LESS than a year ago Sir Ben Ainslie travelled to Downing Street to show the prime minister a plan of how his America’s Cup base could look.
Now David Cameron has praised the world-class sailor for his efforts in delivering the centre – and revealed his own hopes for the America’s Cup.
The prime minister revealed he wants the America’s Cup to inspire young people to get involved in boat building and engineering in the same way the Olympics inspired young people to get into sport.
‘Obviously I want Britain to win the America’s Cup,’ Mr Cameron told The News.
‘But I’ve got another interest in this, which is that this is going to be inspiring young people to pursue careers in engineering and design and in boat construction and sailing.
‘We saw from the Olympics how events can inspire people to do things.
‘They can be life-changing in terms of inspiration.
‘I think this has three advantages, one is that Ben is a great sailor, and he is going to do great things, two it is inspiring a lot of people to get involved in this industry and three this is going to be an enormous draw for Portsmouth.
‘You’re going to have a possible 500,000 people coming to the city to watch the event.’
The prime minister also took the time to visit the site of Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup base in Old Portsmouth, which is rapidly taking shape.
Construction workers stood waiting eagerly on the upper levels to catch a glimpse of Mr Cameron as he arrived.
He then changed into a hi-viz jacket and helmet for a quick tour of the base.
Reporters followed Mr Cameron as he was shown illustrations by sailing legend Sir Ben of how the base will look once it is completed in May – all in time for the America’s Cup World Series in Portsmouth.
Mr Cameron also spoke to Ben Ainslie Racing apprentices to learn more about their involvement in the major project, while taking in stunning views of Old Portsmouth, the harbour and the Spinnaker Tower.
And the Tory leader finished by chatting to more workers on the upper levels before leaving.
Most of the base’s huge steel structures are in place and the base is expected to be water-tight in the near future.
Speaking to The News, Sir Ben said he was delighted and proud the prime minister was able to see the rapid progress being made. ‘It’s great to see the prime minister in the Portsmouth area supporting the city, and through that support our team here at the new race base,’ he said.
‘There’s been a lot of development in recent months towards the opening in May. It’s really exciting for us as a team and for the area.’
Mr Cameron’s visit comes after the government awarded Sir Ben £7.5m which ensured the base could be built.
Talking about his tour, Mr Cameron said: ‘Ben Ainslie’s base was amazing. I can’t believe it’s been built that quickly. It doesn’t seem like a year ago that he was in Downing Street with some pictures and some ideas that the government should help fund and I think it’s remarkable how fast it’s gone.
‘It’s looking impressive.’
The headquarters will initially employ about 90 people, with more potential jobs in the supply chain.
It will become the focal point for the design, construction and development of the team’s boats and will also provide sports science and fitness facilities and a visitors’ centre.
Sir Ben launched the 1851 Trust charity last year – of which the Duchess of Cambridge, who visited last week, is a patron – to help get more young people into the sport.
Earlier in the day, Mr Cameron visited Portsmouth Naval Base to confirm that new life will be breathed into the city’s empty shiphall, as firms Magma Structures and BAE Systems will set up shop there.
He also announced the £420m contract that will see Boeing provide in-service support for Chinook helicopters at Vector Aerospace Fleetlands, in Gosport, securing hundreds of jobs.