The time: 1992 The place: St Thomas - Caribbean The man: Gordon Ramsay - Michelin-starred Chef and former footballer

AT 25 I was taking some serious time out, after intensive training in Paris with renowned chefs, Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon. My head felt stuffed. So I accepted a job on a private yacht which at 75ft was like a floating Dorchester. I was hired to cook for the owners and their occasional guests, and with three in the kitchen I couldn't believe how easy it was.

When we arrived at St Thomas, I became obsessed with diving. I found it difficult living in a confined space and it is a very physical sport . I was doing two tank dives during the day and after dinner would do a night dive off the back of the boat. We would take torches and flares and sneak off without them knowing.

One day we went on a specialist dive down about 28 metres to watch sharks at a shipwreck. To get there we had to swim through two decks. The deeper into the boat the darker it became.

Unfortunately, I managed to drop my torch and as I dived down to try and catch it, my buoyancy jacket became trapped in my emergency breathing apparatus and I found myself jammed up against a pipe on the roof of this wreck. I had to try and remove the jacket which was a frightening and daunting task. I came very close to blowing it.

While I tried to free the emergency regulator, I caught the tubes for my tank somewhere and I was losing air and finding it incredibly hard to breathe.

For a few seconds I had to take off my mouth-piece. Lots of thoughts were flashing through my mind. I remembered the three bodybags which were loaded when we stopped at Gibraltar! A picture of my mother came next, I'm very close to her and I wondered what she would say if she could see me now and the huge mess I'd got myself into. My death would have destroyed her. Half my friends didn't even know where I was.

Untangling the tubes to my tank so I could maintain breathing wasn't the end of my problems. By taking off the buoyancy jacket I floated up towards the roof of the cabin and the right-hand side of my arm and my neck hit the ceiling which was covered with fire coral. It is like putting your hand into a naked flame and even through my wet suit I could feel it.

Finally, I struggled back into the jacket and with the extra weight floated down off the ceiling. It was still important for me to control my breathing because the more anxious you become, the more oxygen you use and with quite a deep dive we had less bottom time.

It was only when I made it back to the surface that I realised just how much danger I had been in.

Had I panicked or lost control I would still be there now! Nobody could quite believe what had happened, they were gobsmacked. I still have nightmares, especially in the summer. In them I don't get out of them cabin. I'm underwater, holding my breath and then I start swallowing water. I blank out. My friends arrive too late to rescue me and I die. The memories are not easy to forget because the nightmare was within a whisker of coming true.

My biggest mistake was taking on too big a dive too early. I should have done thirty of forty easy dives before tackling a wreck. I suppose I was far too ambitious and pushed myself too hard.

Until I was 19 I had thought that my whole life was in professional football. Then I was told that I was a failure by Glasgow Rangers. I'd been wrapped in cotton wool, earning lots of money and signing autographs on the way to training each day. But after an injury to my knee the team released me and I lost everything. It was very hurtful, but has given me more determination.

I'm an extremist, I can never settle for doing anything to a mediocre standard, which nearly proved the end of me!

I have to learn to slow down, but it's so hard when you're so keen. I run an average of eighteen to twenty miles a week because I'm training for the marathon. My ambition now is to go for three Michelin stars, there's never been a Scot to do it yet.

When I think of how close I came to dying, all my other problems are very minor. For example, this summer I'm doing a dinner on the eve of the World Cup final at Versailles and everybody is asking me how I will manage cooking for a thousand people in just two hours.

At my restaurant, Aubergine, in west London, we cook only fifty covers and have three hours to do it. But I don't worry because it's all down to organisation. I'm not worried about that kind of pressure, it's more excitement than pressure.

Every summer and Christmas I still go diving. I love the fact that I am non-contactable - no telephones and no faxes. I feel more in touch with myself than in any other place and really relaxed. I spent my honeymoon diving.

I still like shark watching. I even went into a cage off the Florida coast to search for the Great White. I'd always had a fear of being bitten by a shark so decided the best way to overcome it was to get up close and I've started reading about them and their habits. If sharks stop moving they die. I suppose I'm like that too.

Comments