
They breathed off a regulator - with mask attached - which had a very long hose connected to the tank of each individuals safety-diver.
At the given signal we would discard the mask and regulator, count to three so that our exhaled bubbles had cleared the shot, let go of our weights, and then head as fast as we could to the surface, exhaling as hard as possible, explains Michelle.
We were both very nervous of get-ting a lung-expansion injury, so at first we over-exhaled. It seems a long way up, especially when you have no fins. Sometimes we would catch up with our own exhaled air that had formed into a big bubble. It was weird. It made us think we had already made it to the surface.
The onset of a little urgency in their swimming as they neared the surface added to the realism, but the director still didnt think it was fast enough. They came up with the solution of a long invisible line attached to a lifting bag.
This made it so fast it was scary, says Michelle. Gavin held on to the line with one hand and me with the other. We couldnt see where we were going. It meant a lot of takes and sometimes we collided with the cameraman.
On the days when they were due to have several goes at it, they used nitrox and they never did more than eight takes in one day. All the same, there are safety issues with making such fast ascents. Didnt it worry her
It always crosses your mind, but weve done so much of this stuff... well, we know its OK.
The speed with which they went up did worry Pierce Brosnan, however. When he came to the shoot one day, he was concerned that Gavin looked as if he was balding during these fast ascents. He ended up having to wear a wig: Bond is not bald!
hspace=5 Michelle got away with her own locks. I guess the viewer isnt looking at the girls hair! she offers in explanation.
Michelle was known as a bodacious babe when stunt-driving a ski-boat in Flipper. She is better known to the worlds diving community, however, for her partnership with husband Stuart Cove and their successful business providing shark encounters.
They have built up an enviable reputation for being able to guarantee the presence of sharks both for the countless leisure divers who book for the daily two-tank shark dives, and for the specialised needs of the worlds film and television industry.
This side of the business has expanded from Stuarts humble beginnings as an extra hand on Never Say Never Again into Stuart Coves Underwater Productions, a company that helps many film and documentary-makers out with underwater and shark sequences.
Most recently Stuart has been closely involved with work on the film Deep Blue Sea, starring Samuel L Jackson.
Michelle has known Stuart since her childhood. When I was 16 I would come down and hang out with all the cute watersports guys. Stuart certified me as a Divemaster and I would spend the summer helping out, driving boats and so on. The girls back at school wouldnt believe me when I told them about swimming with the silky sharks. They can believe it now, as they read about Michelles unusual life in magazines like Hello!.
Scooters Stuart and Michelle first became involved with sharks for their own amusement. We used to go out to the US Navy buoy in the Tongue of the Ocean, and do some fishing and then feed the sharks. You know, sharks act very differently when theres fresh-caught fish around.
Stuart used to scare the pants off me. He started by stroking passing sharks and eventually found that if you caught one by the tail and flipped it on its back it would go torpid. Its called tonic immobility.
We played around, sometimes very foolishly. When you grabbed a shark you could turn it over and aim it at one of your friends before letting it go. Another trick was to put a little ballyhoo (bait fish) down someones snorkel!
Eventually they started feeding the bigger Caribbean reef sharks - using a mesh bag. It was very dangerous, Michelle admits. Nowadays it is all very controlled but in those days we just took risks and got away with it.
Michelles life has changed less than you might imagine since becoming the mother of two, despite the risks involved in what she does.
Stuart had me feeding sharks when our son Travers, now three, was only six weeks old, she says. His nanny would be waiting with him above in the boat so that I could take breaks to feed him.
Responsibility for your kids does settle you down, though. For example, Im a qualified pilot, but I spend all my time in the back seat now.
It was being bitten by a shark rather than motherhood that stopped her from feeding sharks quite so often.
Once bitten twice shy - it really is true. I lost some of my confidence in my ability to do the job. It was my own fault. Michelle was controlling the bait box, filled mainly with unwanted parts of grouper carcasses from the fish-market, with a length of rope. A shark got the rope caught in its teeth and, in its struggle to free itself, knocked the box over and spilled the contents.
Without thinking I dived in to make things neat. In the free-for-all another shark accidentally bit me in the back of the head. I knew I was hurt, but blood looks green under water. I saw this dark green cloud around me and felt like Id been punched.
