Thames City Cruises’ Gary Beckwith awarded honorary degree by Coventry Uni

PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 November 2016 | UPDATED: 07:59 25 November 2016

One of Gary Beckwith's Thames pleasure cruises [photos: Joe Lord]

One of Gary Beckwith's Thames pleasure cruises [photos: Joe Lord]


A working-class lad who left school in London’s East End with no qualifications the day before his 16th birthday has been given an honorary university degree for his contribution to the business world and supporting young entrepreneurs.

Gary Beckwith and wife Rita and son Matthew, aboard one of his pleasure cruisers in 2010Gary Beckwith and wife Rita and son Matthew, aboard one of his pleasure cruisers in 2010

Gary Beckwith, the 64-year-old founder and owner of City Cruises fleet of Thames pleasure cruisers, has collected his honorary doctorate of Business Administration from Coventry University’s London campus in Spitalfields.

“I failed my 11-Plus,” Gary reveals. “I was never very good at school.

“But as a 10-year-old I wanted to own my own business and always believed I could.

“I couldn’t believe it when I was told about the honorary degree—it’s unexpected.”

City Cruises vessel on the ThamesCity Cruises vessel on the Thames

The self-made man from the Isle of Dogs, who was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 40, took over his family business supplying diesel to pleasure boats on the river in 1984.

He then got the chance to buy a vessel from a retiring Thames boatman and set his expanding business afloat, playing an active role in London’s tourism industry.

He campaigns today for further education in deprived communities and promoting young enterprise.

Two generations of the Beckwith family run City Cruises’ fleet, carrying more than a-million passengers a year from Tower Pier and other Thames piers.

Gary started out with his father Frederick Beckwith running a diesel business for boats from a barge moored at County Hall. His dad retired in 1984, leaving him the business.

One of his pleasure boat customers revealed he wanted to sell up. Gary borrowed £35,000 from the bank to buy his business, with its license to run trips on the river. He went on to buy out the other 13 small operators over the next six years.

By 1996, his company had enough cash for a new 500-seater vessel, the Millennium of London, the first new sightseeing vessel on the Thames for 25 years, which was formally christened at Tower Pier by the Queen on October 18, 1996.

“I remember that day well,” Gary’s wife Rita later told the East London Advertiser. “It was windy and my hat blew off in front of the Queen and landed in the water!”

The launch put the fledgling City Cruises on the Thames map as it sailed on to win the ‘Service to the Dome’ contract when the Millennium Dome opened at North Greenwich Peninsular in 1999.

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