Debra Searle

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Debra Searle
Debra Searle MVO, MBE portrait photo with oar by Hayley Barnard.jpg
Debra Searle MVO, MBE photo by Hayley Barnard
Personal information
Full nameDebra Searle MVO MBE
Born (1975-07-08) 8 July 1975 (age 44)
Plymouth, Devon, England, UK

Debra Louise Searle MVO MBE (born 8 July 1975), née Newbury, later Veal, is a British adventurer, television presenter, author and motivational speaker.[1] In 2002, Searle rowed across the Atlantic alone after her then husband and rowing partner, Andrew Veal, was rescued from their plywood rowing boat.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Searle was born in Plymouth, Devon, on 8 July 1975 along with her identical twin sister Hayley Barnard.[3] They were adopted by Robin and Christine Newbury as babies and have two older brothers.

Searle attended Stover School, on the edge of Dartmoor, where she first started undertaking expeditions, including Ten Tors and the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. She studied for a BEd in Physical Education specialising in Outdoor Education and graduated with 1st Class Honours and a number of outdoor instructor qualifications from De Montfort University. She was later awarded an Honorary MA by De Montfort University in 2004.


Searle taught physical education and outdoor education at St Margaret's School, Exeter, Devon and then at Claremont Fan Court School, Esher, Surrey. She gave up teaching after founding the Well Hung Art Company Ltd in 1999 with two friends, which promoted the work of lesser known artists via the web and sold original fine art to the corporate market.[4]

In 2004, Searle closed the Well Hung Art Company to focus on her second company, Shoal Projects Ltd, which she had founded two years earlier with her twin sister Hayley Barnard. Shoal Projects manages Searle's adventures and other related media, publishing and motivational work, as well as that of other sports people and adventurers. From 2002 onwards, Searle has undertaken a number of expeditions and adventurous challenges as detailed below and has worked as a TV presenter, mainly for the BBC. She is much in demand as a motivational speaker and has written and contributed to a number of books and newspapers.

In 2014, Searle and business partner Barnard opened MIX Diversity Developers Ltd,[5] a consultancy firm specialising in Diversity & Inclusion, Unconscious Bias and Cultural Change.[6]

Debra Searle hosts a regular podcast called Expert Speaking Made Simple[7] to help others with their public speaking skills. She also offers a variety of training courses for both amateur and professional speakers via the website[8]


Always a keen sportswoman, Searle represented her county in tennis and netball and represented the West of England in lacrosse whilst in her teens. She went on to gain a place in the Great Britain Dragon Boat Racing Team in 1998[9] for the European Championships in Rome and the 1999 World Championships in Nottingham,[10] coming home with gold, silver and bronze medals.

Atlantic Rowing Race[edit]

Searle and her then husband Andrew Veal entered the Ward Evans Atlantic Rowing Challenge, a 3,000-mile double –handed rowing race from Tenerife to Barbados. The challenge includes building your own plywood boat from a flat pack kit.

There was significant media interest in the couple's entry, as they were the only male/female and husband/wife team out of the 36 teams taking part in the 2001–02 race.

Media interest intensified when Andrew was forced to retire from the race suffering from uncontrollable anxiety.[11] Debra continued on alone, arriving in Barbados after 111 days at sea.[12] Robert Hall from the BBC Six O'Clock News covered the story which was shown over two consecutive days.[13] The Times Newspaper ran the story on their front cover for three consecutive days.[14][15][16] She had never rowed before signing up to row across the Atlantic.

Ben Fogle, the adventurer and TV presenter who rowed the Atlantic with James Cracknell in 2005 claimed to have been inspired by Searle's crossing in his book The Crossing, written with James Cracknell.[17]

Searle's story is featured in the multi-award-winning film Row Hard No Excuses by Lantern Films,[18] being screened on PBS across the US in 2010 and 2011.[19]

Expeditions and sporting achievements[edit]

