This month, we’re grilling Tony Mitchell – site manager at Go Ape Black Park, Buckinghamshire. Tony has been leading the tribe there since July 2014, but has been part of Go Ape’s fixtures and fittings since 2009 when he took a job at the Bedgebury site. Here, we find out about why he’s always in a good mood, and why he’s usually in close proximity to an A-list celeb or two…
What made you join the Go Ape family?
My whole life, I’ve always loved the great outdoors. I joined the army at the ripe age of 16 and it really gave me a taste for it; I’ve never had a “proper” office job. Before working for Go Ape I worked as a watersports instructor and a ski guide. I then went on to be deputy manager of a gym in Brighton – but even that was too “indoorsy” for me!
Did you experience Go Ape for yourself before taking the job?
Shortly before my interview for Go Ape, I thought to myself: “I better have a go at this so I know what I’m talking about in the interview!” and my partner and I paid a visit to the Bracknell site. Since then, though, I’ve been to 16 or 17 of the other Go Ape sites – I can’t get enough of it!
What do you like about working for Go Ape?
Go Ape Black Park is set in 530 acres of beautiful woodland, with an amazing centre-piece lake. Even if I wake up in a bad mood, I step one foot into the forest and I’m instantly in a good mood; even if it’s wet and windy, it’s impossible not to be happy when you’re surrounded by this scenery. I’m lucky because, even as a manager, I’m not stuck behind a desk all day. Although my role does require me to be at a desk sometimes, I’m still very active.
I’d have to say that the people – both staff and customers – are what I love most about my job, though. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing someone conquer their fears; starting the day shaking with nerves and coming back absolutely buzzing.
What makes your site unique?
Well, one of the reasons Black Park is unique is because of our best kept secret: we have forest bikes at our site. We’re the only Go Ape site to have a bike hire operation in place, and I like that!
We also offer the Segway experience here, but we’re the only site where you can Segway down to the Hogwarts’ railway station from Harry Potter!
Pinewood Studios is just a stone’s throw away from our site, with ‘Star Wars’ being filmed down there as I speak! There are also loads of movie scenes that are filmed right here at Black Park – from ‘James Bond’ to ‘Fast & Furious’. Quite often, we’ll hear a big boom coming from Pinewood Studios – it’s rather exciting for all of us! The stars are usually kept under wraps, but Damian Lewis (star of ‘Homeland’) did pay Go Ape a visit with his son, who had a go on the Tree Top Junior Adventure.
Finally, tell us a story that will put a smile on our faces…
There are a couple of particularly funny moments that spring to mind. One is when a customer dressed up in one of our gorilla suits, unbeknownst to her boyfriend. She then proceeded to get down on one knee and propose to him! He said yes, of course (after she had peeled off her gorilla mask!).
Another one that stands out took place on market day. Once a month, there’s a market that comes to the Go Ape car park, and part of it involves a ‘petting zoo’ – where animals such as ducks, rabbits, donkeys and sheep often make an appearance. One day, the rabbits somehow managed to escape, so we ended up scrambling around the car park chasing bunnies!