Beena Nadeem talks to Andy Fittes, former General Secretary of the Police Federation, about his career and his current role as a battlefield tour guide.
The former General Secretary of the Police Federation Andy Fittes gave around 30 years to the force – a long time by any standards. After retiring for personal reasons, he has tried a variety of other roles. Still only 55, he has turned his hand to management consultancy among other roles. Now he is turning his passion for travel and history into a company with a unique twist. Century Tours runs tours of battlefields taking people on personal journeys of discovery, where they can walk in the footsteps of ancestors who served in WWI and WWII.
Andy was born in Tripoli in Libya where his dad worked as an engineer in the Royal Navy. The family moved back to Berkshire when Andy was young. He was always aware that his dad worked hard to escape the slums of Newcastle where he grew up, which meant Andy had a comfortable childhood.
He was inspired to follow his dad into the navy when, at the last minute, he decided upon university instead. “I wanted to study Geology and Geography, as those were the courses with the best foreign field trips,” he says. It seems like a yearning for travel was always there.
A meeting with his friend’s sister who was a police officer piqued his interest and after his degree he signed up. During his 31 years in the force, Andy was on the frontline in London’s East End, policing anything from poll tax riots to the Olympic Games.
The last five years of his policing career saw him become the General Secretary of the Police Federation. “This meant I was the chief negotiator for pay for the 125,000 officers in England and Wales. It’s not how I imagined my career would finish off,” he says. For most of the time it was an uphill struggle, he says, thanks to Theresa May taking a tough line as Home Secretary.
But most of the time Andy loved being an officer. However, after decades of service, and the sad death of his wife in 2017 to cancer, who was diagnosed in March and died in May, he retired. He decided he wanted to be there more for his daughters and look for something new instead. Andy set up a consultancy company which he still does one day a
week for the National Police Chiefs Council. “I changed sides,” he says.
Andy then got to thinking about being a tour guide. “I’ve always been interested in history and come from a service family. I have run tours in the past to World war I and II sites in Europe, so I thought I’d give that a go,” he says. That’s when the idea for his company Century Tours was born. He has organised trips to the lives of Ypres, Gallipoli and more, enjoying connecting people with the stories of their past.
“It doesn’t feel like work – I love work and travelling,” he says. Having his new partner Katie on board has allowed the couple to also widen their menu of tours, which now include anything from Harry Potter tours of Edinburgh to gangster tours of the East End.
And although Covid set them back, Andy says he lent on his pension and consultancy work and got through. He is hoping that, bar Omicron, he will be able to look forward to battlefield tours of the Somme and Normandy’s beaches next year.