My Passion with Peter Gomersall: The call of the wild has added up to a far-from-dull existence

Peter Gomersall, senior manager in employer solutions at Grant Thornton in Leeds, talks about his passion for zoo keeping

An accountant who’s Wild at Heart? I do occasionally dip into that ITV show with a little yearning. I may not be working on a safari park in Africa, but my passion is still close to me.

Hidden in the depths of my CV is a brief, fleeting period of my life when I was 17. The year would be around 1975. I was working as a zoo keeper, earning £33 a week at Windsor Safari Park and had to pay for lodgings, food and beer out of that.

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People can be quick to dismiss accountants as dull, which is why, perhaps people find it so intriguing when I tell them I’m a qualified zoo keeper.

I guess people think nobody grows up dreaming of working in PAYE and NIC compliance, but actually I’m not going to lie, having a lucrative career path was always important to me even though I did, and still do, care for animals.

Perhaps the ambition of having a career that offered a good lifestyle was down to the fact my parents, although very happy, had little or no money to speak of.

As a little lad I loved nature programmes and I guess if I’d pursued the zoo work I could have ended up working in Kenya or somewhere equally exotic, but I really don’t have any regrets. I don’t want to go to my grave thinking I wish I stayed longer. I took a different life path. I came back up North after my time at Windsor and harassed the Job Centre everyday until they sent me to the Inland Revenue in Shipley and the rest is history,

I’m relatively comfortable now and I knew there was no money in the animal work and besides, I’m the type who can’t stand camping. I may like creatures but I like my creature comforts far too much, it’s just part of the conflict and contradictions in my life.

As I say, I was quite young when I went to work for the safari park and most of my salary went on rent living in a hovel in the safari park’s grounds. It was a colourful job in many ways but gave me the opportunity to swim with dolphins. However, one of the fondest memories was the trust a six-month-old cheetah whose mother had discarded her at birth had in me. I helped hand rear her, although you do have to remind yourself how powerfully dangerous these animals can be – you can’t take them for granted she could have seriously injured or even killed me at any moment. Maybe it’s the danger that was the fascination in zoo keeping and in my later career.

It would be nice if being a qualified zoo keeper makes people think twice about accountants and that we are just normal people doing a job.

The fact I’ve been a Bradford City supporter all my life and am currently a 25-year season ticket holder I think proves I’m a pretty impassioned person.

So whenever anyone accuses me of being dull for working in accountancy, I just hope they imagine me feeding the lions.