‘It doesn’t feel like a museum piece, it feels like a ship’ says new captain of HMS Victory

Admiral Sir Desmond Cassidi is presented with a giant Valentines card, by wren Yvonne McClure

THIS WEEK IN 1985: Goodbye to a much loved Admiral

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Sat behind his desk in the captain’s cabin of HMS Victory, the new commanding officer of Nelson’s famous flagship cannot hide the fact he absolutely loves his job.

Lieutenant Commander BJ Smith has just become the 101st man to take up the job on board what is technically still a commissioned Royal Navy warship.

Lt Cdr BJ Smith has been appointed the 101st commanding officer of HMS Victory. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (150995-615)

Lt Cdr BJ Smith has been appointed the 101st commanding officer of HMS Victory. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (150995-615)

And he is clearly someone who isn’t afraid to play the long game – he’s had his eye on the job since he was seven years old.

Lt Cdr Smith, now 47, says: ‘I first came here when I was seven and I loved it.

‘My father brought me down to see it and after that we came back every year.

‘When the day came for me to take on this job, I admit there was this little seven-year-old kid inside me jumping up and down with excitement.’

He may only be a few weeks into the job, but that enthusiasm is showing no signs of wearing off.

‘I’ve been saying to everyone that if at any point I don’t appear to be enjoying the job, they should shoot me,’ says Lt Cdr Smith, leaning back in his chair and spreading out his hands to show off his surroundings.

‘Because this is just the best job ever.

‘It’s been fantastic and I have enjoyed every bit so far. It’s quite a privilege and an honour to be doing this.’

Lt Cdr Smith was born in Mexico and brought up in Lancashire and Hampshire before joining the Britannia Royal Naval College in September 1989.

His career has taken him to sea in a number of ships, including HMS Bristol, Campbeltown, Liverpool and Ark Royal.

He is also a keen cricketer, and is the Royal Navy’s Cricket Club director of community cricket.

He has three children – Tabitha, 19, Oliver, 17 and Jago, who is 11 months old – and lives with school teacher wife Ruth in West Sussex.

And the reason for his shortened name?

‘It stands for Brian Joseph,’ he says, ‘but my dad was Brian so nobody other than my sister ever calls me that.’

The 47-year-old talks with informed passion about his job and the ship in which he now resides, leaning across the vast wooden desk in his cabin, almost rising from his seat from the passion with which he speaks.

So what does the captain of a ship whose hull never sees the water actually do?

HMS Victory, as Lt Cdr Smith will tell you with infectious enthusiasm, is much more than just a museum ship.

While her role as a living museum to the Georgian navy is certainly one of the most important, she also plays an active role for the navy of today.

And her new captain is keen to see her put to good use.

He adds: ‘It’s a great place for the navy to put to use.

‘I’m encouraging the ships to come on board and have meetings of their heads of department and things like that, just using the space that’s available to them.

‘It’s nice to be able to give something back in that way. I want to encourage people to bring their teams on board.

‘I’m often surprised by how many of our people haven’t had the chance to come on board.

‘That’s something I believe in – giving something back. I grew up with it, my dad was in the navy.

‘I had only seen him for five Christmases and five birthdays when I was growing up, so I know how important it is to try to find the means to give something back and make things better for people in my own small way.’

Victory serves as the First Sea Lord’s flagship and hosts events for the Royal Navy from dinners for junior ratings to meetings with heads of foreign forces.

‘My role in all of that is to act as the custodian on behalf of the First Sea Lord for his flagship,’ adds Lt Cdr Smith.

‘Victory encapsulates the traditions and the pride and ethos of the navy and maintains that link to the past but also the future.

‘From my window right now I can see HMS Dragon, a state-of-the-art warship as Victory was in her day.

‘Just over the way we have the Mary Rose, which was top of the range in hers, too.

‘So with Victory here we have that continuity of the navy’s story and obviously one of the most important things is the people.

‘So it’s great to be on board Victory and have my little team with me because I think we bring that to the ship and her visitors.

‘The museum team here are fantastic as well and wonderful to work with.

‘It doesn’t feel like a museum piece, it feels like a ship. It is living and breathing.

‘Our presence here is part of that. The story of the navy is the story of its sailors – sailors are nothing without their ship and the ships are nothing without their sailors.’

And if this sailor’s mindset is anything to go by, Victory has a very productive few years ahead.

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