Year Achievement
1998 Won gold medal at European Dragon Boat Championships in Rome for Great Britain
1999 Won silver and bronze medals at Dragon Boat World Championships in Nottingham representing Great Britain
2001–2002 Rowed across the Atlantic (3,300 miles)
2002 Yukon River Race (742 km) with childhood friend Bruce Parry
2004 Raced in Les Voiles De St. Tropez on board Mari Cha IV 140’
2004–2005 Sailed across the Southern Ocean from Buenos Aires to Wellington, New Zealand, (7,000 miles). Sponsored by Pindar.
2005 Kayak Surfed 4 peeks in the Maldives
2005 Raced in the Round the Island Race on board Pindar Alphagraphics Open 60
2005 Raced in Les Voiles De St. Tropez on board Pindar Volvo 60
2006 Obtained RYA Yachtmaster
2006 Raced in Antigua Race Week on board Pindar Alphagraphics Open 60
2006 Obtained PADI Advanced Diver Certification
2007 Skippered and Navigated "The Sisterhood" to a new Dragon Boat world record to cross the English Channel.[20]
2007 Competed in Vogalonga – a race around the canals of Venice in traditional craft
2007 Completed Time Megeve Mont Blanc Bike Race in the French Alps
2007 Successfully completed L'Etape du Tour bike race in the Pyrenees Mountains (Stage 15 of the Tour de France – 196 km)
2009 Dartmoor Classic 100-mile bike race
2009 Forced to retire from L'Etape du Tour attempt due to bike failure
2010 Raced in the Monte Carlo Rally Historique with Anna-Louise Felstead in a 1957 Alfa Romeo
2015 Due to trek from Qikiqtarjuaq to Pangnirtung in the Arctic Circle as the leader of the LeasePlan Women’s Arctic Challenge.[21] Searle did not complete this as she snapped her cruciate ligament ten days before the expedition and was unable to attend.[22] The team still successfully completed the Challenge and Searle flew out to surprise them at the finish line.[23]
2017 Cycling expedition from Valencia to Barcelona in Spain as part of the Irish Chamber Cycle 2017.[24][25]

In 2004, Searle became a member of the Pindar Ocean Racing Team. Yachts and Yachting Magazine reported that Searle was planning an attempt to become the first woman to sail non-stop the 'wrong way' around the world (against the prevailing winds and currents).[26] With major corporate sponsors in place Searle, who had no previous sailing experience, trained to become a RYA Yachtmaster. She competed in a number of major sailing events on board Pindar Open 60 throughout 2005 and sailed on board Pindar in the Global Challenge Southern Ocean leg. However the attempt was scrapped after Searle was beaten to the record by Dee Caffari who set off on 20 November 2005, arriving back in the UK on 18 May 2006, after 178 days at sea.

TV presenting[edit]

Searle was approached by the BBC Extreme Lives team with a view to making a documentary about her Atlantic row and subsequent expedition, the Yukon River Quest. Searle invited long-term friend Bruce Parry (who went on to present numerous BBC series including Tribe, Amazon and most recently, Arctic) to partner her in the 742 km canoe race through the Yukon Territory.

As a result of Searle's appearance on Extreme Lives and following an interview for BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, she was allocated a talent manager within the BBC and started presenting. She has presented more than forty programmes for the BBC as well as working for ITV, Channel 5 and Sail TV. Credits include Grandstand (BBC1), G2 (BBC2 Grandstand spin-off), Extreme Lives, Builders, Sweat and Tears (BBC1), Big Strong Boys (BBC1) and The Southampton Boat Show (ITV).

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award[edit]

In 2003, Searle was invited to be a trustee of leading youth charity the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. At that time she was the only female and the youngest board member.[27] After a decade on the Board of Trustees, Searle has recently stepped down.

Searle started her own Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award whilst at school and completed it at university.


