Molly Freeman (MF) and Ben Barker (BB) interview one of RHS’ most important yet unknown figures: Mr John Reid (JR).
JR: I’m more nervous about this interview than the inspection! Let the grilling begin.
MF: It’s more of a conversation.
JR: Oh, is it? Oh, right, okay; let the conversation begin! Hammer on then, whatever you want.
MF: I think firstly we were wondering, if you could sum up your job in one word, what would it be?
JR: Estate manager.
MF: That’s two words…
JR: I can’t do it in one word.
BB: How about ten words?
JR: I look after the 208 acre site; all the buildings, playing fields, infrastructure and I also look after health and safety and compliance across the school as well.
BB: What led you to RHS?
JR: It was kind of an accident. I left the air force and set up my own business, and it’s a convoluted story, but I ended up building dental surgeries, and I came here to refurbish the dental surgery and then while I was here – having spent 30 years in the military, there’s a lot of similarities here – I kind of got sucked back in and then I started working externally for the school, and then I came in and progressed up various jobs to estate manager which I’ve done for a year now.
MF: How long have you worked at RHS?
JR: I started working in 2013: five years but I was the head electrician for a while, and then I was the residential estate and school health and safety and compliance manager which I’ve done for a year now
MF: Obviously you’ve been here 5 years and you’ve done various other roles: what’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at RHS?
JR: Other than the teachers? I think when I took over as estate manager, the day after we ran out of water and then a few months after that we ran out of oil. Going to Macro to buy 13000 bottles of water was kind of weird.
BB: In the media there’s been a lot of focus on what’s the naughtiest thing Theresa May has ever done. What would your response to that question be?
JR: Oh, dear. Well in the air force, in those days we got up to a lot of naughtiness. I’m trying to think of something I could tell you which isn’t too awful: you could put something like Mr. Reid responded ‘the shed’ but wouldn’t elaborate, some teachers may understand…
MF: Have you got any interesting stories from when you were in the military?
JR: Yeah, I was a flight engineer. The flight engineer now doesn’t exist – it’s been replaced by a computer – but I was the only flight engineer to end up as a wing commander, and I commanded my own squadron, and that had never happened before; because the flight engineer doesn’t exist anymore, it will never happen again. So, I’m quite unique in that field.
BB: Your life seems quite action-packed; if there was a film about your life, who do you think would play you?
JR: John Belushi, I think
BB: Can you think of anyone else in the school you could cast in that film?
JR: Do you know I don’t think I can? Mr. Griffiths and I share some similarities, but he’s scarier than I am, of course. I see the side of teachers you don’t, so I see them having fun when they’re letting their hair down. I always have a good time with Mr. Dixon socially, but you probably don’t see the same side.
MF: Obviously your work-life is quite full on; we were just wondering what do you do in your free time?
JR: I haven’t had a proper holiday for five years! You’ve probably heard of work-life balance, and I’ve got that completely wrong, but I like walking in nice places, engineering – I’ve got a workshop but don’t get much time to use it – and as a childish hobby, I’ve always enjoyed radio controlled aircraft, but to be honest with you I’m hopeless at it!
BB: Would you say you have a hero?
JR: I’m trying to steer away from my parents because it’s too cliché. Someone I admire greatly? There’s a branch called the Air Accident Investigation Branch, they’re the people who look at air wreckages and work out what happened. There was one chap who did Lockerbie: he coordinated the picking up of all these bits of airplane and from that made a framework and worked out what happened, which was important to the families. He’s just phenomenal, and I’m just awe-inspired by him. A bit of an unsung hero, I think.
MF: So, I think there’s just one more thing we were thinking about asking, but Ben can take this one…
BB: Well, we totally understand if you’d rather not, but there’s a lot of attention drawn to your banner at the bottom of your emails…
JR: My OBE! Yeah, so the reason it’s on there is Mike Beard – who is ex-army – found out I had an OBE and told me I was insulting the queen by not using it. So, if you look online at the loss of Hercules XV 179, it was all to do with the investigation into the airplane which got shot down in Iraq. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my OBE, it’s that it’s all linked to sadness and the loss of ten good friends of mine, and when I was awarded it, I said I didn’t want it, it was actually the families who said I should. I should wear it with more pride; it was for services to the Royal Air Force, and specifically leading the investigation into the loss of an airplane
MF: Cool, well that’s it.
JR: Nothing else? I can relax now!
Mr Reid is clearly a man of much interest, much humour, and – above all else – much modesty.