Peter Kingston is determined to use his year as High Sheriff to give recognition to those who do good things for others on his precious Island, as he tells Roz Whistance.

‘Grumps looks like a pirate!” was the shriek of three-year-old Ben. The rather grand occasion was the Declaration of Grumps – known to all but his grandsons as Peter Kingston – as the Isle of Wight’s new High Sheriff.

Recalling his grandson’s verdict on the formal garb – and you’ve got to admit Ben has a point about the hat – is not, however, the first thing that springs to Peter Kingston’s mind when we meet. What does is that in being asked to be High Sheriff, he has been given a huge compliment:

“It flatters the ego a little bit,” he says, but in a hesitant way which suggests his ego isn’t often given too much attention. Which is surprising – you don’t generally expect a man in the estate agency profession to be unassuming, albeit he is the surveying half of Kingston & Grist. But as you spend time with Mr Kingston you sense that he’d rather be talking about anything rather than himself.

So while we don’t find out much about his personal passions – though he played rugby to a reasonable level in his youth, he mentions, and sailing is in his blood – he bubbles over about the honour of being part of what is the oldest civic office in the country. He has become a part of a history which holds a delicious fascination for him, and particularly because of the impending General Election. “I’m thrilled that as Returning Officer I will be announcing who has been elected as our MP. Another duty – which I trust will not happen – is the announcing of a new monarch.” He adds: “And if we still had the death penalty I’d have to attend every execution!”

A week later, and he is speaking at one of his first functions with all the aplomb, gravitas and gentle humour of one at ease in the role he’s just taken on. But for now Peter, his wife Gill and I are chatting in the conservatory of his home in Totland a place pleasantly tucked away, and like the couple who own it, more modest than you might expect. “We bought the house as a stop-gap in 1972,” smiles Peter, “and have been here ever since.” The daffodils and snowdrops are putting on a tremendous display on the lawn, as they have done for the 35-odd years they have lived there, and, in anticipating the effect of the year in the ancient office of High Sheriff – Gill says stoically: “If we have to mow the lawn at midnight, we have to mow the lawn at midnight!”

For this year will demand as much from her as from her husband. “Accepting the invitation to be High Sheriff had to be a joint decision,” says Peter. “It’s going to fully involve both of us.” As well as being a year of relentless engagements and demands, it also demands the person (or couple) to have pretty deep pockets: there is no public purse to be tapped.

They have certainly hit the ground running. Just a day after his Declaration, Peter was  naming a new boat at UKSA, and is already regretting that he has had to turn down certain things because the diary is filling up. During the year Peter will visit the probation service and the prisons: he will carry on what his predecessor Gay Edwards started and try to visit as many different churches as possible – Peter and Gill are both stalwarts of Freshwater church, having stepped back from duties there for this year. Organisations for the young and the old will also call on their time.

Peter Kingston wants to use this year to accentuate the positive side of society: “There is an awful lot in the press and in peoples’ perception that young people are miscreants and they’re hoodies and they’re naughty. What rubbish that is! The majority are hard working nice young people.” He feels the generation gap has become a chasm thanks to technology, and so he wants to build on the work of his predecessor to support young people and the older generation. This year sees the 150th anniversary of the Army Cadets, as well as the centenary of the Girl Guides, and such organisations, he believes, should be celebrated for providing lasting friendships. He believes strongly in the work of the Ocean Youth Trust, which had just celebrated its 50th anniversary, which takes children who may have low self-worth and by giving them chal