The Jubilant Governor

His Excellency the Governor of Gibraltar

To meet His Excellency the Governor, I left the hustle and bustle of Main Street, Gibraltar, and from a narrow lane entered through massive sliding gates, into a different world. I was guided by a charming young man into a building, The Convent, which in part dates back to the 16th Century. We walked along wide carpeted large sunny drawing room. French windows open onto a small balcony the centre of the town in Gibraltar!

Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns, KCB, CBE, is the current Governor of Gibraltar. Joining the Royal Navy in 1973, he trained as a helicopter pilot, his first sea command being HMS Yarnton in Hong Kong in 1981. Steadily promoted, he saw active service in the Iraq War in Spring 2003 commanding HMS Ocean and for this received Service. He served as Rear Admiral Fleet Air Arm for five years, and retired from the Navy following his most senior naval posting as Second Sea Lord from 2005-2008.

“This beautiful, historic, house belongs to Gibraltar,” declared His Excellency when he joined me, ”and when Suzie, my wife, and I, arrived here in October 2009,we decided that we would accept as many people as possible into what is their home.”

Last year more than 7,000 people visited The Convent to join them.

“We have hosted all sorts of events: lunches and dinners; receptions and fundraising events for local Clubs and Charities, Philharmonic concerts, plus many more. The Annual Christmas Fair was held here, with the Ballroom full of stalls and general merriment, and among many other engagements we hosted a dinner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Gibraltar Chess Festival.

I was invited to join an exhibition match where one of the top players was blindfolded, and played against 10 opponents simultaneously. Astonishing!”

“I have been married for 36 years,” he said proudly, “we have four children, three girls and a boy, and although my naval career meant that we were mostly on the move, I was lucky that my family nearly always accompanied me when I was based ashore.

Our longest single stretch anywhere was when we lived in Plymouth for 11 happy years. As a native Cornishman, that suited me pretty well.”

His enthusiasm for Gibraltar is intoxicating.

“Despite the hardships it caused, the closure of the border with Spain was very significant for Gibraltar. Obliged as they were to live isolated in a relatively small area, Gibraltarians had to be self-supporting in every way. It crystallised their endeavours, and I have never know a small population with so many clubs and interests; the place is incredibly vibrant and lively. Most weeks I attend an exhibition or performance of some kind, and I spend many weekends attending a sporting or cultural event of one sort or another.”

We walked out onto the balcony, and he enthused about the wonderful view of the Rock which never ceases to amaze and impress, however often it has been seen. With the lovely garden spread out below, and the sea glistening in the distance, his delight was easy to share.

As the Governor of Gibraltar, he is the representative of the Queen. “I pop over to Spain regularly, incognito, to take my two Boxers to walk in the gorgeous countryside. I am a very law abiding driver – imagine the headlines if the Guardia Civil should have cause to apprehend me!” he laughed.

2012, the Diamond Jubilee Year, is an important year for Gibraltar.

“We are thrilled that the Earl and Countess of Wessex are to visit us,” he declared proudly, “a great honour for us all as they will be the members of the Royal Family representing the Queen here in her incredible year.”

The year has Diamond links for him personally.

“My wife Suzie” he tells me. “launched the Destroyer, HMS Diamond, in May 2011, and this year Suzie celebrates her Diamond birthday, isn’t that lovely?”

A very human man, he was clearly moved when I showed him the ring I was wearing. Serpentine, a Cornish stone, set in silver, purchased in Cornwall.

“Suzie’s younger sister was a jeweller in Cornwall, and could easily have made that ring,” he told me. “Sadly, she is no longer with us.”

We talked about locations in the world he has visited during his career. I asked if he had a favourite place among his wanderings in the Navy, and he named several. He is so enthusiastic about everything he does I believe that there are not many places where he would not enjoy himself.

“I saw only the coastal towns everywhere of course” he said ruefully, “never travelling far inland, but I plan to return, especially to India and Australia. I never got to New Zealand, so to go there is in my plan for the future too.”

We walked together through the house as I left, with him astounding me by pointing out yet more architectural and historical displays. There is an impressive Banqueting Hall, reminiscent of the Chapel in Windsor Castle, with a high wooden ceiling, the walls lined with the shields of the Coats of Arms of every Governor of Gibraltar – his own shield includes a black bird, a Cornish chough, in the design. The windows are lined with the medallions and names of earlier Moorish and Spanish Governors.

Then we walked onto a Minstrel’s Gallery, overlooking the King’s Chapel. The Chapel ceiling has squares enclosing large rose-like emblems, machine made, mimicking the original hand­made decorations over the adjoining hallway and sweeping staircase. The ceiling had to be replaced because, in 1951, the original Chapel ceiling was destroyed when an armaments ship caught fire and blew up in the harbour only 300 metres from the Convent, also wrecking every window in Gibraltar, and even some in Algeciras.

“History is constantly being made and remade here in Gibraltar,” said the man who is making history here himself, in this Jubilee Year with so many events planned, and Royalty visiting.

He and his team are working with the Government and many local organisations helping to develop an exciting programme of events for the Jubilee celebrations during the summer. He looks forward to welcoming many visitors from Spain to join in with them.

‘Jubilant’ is an appropriate additional name for His Excellency the Governor of Gibraltar. Sir Adrian Johns is charming, enthusiastic, and most of all has that quality which we are encouraged to deride in this age of casual behaviour.

He is a true Gentleman, proud of his roots, his nationality and position, determined to serve Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians as he believes they deserve, and to preserve and enrich all of its history and traditions.