It was when the boat captain nearly fainted as I climbed on board that I knew things were serious. It took quite a few stitches to put it right.
Michelle Michelle still works with sharks but prefers not to feed them now. Around 40 big specimens usually turn up at each of the feeds and its quite a physical job. I probably dont have enough bodyweight to cope with it, she says. Its more of a mans thing. Being pushed around every day is a lot of work and needs a lot of mental concentration. You have the sharks, the bait-box, the videographer and the customers to worry about. I very much enjoy being in the water with sharks, its just that feeding is a little too physical.
Michelle is well aware of the criticisms that are often levelled at shark-feeding by well-meaning people.
Its a misconception for people to think that these sharks have lost the ability to hunt, she explains. Some sharks disappear from feeds for periods of around three months. New sharks are always joining the feed. You cannot feed 40 sharks the way we do it. Its always about half-a-dozen dominant sharks that get the food. They are big animals and the amount of bait we offer is just not enough. They are also obviously breeding, so they must be happy.
Another view is that if people like Stuart and Michelle now stop feeding the sharks, someone will get gobbled up because there is no food available. Unless its fish, they dont want it, argues Michelle. My profusely bleeding head proved that. It didnt provoke a feeding frenzy. Its only the feeder who might be in any sort of danger, and then its from an accidental bite but he wears long chain-mail gloves and uses a short spear to offer the bait.
The Customers come for the adrenalin, but it would not be good for business if one were to be bitten. It did happen once: A customer spontaneously thrust his hand into a passing sharks mouth. He didnt follow instructions.
Visitors are all told to sit on the bottom and keep their hands to themselves. The centre always does two consecutive dives and checks that everyone can sit comfortably on the bottom, without waving their hands around, before it does the feed.
Back at their home, it soon becomes obvious why Michelle and her husband run such a successful business. They answer phone enquiries re-directed from the dive centre until late into the night, and take the time to answer every question and treat each caller like some long-lost friend. If Michelle likes sharks, she genuinely likes people even better. The couple are on the dock almost every day and will always find time for any one of their hundreds of customers.
The The dive centre has a great ambience, with instructors and guides from all over the world, including the UK. Its visitors too are of many different nationalities and standards.
Some are very good and some havent dived in years. Recently one of our customers complained that his rented regulator didnt breathe easily. Then we noticed he was trying to breathe from his BC inflator hose!
Michelle works hard at solving the never-ending crises that constantly crop up when running a people-orientated business.
In the week while I was there, a lady was rescued from snorkelling with the symptoms of a severe burst lung. She was unconscious and vomiting blood and worse. Michelle conducted a detailed inquiry into what might have happened. It was two days before it was sadly discovered that the diver was seeing out the last days of a terminal illness, apparently not declared on her medical disclaimer.
hspace=5 At the same time an essential boat suffered a severe mechanical failure in the form of a broken propshaft, and the Bahamas government announced that work permits for Stuart Coves mainly international staff had gone up from $1000 to $4500 each!
In addition to shark feeds, Dive South Ocean offers other diving options. It tried rebreathers, but found they were not a great commercial success. They were very high maintenance and there was little manufacturers support. I dont think the recreational market is ready for them.
Unlike wall-flying with underwater scooters, which has been very successful at the centre. It is in the process of get-ting some new scooters to add to the 14 it already runs.
However, sharks are most definitely the mainstay of the business. We even do snorkelling trips to watch the shark feeds now!
  • The World is Not Enough is released in the UK on 26 November.
  • Stuart Coves Dive South Ocean produced the first PADI speciality Shark-Awareness course, set up for it by Rick Frehsee. A videotape is available; visit the website www.stuartcove.com for details.
  • John Bantin travelled courtesy of Goldenjoy Sports, 0171 794 9767. A shark-feeding trip including flight and accommodation for one week costs from 779. Goldenjoy Sports also offers inclusive dive trips to Abacos and Andros in the Bahamas, and trips to Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Jordan, Israel, Cuba and the Maldives. Goldenjoy operates its own charter flights to Sharm el Sheik and Hurghada.