MY DAD was in the RAF, and I wanted to be a pilot. But after a school medical found I was colour-blind, my hopes were shattered. My dad pushed me to become an accountant, and I eventually gave in and enrolled in an accountancy degree in Dundee. From the start, I knew I wasn’t going to like it.
One day I saw an advert in the local Evening Telegraph about parachuting – they were offering money for it, too. When I saw that it was an ad for the Territorial Army, I decided to sign up.
I’d never experienced military life, but before long I knew I wanted to join the Paras. I loved the camaraderie, I hated college, and I yearned for something more exciting than being an accountant.
I was sent to the Falklands in April 1982. I don’t know if you could ever say you were prepared for such a war. 2 Para was the only regiment to fight in two battles. Once I returned to Dundee after the war, I started drinking, and saw the psychological damage suffered by several of my comrades. It was a life-changing experience and shaped my commitment to care for others.
At first I wanted to become an army physiotherapist, and was sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich. It was mentally challenging, but there were nurses: the disco on Thursday night in the Naafi was fun. Sadly, the military school of physiotherapy was closed before I could start the course.
I decided to pursue my physiotherapy career in civvy street. However, after leaving the army, I had to wait ten months to start my course, and sold insurance in Aldershot with my old Falklands mate Wayne Rees in the meantime. It was a hard-sell job, but I was really good at it. Though we never spoke about the war, the Paras gave me a very task-oriented outlook. Paras are always told they are the best, so I didn’t doubt that I would be the best in the insurance business. I’ve always been scared of failure, which drives me to succeed, so selling wasn’t hard and rejection didn’t bother me.
The RAF parachute training school’s motto always stuck with me: “Knowledge Dispels Fear”. If you have knowledge, you’ll always be fine. When my wife and I moved to Dundee, we decided to start a business. I knew the population was ageing and realised, after work as a medic on the oil rigs, that there would be a growing market for nursing homes. We spotted a house in Kirriemuir that was up for sale, though it looked more like a wee castle than a family home.
We opened Lisden Care Home in 1992. Today, Balhousie Care Group is Scotland’s largest privately-owned group of nursing and care homes, with 24 homes. I’ve come a long way, but never stop learning. In business, I’ve added two mottos to my philosophy – the Paras’ regimental motto, utrinque paratus – “ready for anything” – and the motto of the Royal Army Medical Corps, “steadfast in adversity”.
Storming the Falklands: My war and after by Tony Banks is published by Little, Brown, £20.