Our monthly series continues where we ask leading specialists about themselves and their field. Today we're in conversation with the Dee Gibson. Living between London and Sri Lanka, Dee is an interior designer, sustainable hotelier and founder of the Hera Project X. Cucumber's intrigued!
Dee, what is your favourite travel memory?
I’m a visual person but I am also tuned into an emotion of a place and the place that I can recall in every detail is climbing up the last staircase to the top of Sigyria Rock in Sri Lanka. This is an incredible rock that soars out of the landscape and has a brilliant story of a King who killed his father and try to claim the crown, stealing it from the rightful heir, his brother. He ran away and created an incredible fortress, with stunningly beautiful landscaping and architecture on the flat top of this rocky outcrop. An feat of engineering nearly 1000 years ago. Almost impossible to get to, he hid here from his enemies for many years until being overthrown by his brother. You can climb the first section of this rock via stairs that were carved into the rock with giant Lion’s Feet greeting you at the base, they get narrower the higher you go, but to get to the very top, you need a bit of nerve. When I first climbed it over 25 years ago, there was a scant little metal ladder, a vertical section and you felt suspended in the air. The warm and gusty breeze whilst I was just hanging there looking out over the landscape was breathtaking and exhilarating. I will never forget that feeling, I felt I had a glimpse into what it is like to be absolutely untouchable and free.
Share with us your three, all-time favourite destinations?
Sri Lanka is an obvious one - I’ve built a hotel there after all! A beautiful, diverse island rich in history and innovating an incredible future. I also completely love a place called Bormes Les Mimosas in the Cote D’Azure. I discovered it while working out there for a client, it has won awards for being the most picturesque town, and the reality far exceeds any photographs. I discovered Santorini in 1988 when I was inter-railing, I was travelling with my friends and we overslept on our ferry and ended up on a tiny, unknown island, with nobody but locals and us on it, maybe a handful of lost tourists. It was then completely undiscovered. The memory of that place back in 1988 is etched into my mind, with crystal waters, volcanic sands and even a ship wreck we could see so clearly though the water. An absolutely divine place. We bombed around on a scooter and lapped up every glorious moment. I refuse to go there now as I know it is spoilt by tourism - one of the downfalls of modern travel.
What does being a sustainable hotelier mean to you?
People are as important as environment and building methods. If we don’t look after local communities, not only are we perpetuating a state of poverty and modern colonialism but we also start to lose the beautiful tapestry of heritage crafts, foods and so on. I think it is vital that my guests go and meet people and engage in a cultural exchange. I tell people to get out of their cars and onto their feet, smile, talk, buy local, go off the beaten track and make sure that your holiday spend truly does end up in the hands of locals. For me, emotion is everything - I want people to have a heartfelt connection and that leads to a desire to preserve and look after our surroundings. I advocate for places like Kalukanda House - sustainably built, luxurious, design-led locations promoting heartfelt connections with locals and conscious travel.
Kalukanda House, Sri Lanka
What are you most proud of?
Taking a leap of faith and following my gut instinct to build a place and continuing to diversify in a difficult global situation. The pandemic forced me to look at new ways of doing business and during that foray I discovered an army of amazing people, specifically women, who I want to champion. There is no stage in Sri Lanka for this, and I am making one for them. In fact, our first HERA Project X event is taking place in Sri Lanka in November 2023 with local creatives in residence being guest speakers and showcasing their talents - we will have discussions around collaboration and co-creation as women to build an exciting future in Sri Lanka. I cannot wait!
(Editor’s note: the next HERA Project X in London is on December 7th, tickets and information here. You may recognise the guest speaker!)
Hera Project X
What are you working on now and where next?
HERA Project X and promoting Sri Lanka in a way that changes the narrative from poor little ex-colony to proud and innovative nation. I intersect Design and Travel and I live in UK and Sri Lanka AND I am a female founder - I think it’s important that I find others like me with the same values and we create some space to share our world view.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about a mid-life career change?
Life is too short. We know that. If you follow you heart, with a good dose of common sense to make your dreams come true, you will never regret it. There is a feeling of legacy, and adding some worth to your own sense of self that comes with taking a few decisions to change at any age. Midlife seems scary but life experience means that you won’t make silly mistakes - you may need to find the courage from somewhere but surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart AND support the change. No time for naysayers here! However, it’s good to have people who have your back and will give you counsel. I listen to my advisers and then decide what I want to do. It doesn’t always work out, but so far, I haven’t regretted taking and being responsible for my own decisions, more often than not reaping the rewards.