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EPISODE #21

From air force to art: One man's journey through opportunity

Anthony Smith Chaigneau
  • Born in Wales/Welsh Ancestry
  • Phoenix, Arizona, USA
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Growing up in a military family, a had very fragmented schooling as a child. Born in Llantwit Major, by the time I reached my teens, I had lived in five countries, many more small towns and attended more schools than I can remember.

In 1975, at 15 years old, I found myself on the verge of leaving school with almost no decent exam results. I failed my English Language O-Level, failed Physics and had terrible grades in the other subjects - even a C in O-Level Art; and I was an exceptional natural-born artist. In fact, my childhood dream was to become a graphic artist and go to Cardiff Art College.

"In 1975, at 15 years old, I found myself on the verge of leaving school with almost no decent exam results. All doors were closed to me. I really didn't know what to do. I left school, lost."

Needless to say, without the right 'academic qualifications' - the key for any college - all doors were closed to me. I really didn't know what to do. My careers advice 'coach' offered up little if no useful advice. I left school, lost. After a short sojourn in the Christie Tyler furniture factory in Kenfig Hill, and several months working at the Bryncethin Bakery, making 500 iced buns every morning. I decided that my only escape was to join the military.

I took the entrance exams in Cardiff and they decided that I would make a good electronic mechanic. So, at the tender age of 16 and a half, I found myself at RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire - where my life's adventure began.

All throughout my career, which led to many qualifications in electronics and avionics engineer, I kept the artist in me alive. My travels far and wide with the military saw me visit places as far flung as Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic, to the town of Bodo in the North of Norway, where I learnt to speak Norwegian.

I left the RAF after 15 years of service. I took what I had learnt and continued as an engineer until taking a leap into the business side of the work equation, finding myself helping to build out the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble. I learnt to speak French.

I was then head-hunted to Switzerland where I worked for an Israeli company who were installing a huge technical project for the UN. The UN then asked me to join them to maintain the system I had installed, and I spent the following year regretting my decision (but that's another story). All along I balanced this with my artistic gift and kept painting and drawing, winning competitions and selling well.

"Fast forward 20 years and I am living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m still in the TV business and on the way have written several books, and I have been published in business journals across the world. I have become a successful businessman, writer, photographer and artist."

After I left the UN, I found myself at a Swiss start-up in the digital delivery of music (pre-MP3 and Napster). This saw me transfer from Engineer to Marketeer, PR and Business Developer. Suddenly I found myself in Times Square negotiating huge deals for music catalogues with BMG. I found myself in London at Polygram selling digital music concepts and at MIDEM in Cannes, France discussing deals with Corporate Finance Merrill Lynch, whilst schmoozing with the stars. Along the way I met Charlotte Church at a music expo in Las Vegas when she was 12 years old.

The music business was hit by piracy and it all collapsed. My next step was into TV at the DVB consortium in Geneva, Switzerland where I honed a career in TV technology storytelling, using my left-brain/right-brain balance.

Fast forward 20 years and I am living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m still in the TV business and on the way have written several books, and I have been published in business journals across the world. I have become a successful businessman, writer, photographer and artist. I have sold more than 400 pieces of art and pieces hang in Norway, Poland, UK, Peru, USA and many other locations across the globe. Mostly Watercolours, some acrylics, digital prints and cartoons and sketches. If I had to choose, I would say Watercolour is my first love, but cartooning is also something I do on a regular basis.

"I have sold more than 400 pieces of art and pieces hang in Norway, Poland, UK, Peru, USA and many other locations across the globe."

My business has an office in Wales, which I visit by phone every day, but sadly I do not get to be there in person as much as I would like. I have family in Wales, England and Australia. I joined GlobalWelsh so that I could live vicariously through a pool of dedicated patriotic Welshness. I found the concept fascinating and unique. I would like to be able to give back to Wales in any way possible even if it is simply to help GlobalWelsh spread the word, in order that its ambitions come to fruition. I have not met as many Welsh people as I would have liked to along my journey, but when I have it has always been a ray of sunshine.

Funnily enough, as I drove home from my office in Phoenix the other day, I noticed a house, tucked away, off the main road, with a Welsh flag flying. I stopped and rang the doorbell, but nobody was home. I am intrigued as to what their connection to Wales is and I will let everyone know when I meet the owner of the flag.

You can view my work online here, here and here. Connect with Anthony >> 

Main image shown: 'Old Farm Valliguieres - France' by Anthony Smith-Chaigneau

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