When Michael Georghiou leaves his barber shop in Dhekelia today he will be closing the door on more than 50 years of history with the British Forces in Cyprus.
The 79-year old refugee from Famagusta has become one of the most well-respected members of the BFC community in the Eastern Sovereign Base Areas since he opened his first shop on camp, on September 27, 1974 – shortly after the Turkish invasion.
But whilst he has been working there for close to 45 years, speaking this week from his premises in the heart of the Dhekelia Amenities Centre, he revealed his close association with the British military existed long before that.Reflecting on what he described as “happy times”, he detailed his relationship with the military: “My very first job was working for the British at the Golden Sun Barracks in Famagusta, where I was working as a barber. But in 1960 when the British left, I worked for a business in Famagusta and I was lucky enough to keep a lot of British clients who quickly became my friends.” Business at the time for Mr Georghiou was good but after the invasion in 1974 his life changed forever - taking his family away from their home in Famagusta to live in tented accommodation in Xylotymbou for the next two years.
“This was a tough period but it was what I needed to do to keep my family safe at the time,” he explained.
Fortunately for Mr Georghiou, his experience working as a barber in Famagusta and the relationships he had forged with the British military over the previous decade would offer him a life-line that he had not expected.
He continued: “I was lucky enough to have made some very good friends and they wanted to help me because it was such a difficult period of my life. The Garrison Commander at the time was called Colonel Ryan and he offered me the opportunity to open my barber shop on camp.
“This was a big moment for me because it meant I could start making money and build my business working with the military – something I already had experience with. I will forever be grateful for that opportunity.”
Over the next 44 years, Mr Georghiou cut the hair and shaved military personnel of all ranks and the affection he holds for everyone who has visited him is apparent on the walls of his shop, which are adorned with pictures of him and previous Bases commanders, alongside multiple commendations for his service to the community.
But as he prepares to greet his final customers today, he admitted to some sadness at leaving but said he was looking forward to spending more time with his family, who have been keen for him to put down his clippers for many years.
He said: “I used to work seven days a week, from 7am to 7pm, so my family have missed a lot of time with me. Of course, I was doing it to provide for them but now the time has come to retire.
“I have four grown-up children and 11 grandchildren and I am looking forward to spending time with them and taking longer holidays with my wife now.
“Of course I am sad to be leaving and I am very grateful for everything British Forces Cyprus has provided me with over the years. It has been a very interesting career for me I will never forget the friends I have made and the people I have come across.”
The impact he has had on the community were highlighted by Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Weston, the current Dhekelia Commander and Commanding Officer for the 2 Royal Anglians, who said: “Michael has served the Station since 1974 with impeccable service. He always greets customers with a smile and he will be sorely missed. I will personally miss my visits and I wish him all the best in his retirement.”