Daisy Kelliher, chief stewardess of Below Deck Sailing Yacht’s S/Y Parsifal III, talks to Dockwalk about her first yachting gig, finding her management style, and how she ended up on one of television’s best-loved shows...
For some, working on board a luxury yacht and travelling the world is a lifelong dream, but it didn’t start out that way for Daisy Kelliher. “My dad encouraged me to try yachting, but I had no interest. I thought it was like the Navy,” she says. This was a time before the likes of Google and Facebook — social media didn't exist (neither did Below Deck) and the wonderful world of crewing was only known to those who were already in the game. Instead, she left her home in Ireland and headed to London where she worked in hotel management for two years.
But the lure of the ocean was never too far away for Kelliher. Her parents, aunts, uncles, and even grandparents had all been involved in the yachting industry in one way or another — her grandfather even represented Ireland in the 1964 Olympics in sailing. After two years working in London, she decided life on land wasn’t for her. She took her father’s advice and decided to give yachting a go. “I packed up my bags and went to Antibes when I was 25 and six weeks later I got my first job,” she says.
The role was a sole stewardess on a 38-meter sailing yacht. With a bachelor’s degree in hotel management and experience in the hospitality industry, joining the interior team was “a natural progression,” she says. “It was just a seasonal position so it was quiet, but an awesome introduction to the industry.”
In two years, she worked her way up to become a chief stewardess and spent the next six years working on two 45-meter sailing yachts. “I’m more of a sailboat girl,” explains Kelliher. “For a stew, motor yachts are much easier. The standards are a bit higher but in terms of storage space, not being on your side, having more crew, it is easier.”
But, she says, sailboats are more fun. “The guests want to be there to be part of nature. It’s not just about service, food, and wine.”
But then, her eight-year career came to an abrupt halt when the pandemic hit in 2020. “I think I was one of the first [to lose their job]. People were waiting to see what would happen, whereas the person I worked for unfortunately was very quick with his decision.
“The industry was really unpredictable at that stage, everyone was a bit unknown. A few friends of mine suggested I do Below Deck. At that point, I had been eight years in the industry so I thought ‘what do I have to lose?’”
Kelliher likens the Below Deck casting team to crew agents. “It’s a similar process. You send your CV and if you’re a good fit, you were put forward to the next round.” As it turns out she got the job and joined Parsifal III for season two of the sailing yacht spin-off, working alongside Capt. Glenn Shepherd.
Now in its third season, Kelliher says the show “is just chaos.”
“It’s yachting all over. It’s an emotional roller coaster, you can’t have the highs without the lows. But I think the team came out really strong in the end and it is fun to bring everyone along for the ride.”
As she returned to Parsifal III for a second year as chief stewardess, Kelliher said she felt more relaxed. “It was definitely a challenging season for me but I felt confident in my management skills. I liked to see that I had become the chief stew that I always wanted to be. I am supportive and I am kind, but it’s hard to see these things without them literally being shown to you on TV.”
She admits that her management style differs from other chief stewardesses she has come across in her ten years at sea. “I took the things I didn’t like about my chief stews, which were they weren’t very approachable and strict and I’m like, we’re making beds and heads, there’s no need to undermine me or talk down to me. I think that kind of defined my management style.”
“To an extent, I have to tell people what to do and be a bit of a boss, but I definitely feel like more of a team player and more approachable.”
She hopes that her lighthearted approach to leading a team resonates with other budding yachties. “It’s not always easy to watch yourself. But luckily I can laugh at myself.”