Vibrant, passionate and inspiring are three main strengths of Danella Hopkins’ Talent Dynamics profile, Dynamo/Blaze, and on speaking to the Luxury Hospitality project manager, it’s clear she possesses them in spades. Originally training as a beauty therapist before her first stint at sea working on board cruise ships, she eventually made the move to superyachts working her way up to chief stewardess on both private and charter yachts ranging 70-100m+, and eventually overseeing the new build project of SY Black Pearl in Rotterdam.
Now working for Luxury Hospitality on a project management basis, with a keen eye for new personal development programs and consultancy projects, Danella sits down with us to discuss her most cherished memories from her time on board, her passion for crew training and the most important piece of advice she would offer those looking to make their foray into the superyacht industry.
Please can you tell us about your earlier career and how you got into the yachting industry?
I originally trained as a beauty therapist in New Zealand and spent my first few years working there and over in Australia. I always had the desire to live on a boat and my first step into the maritime industry was working on board a cruise ship in the spa. It was after my first contract I got chatting to someone who had been working on superyachts and I knew instantly that was what I wanted to do. I completed my STCW, read a book called The Insider’s Guide to becoming a Yacht Stewardess by Julie Perry and booked a one-way ticket to Antibes. I think the stars were all aligned as I was fortunate enough to land a job immediately with the Vulcan fleet who were looking for a housekeeper masseuse with cruise ship experience…the timing was perfect.
What did you enjoy most about working on board superyachts and what’s your most special memory?
That’s a tough question as I genuinely loved so much of it! I enjoyed the constant variety of tasks from table setting, flower arranging, guest service, and even the organising and looking after the interior when guests were off – I was so happy with a day of dust vac-ing and zero responsibilities – so underrated! Haha. But the places and the people – and, of course, meeting my future husband - it wouldn’t have been the same without those.
One particular memory that always stands out to me was one of Paul Allen’s New Year’s Eve parties in St Barts. It was an incredible atmosphere with all the excitement of working an event and then Roger Waters came over, picked up a guitar, and sang ‘Comfortably Numb’ – we all just stopped what we were doing to watch and listen, I was literally only a few metres away from him. It was absolutely amazing, and I feel incredibly privileged to have witnessed this moment so closely.
What prompted your move on shore?
I had actually moved ashore once before back in 2011 after an accident left me without a fingertip! I ended up working with Peter Vogel for a few years before I realised I wasn’t quite done on board yachts just yet, and so the sea called me back once again.
This time round it was when I fell pregnant with our son at the end of 2019, and whilst staying on board wasn’t really an option, it naturally felt like it was the right time in my life to leave. I was ready this time.
Your final job before moving ashore was as chief stew on SY Black Pearl – in your opinion, what are the most important qualities a chief stew must possess?
Aside from the obvious ones (such as being organised), patience, openness and the desire to keep learning and progressing yourself is so important. I’ve seen it several times before, a chief stew becoming too comfortable and just cruising through a well-paid job, but it’s so important to stay inspired to help keep your team inspired also. Ultimately that will show in the service you deliver to the owner and their guests.
You now consult on numerous interior projects at Luxury Hospitality – how did that come about?
I’ve always had a passion for interiors and organisational set up. I think this interest just naturally lent me into wanting yacht jobs that involved outfitting, as well as ensuring all documentation was in place. I’ve always loved the challenge of a new build.
Can you tell us more about the new build project you have been working on this year and what your responsibilities are?
I won’t go into too much detail on the new build itself, but the project involved a large amount of SOP’s, guidelines and checklists to allow the interior team to focus on everything else - ordering, storage, set up, recruitment etc. It’s a really nice, and complimentary service to be able to offer as it’s such a hectic time in the shipyard and often the time you really need to be completely organised is just not there, so we can support the interior team throughout this phase as well. The documents themselves will be integrated to the onboard management software and go hand in hand with the hospitality training we offer on board to finally bring it all together and fully customise to the project.
How would you describe a typical day at work?
Currently it’s not too eventful as I’m mainly working from home. It involves a lot of computer work but also plenty of Zoom calls for various intakes, meetings and brainstorming, so I don’t ever feel too lonely. I’ve also got to get my son out the door to daycare in the mornings and then collect him at five, so it sometimes feels like I’m in my own ‘charter mode’. When my husband is back from rotation though I get out more on work trips which is always a nice change and more eventful.
Do you miss the training side of the business and do you hope to revisit it again soon?
Absolutely! I used to be one of Peter’s training assistants back in 2012/13 and I remember always feeling inspired by him. Our trainings are never just straight forward trainings, as we would constantly adapt to each vessel, the crew, and their needs, and often there’s a bit of consultancy that’s involved. I loved that, as it’s that continual element of progression that means we also continue to evolve. I’m looking to get back into it again early next year and have already started on some Train the Trainer programs to get back in the mindset. I can’t wait to work alongside the other LH trainers too as they all bring something different to the table and I’m looking forward to experiencing that - I know it will be a lot of fun!
What’s in the pipeline for 2023?
Hopefully more interior new build projects but I can’t wait to step back on board the yachts to train alongside the team.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt throughout your career so far?
It’s true what they say “the grass is only green where you water it”. I know of a lot of people who keep searching for the “perfect” boat only to find that they left something that was pretty darn good in hindsight. But in saying that you also need to know your worth and don’t stay in situations that genuinely aren’t fulfilling or are toxic to your wellbeing. Always be sure you can sleep well at night with your choices and trust your instincts when making important decisions.
When you’re not at work, where would we find you?
I would love to say I was out doing something more interesting or exciting but honestly these days, you’ll probably find me at the park with my son or pushing cars on the living room floor. Almost every Saturday though, we take the bus over towards Chelsea and head to the food markets at Duke of York Square, we have the Dutch mini pancakes, a smoonie (smoothie) and will call in to his favourite shop for a small toy car before walking all the way home along the river. It’s our little ritual.
Tell us a fact about yourself that might surprise your colleagues?
I think I just surprised them last month when they found out I was into golf and headed to Palma for the Superyacht Charities Golf Event. I learnt how to drive on board the cruise ship in the golf cage - it was a fun way for me to escape from the spa life when stuck on board. I don’t play much, but I’ll always do my best to attend the industry charity events as they’re always such a great time and it’s a great cause. It always reminds me how much I enjoy it and I need to try get out playing more.