Former Newport policeman and Island Royal driver Roger Poynter can look back on a life that has involved Princess Diana, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Duke and Duchess of York, Muhammad Ali, Sir Edward Heath and Keith Mitchell. He still drives but now it’s usually a taxi service for his six grandchildren.
Born in north Hampshire, Roger began his working life as an apprentice garage mechanic and then became a storeman at Portals, where they make bank note paper. His life changed in 1959 when he left his country lifestyle, of being born and bred on a farm, to join the Metropolitan Police.
Stationed in Holloway, his beat included a nearby prison and home matches at Arsenal. He was called into Central London for the ban the bomb marches and on the day of Winston Churchill’s funeral he spent hours freezing at Cleopatra’s Needle.
Being in the escort party for the Muhammad Ali v Henry Cooper 1966 World Heavyweight title fight at Highbury was a highlight. He spent some time alone with Ali in his dressing room.
“I had never seen such a physique. He had muscles where I didn’t even know they existed and he did the Ali shuffle in front of the full length mirror and said to me ‘aren’t I just the greatest heavyweight you’ve ever seen?’ I just couldn’t believe it,” reflected Roger.
On one not such a memorable occasion, as a rookie beat copper, Roger was picked up by the station car on a damp night and offered a lift. He couldn’t believe his luck – but they drove him up the A1 to Hertfordshire and dumped him in the middle of the road, with his top coat and helmet still in the car. He had to thumb a lift back with a lorry driver and finally made it back to the station – much to the delight of his celebrating colleagues.
Roger, who had also made his mark as a top sportsman in the police, came to the Island in 1968, after two years at Fleet with Hampshire Constabulary. He came here as a traffic driver and for around 20 years drove our Royal visitors.
When Lord Louis Mountbatten was the Island governor, Roger got to know him well and drove him all the time. On one occasion they were early for an engagement at Carisbrooke Castle and Lord Louis suggested they parked the car and went for a walk. They ended up strolling up Betty Haunt Lane. On another occasion Roger arrived at the Royal Yacht Squadron to find him asleep. Eventually they got under way to Shanklin but at Northwood Garage the governor realised he had left his speech behind. Time was tight but they went back to retrieve it and then Roger got stuck behind a cement mixer. Eventually, despite going faster than he should have done, Roger arrived late and was told off by the special branch official.
Driving Princess Diana on May 30, 1985, was a milestone. The day before, they had borrowed a funeral car and Roger noticed a particular smell and promptly put some scent cards in overnight. Just after he took them out the next morning the police dog jumped in the back seat with dirty paws, which meant a hasty clean-up job.
Roger admitted that when he was driving Princess Diana she said to him: “If I didn’t know any better, I would think this is an undertaker’s vehicle.”
At Sandown Airport she broke away from the dignitaries to personally thank Roger for driving her for the day.
“I had a chief super nearby who rushed over afterwards to ask me what she said. I told him it was a private conversation and wouldn’t tell him.”
Once when he was driving the Duchess of Kent to the Hospice, Roger completely split his trousers from crutch to waistband and had to send home for another suit. The Princess did not notice but her detective spotted it. Roger denied it, of course.
Roger was also involved with our two major pop festivals. In ’69, at Wootton, his police car twice broke down and was pushed by the hippies coming out of the site and a year later he was at Afton Down at 6am every morning to help keep an eye on 600,000 music fans.
Off duty, Roger played in a brilliant Newport Cricket Club team who went for so long unbeaten. There was not a weakness in their team who included Keith Golding, Alan Gurney, Mick Blackman and one of the greatest batsmen the Island has ever produced, Keith Mitchell. They would have been a force in league cricket today.
Roger, who retired from the police in 1993, is a keen member of the Freemason’s Albany Lodge and spends hours on his allotment, well this is according to his lovely wife Pauline, and enjoys family life with his son Martin and daughter Claire and six grandchildren.
Roger has made so many friends here on the Island – and some of us have breathed rather heavily on occasions, particularly with blue lights and cop cars. Only to find it was a little fun from PC Poynter.