Gossiping with …number One Wham! fan, Wendy Wu’s Gary King

Gary King Gossiping with
By Linsey McNeill
Home » Gossiping with …number One Wham! fan, Wendy Wu’s Gary King

Wendy Wu Head of Trade Sales Gary King tells us about his plane-spotting childhood, his spell as a business-class backpacker, and the time he walked in his hero George Michael’s footsteps…

After I went on holiday to Benidorm, aged seven, I knew I wanted to work in travel. Then in 1982, at the age of 14, I went to stay with an uncle in Dubai. His apartment overlooked the runway and I became like Rain Man, obsessed with where all the planes were going. I learned all the airport and airline codes and I returned home to Essex determined to be a pilot.

My early dream was shattered by a teacher, who told me boys from Romford can’t be pilots. She told me I’d need to join the RAF. My parents managed to get me work experience at a local travel agency instead. I spent eight hours a day stamping brochures with our contact details and making coffee.

I went on to a trainee scheme, earning £138.08 a month. Somehow I still managed to go on holiday and have a great social life.

By the age of 19 I was an Assistant Manager of a little travel agency. I was loving life, putting myself forward for every fam trip and making the most of it.

My proudest moment was winning Intatravel Manager of the Year, aged just 21. I’ll never forget standing on stage, having the photos, the paparazzi, opening the envelope to find I’d won a holiday to St Lucia, staying at Le Sport Hotel. I’d never been to an all-inclusive before and I was absolutely bowled over.

I also won a place on a Royal Caribbean fam trip, even though I’d never sold a cruise. Afterwards, I tried to sell cruises to everyone who came in the shop, even if they wanted a city break I’d start talking to them about cruises! Nine times out of 10 it didn’t work, but my market traders loved their cruises and within 12 months we were one of the top RCCL agencies in the country.

My school motto was ‘only my best is good enough for me’ and I live by that. I was made Intatravel Regional Sales Manager with responsibility for about 20 shops in the south-east. It was a step into the unknown, but a great experience. Later, I managed to step into the General Manager role, responsible for the entire retail operation.

I joined the corporate world when First Choice acquired Intatravel. That came with its challenges but I guess I went on to do pretty well within the team. We opened 200 new travel agencies within 18 months, it was a time when it was very fashionable for big tour operators to own a retail chain to secure their distribution. 

When First Choice merged with Thomson, I took on an international role. I moved to Russia to set up the TUI Russia retail network there. I was commuting to Moscow Monday to Friday for three years, I collected a lot of air miles! Some days I wondered ‘what am I doing’ but it was massive, massive adventure and we built a network of 100 agencies and 200 franchisees.

One of the best nights of my life was my last in Moscow. I shed many tears that day, but we had a great night out, although I’ll never manage to keep up with Russians when it comes to drinking neat vodka!

I went backpacking for two months, but travelled mainly business class. I had a lot of air miles to use so took a sabbatical to Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. It was wonderful not to have a schedule.

I thought I was done with travel in 2015, so set up a doggy day care business. The loves of my life are my dogs, so I took redundancy from my role as TUI Retail & Franchise Director for Europe and set up a company providing pet care services for dogs. At one time I had a team of 16 people, it was a good business, and I was telling all my friends I loved it, but the truth was I missed travel and behind the scenes I was preparing to return to the industry that I loved.

I sold my business in early 2022 and joined Wendy Wu Tours. I absolutely don’t miss running my own business. As soon as I started to look at the Wendy Wu products I was obsessed straight away. I met Wendy [Wu] and my boss Glen and the passion that was coming from those two, and clear strategy that I sensed from the pair of them, I just knew I had to be part of it. 

Touring seems to be riding a very high wave at the moment as clients don’t want to just go somewhere, they want to experience it, feel it, live it while they’re there.

One of the highlights of my career was walking in George Michael’s footsteps on the Great Wall of China! I’ve been an obsessive Wham! fan since I saw them performing Young Guns on Top of the Pops in 1982 and they were the first Western pop band to play in China. When I went with Wendy to China after COVID we were some of the first international tourists, so we were treated like celebrities, children were waving, and as I stood on the Great Wall of China, I felt like I was following in my hero’s footsteps.

One person I’d love to travel with is Graham Norton. I love his humour and I love Eurovision. I’ve never been because I’m famous for my Eurovison parties at home and I wouldn’t want to let everyone down!

Quick questions

  • City break or beach holiday? Beach.
  • Solo travel or group tour? Group Tour.
  • Film or theatre? Film.
  • Dogs or humans? Dogs.
  • Night out or TV dinner? Night out, forever a party animal!

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