Michael Campbell MBE sits resplendent on a leather Chesterfield that befits his prestigious position. Mr Campbell, the 20th Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, has invited me for morning coffee at the RYS headquarters, aptly named The Castle and situated on The Parade at Cowes. The RYS was founded in 1815, and is generally accepted as the most prestigious yacht club in the United Kingdom and arguably the world. The Castle has been its home since 1858.

We are sitting in the library, a magnificent room that exudes character, charm and tranquility. It soon becomes apparent that the Commodore has similar qualities, as well as a sharp sense of humour.

As I was about to suggest that maybe not too many ‘outsiders’ are afforded the privilege of an invitation to this inner sanctum, the Commodore maintained: “We inevitably have a reputation of being rather aloof. But I would like to think that is totally misplaced. The Squadron is a dynamic establishment that celebrates our Members varied loves of matters maritime in a joyous and inclusive fashion.”

The Commodore was born in Lyndhurst, spent his early life around Beaulieu, was educated at Radley College, and now resides in North Hampshire, with a family retreat in Bembridge. He became Commodore in October last year, so has recently completed the first year of his four-year tenure.

Without hesitation he reveals that his sailing background lacks a certain amount of pedigree, purely because of his love for life in a slightly faster lane. In his younger days he was an accomplished power boat racer, spending time on The Hamble with his father, who built Christina power boats.

“Father began building those in the late 1950s, and in 1961 when Max Aitken started the Cowes to Torquay race, off shore power boat racing was a brand new sport,” he recalls. “Max had to look around to find people who were prepared to give this new sport a go. Father built a boat for Tommy Sopwith to take part in the first race, and it won. I also took part in the race, and then carried on doing power boat racing for several years in a Souter-built Don Shead-designed boat called Melodrama, before buying my first sailing boat a Swan 36 in 1970.”

Despite still having a share in a yacht that is moored at Cowes, the Commodore smiled: “Actually I have gone back to my bad old days, and also have a motor boat. So I suppose in a way I moved from the fast lane into the slow lane, but have now ventured into the middle lane. I was brought up by my grandfather and father on boats, but always motor boats. I was not brought up to learn to sail, so I haven’t got sailing in my blood perhaps as much as I would have liked.

“My grandfather Commander Colin Campbell was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. My father wasn’t a member, and I joined soon after my grandfather died. My son does not do much sailing, but I have two sons in law who are keen on sailing, so one or both of them may come along some time.”

The RYS has 475 members, and the only way to become a member is to be invited. Then you are elected by the entire membership by ballot. So, as the Commodore accepts: “It’s about as democratic as you can get.”

He then explains his own selection process: “The Commodore is elected by the membership as a whole. You are put forward by the committee to the membership. There is no contest, because the membership trusts the committee to put forward the right man.”

Inevitably the Commodore spends a lot of his time at The Castle, the core of which has stood proudly looking out over the Solent since the days of King Henry VIII. It was built to keep the French at bay, although the Commodore is quick to point out: “We do now have a number of French members, whom we welcome with open arms!”

Although the original core remains, in the mid 1850’s architect Anthony Salvin built most of the castle as it stands today. Over the years there have been further additions, the most recent coming with the introduction of the Pavilion and the Jubilee Haven.

“The pavilion stands where hitherto we had a marquee erected every summer. We now have a magnificent building designed by Sir Thomas Croft which was his first major commission and he did a fantastic job,” enthuses the Commodore.

“Soon after that we embarked on building the RYS Jubilee Haven, and that has been the most incredible success. One can hardly imagine now going back to the time when we had to anchor or pick up a mooring and be brought ashore by launch. The privilege of being able to moor at the foot of the castle is fantastic and its construction provided the protection that enable the Cowes Harbour Commission to build the Trinity Landing. “There was quite a bit of concern, even opposition, to both projects at the time, but I suppose the Squadron is an organisation that doesn’t easily take to change. Anything as dramatic as a new building on the lawn was inevitably going to cause a certain amount of apprehension, but I am glad to say in both cases the reception is now overwhelmingly positive.”

The Admiral of the RYS, The Duke of Edinburgh, was also responsible for bringing about change during his six-year spell as Commodore from 1962 to 1968. A regular visitor to The Castle, it was he who added the Ladies Dining Room and the Balcony in 1964.

Members come from all around the world, with a great number from the Isle of Wight. Only recently one member ‘popped in for the Trafalgar dinner’ on his way from Russia to his home in the United States. RYS members regularly sail alongside youngsters, offering advice in an annual race experience sail week to those who may become members of the future.

The Commodore describes his duties as being like ‘the chairman of a company’. He is assisted by three other Flag Officers; the Rear Commodore Finance, the Rear Commodore Yachting and the Vice Commodore.

The RYS is synonymous with Cowes Week and is solely responsible for two days of the regatta. The Squadron line is the point where the vast majority of races begin, signalled by the booming of the cannon across the Solent.

The Castle was the former home of the then governor of the Isle of Wight, the Marquis of Anglesey, who lived there until he died. When the Marquis was known as the Earl of Uxbridge he lost a leg at the Battle of Waterloo, the Commodore revealed: “He was seated on his horse next to Wellington when his leg was struck by a cannon ball. The immortal exchange then took place ‘My God sir, I have lost my leg’ to which Wellington replied: ‘My God sir, so you have!’”

Not an enjoyable time for the Marquis, but a truly enjoyable morning for me, with the Commodore having done much to expunge the ‘occasional’ image of the Royal Yacht Squadron as being somewhat aloof.