She is a renowned international superyacht captain and celebrated star of Below Deck Mediterranean, travelling the world with the rich and famous. But Captain Sandy Yawn just cannot get over seeing photos of herself staring back at her on the famous London buses, advertising her hit reality show, while visiting the capital.
"My face has been all over the buses, that’s pretty cool," she tells HELLO! when we meet last week. "I really love coming to the UK - over the years I have visited here many times."
Bright and bubbly and exuding a zen-like calm during our chat, Sandy has much to celebrate. Not only is she about to appear on the eighth season of the popular show - which airs on Hayu UK from next week - which follows the workers 'below deck' on a luxury yacht of which she is the captain, but the 58-year-old has just got engaged to her girlfriend of five years, Leah Shafer. HELLO! meets her just hours after she announced the happy news.
"I had been preparing the proposal for six months and I thought I would have this beautiful experience with my words. But I got nervous and it all came out so fast, so the moment passed too quickly. But it was beautiful. I cried, she cried and she made me read my words out again as I had written down what I wanted to say."
The couple plan to get married soon. "September is her birthday month and that’s when I proposed, so I said we should get married during my birthday month, in February. We want to do it in the Florida Keys, barefoot in the sand," she says.
When not filming Below Deck Med, Sandy – who splits her time between Colorado and Florida, where she and Leah are currently building a home, still enjoys sailing regularly and carrying out corporate gigs, often discussing the topics in her book Be the Calm or Be the Storm: Leadership Lessons from a Woman at the Helm. She is currently in the midst of a UK tour, which finishes in Manchester this week (26/9) and sees her interviewed by author Riyadh Khalaf live on stage.
"I love it because it’s very audience interactive and I have no idea what Riyadh is going to ask me. I just have to roll with it. I think the audience sees a side of me, the playful side, that they don’t see on TV."
On Below Deck, Sandy comes across as a thoughtful captain who thinks carefully before meting out punishment to unruly staff and isn’t afraid to get down on her hands and knees to help out with domestic duties when needed. Helping out comes naturally to her.
"I was raised that way, I grew up working," she says. "If you are leading a team and you see how hard they are working, why wouldn’t you help them? We want to win, so to me the ultimate win is providing a certain level of experience for the client and at the same time taking care of my team."
Challenging gender stereotypes just by working in a male-dominated industry, she is used to the casual sexism which often results in guests asking Sandy if they can speak to the (male) captain. "It happens all the time," she says. "It doesn’t annoy me and sometimes it becomes quite fun. I do think our show has created a change globally; I get messages from all over the world from women who says ‘Oh my goodness, that’s an industry that I could work in?'"
The forthcoming season, set in Italy, is once again set to be filled with drama, both among the crew and the (often high maintenance) guests.
Sandy didn’t hesitate to sign up for another series, despite not wanting to do the show when it was initially offered to her. "I was afraid it would ruin my career and then I thought: 'When things just land in your lap, you should take the chance.' I keep returning as I think I have a responsibility to the fans now. I am not an actor, our show is not scripted - what you see is what you get."
Each season takes six weeks to film, with cameras capturing every moment. Admitting that it was 'weird' to get used to life under a lens at first, she says now that: "Over the years you learn it’s almost like they are not there. I have no shame, I will share anything because it defines who I am today – all those experiences."
One of those experiences is her journey with alcohol addiction; she is proud to say she has been sober for more than 34 years. "The only reason I am here today is because I am sober." And she is proud to be a role model to many. "I was at a Pink concert and an eight-year-old girl came up to me and said 'Can I be a captain too?'. I replied: "Where is your mother, because I want to know why she is letting you watch our show!"
Stream the brand-new season of Below Deck Mediterranean on Hayu from September 26.