As author[edit]

  • Rowing it Alone (2002)
  • The Journey: How to Achieve Against the Odds (2007)

As contributor[edit]

  • Kayak Surfing (2004)
  • Extreme Survival (2006)
  • My Reason for Hope (2008)
  • Numerous articles for British newspapers

Diversity Advocate[edit]

In 2014, Searle and business partner Barnard opened MIX Diversity Developers Ltd,[28] a consultancy firm specialising in Diversity & Inclusion, Unconscious Bias and Cultural Change.[29]

In April 2015 Searle’s company led the LeasePlan Women's Arctic Challenge on a ski-trek across Baffin Island in the Arctic Circle. The expedition was part of a wider corporate diversity project designed to challenge stereotypes and provoke conversations around unconscious bias.[30]

Searle, who intended to lead the expedition herself, snapped one of her cruciate ligaments ten days before the expedition and was unable to attend.[31] The team still successfully completed the Challenge and Searle flew out to surprise them at the finish line.[32]

Searle cites that the accolades she received for her Solo Atlantic Row are ultimately a product of a sexist agenda, as ‘her story wouldn’t have even made her local paper had it been her husband who had continued alone and she who had been rescued'.[33] She now has a ‘passion for demolishing stereotypes’ and has participated in various events to celebrate International Women’s Day.[34][35]

Searle was also a founding member of The Business Women’s Network Forum, which is based out of Buckingham Palace and chaired by The Countess of Wessex. She recruited female leaders from major organizations such as HSBC and Google to come together to share best practice on Gender Balance in the Workplace.[36]

Personal life[edit]

She married her first husband in 1999 and later divorced him in 2004. She has since remarried and lives in Plymouth with her husband with whom she has had two children.

Searle was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2002 Birthday Honours.[citation needed] She was appointed Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) in the 2014 New Year Honours for her work with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.[37]


  1. ^ Pengelly, Gaynor. "Sea Change". Retrieved 21 August 2002.
  2. ^ "Rower completes Atlantic crossing". BBC News. 26 January 2002. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  3. ^ "Relative values: Debra Veal and Hayley Barnard". The Sunday Times. London. 13 April 2003. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  4. ^ Flanagan, Ben (23 February 2003). "Home is where the art is..." The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 December 2008. Retrieved 2013-03-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)/compdetails
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Expert Speaking Made Simple by The Twins - Hayley and Debra Searle MBE: Professional Speakers and Entrepreneurs. Founders of Your Speaking Career. on Apple Podcasts". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  8. ^ "Your Speaking Career – Your Speaking Career Site". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  9. ^ "European Championships 1998". Archived from the original on 14 October 2013.
  10. ^ "International Dragon Boat Federation World Championship Results 1999". Archived from the original on 19 July 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  11. ^ "Ocean Rowing Society list of failed Atlantic Rowing Attempts". Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  12. ^ "Rower Completes Atlantic Crossing". BBC News. 26 January 2002. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  13. ^ "BBC Six O'Clock News". Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  14. ^ "Atlantic Rower to make Barbados Landfall today". The Times. 26 January 2002.
  15. ^ "Debra Veal was celebrating as she rowed into Port St Charles, Barbados". The Sunday Times. 27 January 2002.
  16. ^ "Now Sky's the limit for Debra the lone Atlantic Rower". The Times. 28 January 2002.
  17. ^ James Cracknell; Ben Fogle (2006). The Crossing. p. 4. ISBN 1-84354-511-X.
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ "Row Hard No Excuses showing on PBS". Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  20. ^ "The Telegraph Blog, Sisterhood". The Daily Telegraph. London. 28 August 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Please Support CHAMBER CYCLE 2017 on". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  25. ^ "Debra Searle MBE". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  26. ^ "Debra Searle to take Wrong Way Round the World Attempt". 27 September 2005. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  27. ^ "Debra Searle – Personally Speaking Bureau". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  28. ^ "Companies House". Companies House Data. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  29. ^ "MIX Diversity Developers – About". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  30. ^ "LeasePlan Women's Arctic Challenge Blog". LeasePlan Women's Arctic Challenge Blog. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  31. ^ "LeasePlan Women's Arctic Challenge team sets out on the adventure of a lifetime". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  32. ^ "LeasePlan Women's Arctic Challenge Video". YouTube. LeasePlan UK. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  33. ^ "Nominate Debra Searle". National Diversity Awards. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  34. ^ "Women's Day Tweet". Twitter. Twitter. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  35. ^ "Women's Day Event". City Pulse. City Pulse. Archived from the original on 14 July 2015. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  36. ^ "Countess of Wessex Blog". HRH Countess of Wessex. BlogSpot. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  37. ^ "No. 60728". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2013. p. 4.

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