Tony Radakin is a man with a lot on his plate. Not only does he juggle a ‘chaotic’ home life with four young boys, he has just taken over as the new commander of Portsmouth Naval Base.
The top job will see the experienced Royal Navy officer begin the busiest period of transformation at the naval base for a century as it gears up for the arrival of two huge 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers – the largest British warships ever built.
Commodore Radakin is well aware of the weight on his shoulders and the proud legacy left by his predecessors who established Portsmouth as the home of the Royal Navy.
In the base, there is a board with the names of all the previous naval base commanders dating back to 1649.
He says: ‘Seeing your name on that board, which goes all the way through to 2011, really drives it home that it is a great privilege to be part of this.
‘Secondly, it makes me aware my job is a custodianship which is going to be temporary and it’s part of a much longer theme.
‘I’ve stepped in to this fantastic span of incredible heritage and a history of ensuring success on operations. The thing that excites me most is there is a broad future in terms of where the naval base it is going.’
Despite the well-documented defence cuts, Portsmouth is at the heart of the government’s vision for the future of the Royal Navy fleet.
All six of the new Type 45 destroyers are to be based in the city and three of the state-of-the-art ships have already arrived.
The two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers will both be in Portsmouth by 2018 and a significant number of the navy’s 13 new frigates, the Type 26, will also be based in the city once they are built later this decade.
The future fleet demands things to change at the naval base and Cdre Radakin will oversee the start of a £120m project to dredge the harbour 3ft deeper, construct a new ammunition jetty and strengthen jetties to deal with the sheer size and weight of the new warships.
It is for these reasons that Cdre Radakin is confident about Portsmouth’s naval future.
He says: ‘It’s an exciting future which we are about to inherit – and that is a modern naval base for a modern navy.
‘That’s about supporting Type 45 now that’s come into service and making preparations for the new carriers, which will be a game-changer in the way we run and currently perceive the navy.
‘We need to ensure this is a successful destination as we grow a modern fleet.’
This rosy outlook is in stark contrast to a few years ago when there were strong fears that one of the navy’s bases could close.
Cdre Radakin says: ‘I do not want to stoke a Portsmouth Naval Base or Plymouth Naval Base debate, but settling in to this job I do not detect any anxiety about this naval base’s future.
‘We’ve had a naval base here since 1212 and everything points towards us having a naval base here for many more years to come.’
It is clear the 45-year-old naval officer is a man of action.
Having played a key role in building and training up the Iraqi navy from scratch following the fall of Saddam Hussein, he does not like the idea of appearing desk-bound.
So despite the pouring rain, he insists he is pictured outside in front of the latest modern Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon.
Back in his office in Victory building – complete with commanding views of the base and Portsmouth Harbour – he says: ‘I’ve come here from an operational job in the Gulf where I was Commodore in charge of the UK-US task force in Iraqi waters.
‘I was under an American chain of command through Bahrain and Baghdad to keep Iraq’s territorial waters safe and, crucially, to look after Iraq’s oil exports which amounts to about £1bn a week. I did that for about 10 months.
‘The critical aspect is that we’ve now reached a stage where we have been able to hand that over from the coalition British and American forces to Iraqi forces.
‘It was all about building up the Iraqi navy from scratch and that brought home to me that for navies to achieve what they do on operations a lot of good work has to be done ashore.
‘In Iraq, we had to find people and then train them up to build up a navy of 21 new ships which was all pulled together in a single base.
‘From seeing it in simple terms in Iraq, I’ve come here to a naval base which is well-founded with many hundreds of years of history.
‘Portsmouth is an incredible naval base. It’s next to a heritage area which attracts 500,000 visitors a year, and a port with 100,000 shipping movements a year. There are 15,000 people working in the base to deliver these ships and people on operations, and it has a stores facility which is the most advanced stores department in the Ministry of Defence. It serves the navy, army and RAF – there are 400,000 parts in there worth around £750m of resources.’
Away from the hubbub of the navy, Cdre Radakin spends time at home in Winchester catching up with his wife and four sons, who are aged six, nine, 11 and 13.
He says: ‘I’ve been away a lot over the past few years and it’s great to be back with a young family of boys. It’s probably a relief for my wife for me to start being a bit more helpful.
‘I help out with football teams, cricket in the summer, and we’re always doing things like canoeing or going on bike rides together. I would describe our weekends as chaotic but fun.’
CAREER HAS TAKEN HIM AROUND THE GLOBE
AS a child growing up in Portishead, near Bristol, Tony Radakin first discovered his passion for the sea by playing near the coast.
After completing his A-levels, he went back-packing in Europe with a friend. But it soon turned into a 10-month adventure which ended up in India.
He’d already applied to join the navy before he left and joined up on his return in 1985.
‘I came back to the naval board in mellow post-India mood and then found myself at Dartmouth a few months later in a somewhat less mellow mood,’ he joked. Since then, Cdre Radakin’s career has taken him around the globe as an Officer of the Watch, Navigating Officer and Operations Officer.
He commanded the frigate HMS Norfolk in the early stages of the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004, before returning to the Gulf twice to help build up the new Iraqi navy. He was awarded an American medal for his work in Iraq and took over as Portsmouth Naval Base commander last month.