THE new Mayor of Henley says he is on the look-out for the town’s “unsung heroes”.
THE new Mayor of Henley says he is on the look-out for the town’s “unsung heroes”.
Julian Brookes should be able to spot one, having himself risen to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy.
During his 17-year career working as an engineer on nuclear and conventional submarines, he was responsible for repairing and refurbishing some of Her Majesty’s fleet.
Mr Brookes went on to become an international salesman, which led him to move with his wife and two children to Hong Kong before working for himself and making Henley his home.
A relative newcomer to politics, the 67-year-old Conservative was elected to the town council in May last year when his party took control from Henley Residents’ Group.
That was less than two years after he had first shown interest in a career change.
Mr Brookes recalls: “It was the back end of 2013 when I was in my early sixties and I was thinking about what my next steps would be.
“I had come across the neighbourhood plan and was starting to get involved with that.
“I had never done anything in politics before so I started to go to town, district and county council meetings.
“I didn’t know anybody at the council at this stage but I did meet David Nimmo Smith at county council cabinet and I met Dieter Hinke [then a councillor] a few times while he was working on the neighbourhood plan.
“I did also have brief discussions with [Councillors] Ian Reissmann and Stefan Gawrysiak, of Henley Residents’ Group, but it was all very informal. I didn’t sit in a room with HRG or Conservative people.
“At the end of the day, rightly or wrongly, I thought I would achieve more with the Conservatives.”
Indeed, Mr Brookes’s involvement with the election campaign arguably tipped it in the party’s favour.
“I was extremely involved with the election and played a significant role in the canvassing,” he says. “We got all Conservatives elected in the north ward. From that, it was suggested that I would like to stand for deputy mayor.”
After taking advice from the then town clerk Mike Kennedy and his Conservative colleagues, Mr Brookes decided to take up the idea despite being so new to the council.
“It was a very steep learning curve,” he says. “Moving from the public gallery to the table was very different as you have to think clearly about what to say but it didn’t faze me. I had a broad range of experience, an experienced town clerk and the likes of David Nimmo Smith, who has been on the council for many years, to help me.”
Mr Brookes was born in North Shields to Enrico, an accountant, and Joyce, an English teacher. He and his three brothers lived with their parents in a two-up, two-down terraced house. His siblings now live in Newbury, Portugal and Nyons, near Geneva.
After 11 years, the family moved to Forest Hall, between North Shields and Newcastle, and he attended the King Edward VII School and the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle Upon Tyne where he studied from 1967 to 1977.
After school, Mr Brookes went straight into the navy at Dartmouth.
“The school wanted me to do maths but I had just had enough of education,” he says. “I wanted to travel and I found history fascinating so I thought I’d try the navy.”
In fact, he was fortunate to get on a boat at all.
He recalls: “I have had to wear glasses since I was four. When I went to see the surgeon captain he told me that my eyesight wasn’t good enough for the navy but I had already checked the regulations for an engineer. He was amazed that I wanted to join as an engineer so then he said my eyesight was good enough.”
Mr Brookes spent one year at Dartmouth as a cadet, which included four months on a frigate at sea.
“I slept in a hammock,” he said. “It is the only place to be when the weather is rough. They are actually really comfortable.”
After a year as a midshipman, he did a three-year engineering degree before starting on-the-job training.
In 1971, he met his German wife Gabriele while he was studying at the Royal Naval Engineering College in Plymouth. She was learning English on a 12-month visa.
Mr Brookes had finished his degree when they were married in HÃ¶fingen on August 29, 1972, nine months after meeting.
They went on to have two children, Jody, who works in IT at Fujitsu, and Lydia, who works in banking for Mizuho, and two grandchildren.
After the wedding, Mr Brookes started postgraduate studies in electrical engineering and at the start of 1973 he volunteered to work on submarines. In the autumn he went to Greenwich for six months for a nuclear course.
“They had a tiny reactor there,” he says. “You got to play with that and you had to pass exams. It was just one exam after another.”
The following April he moved to Dounreay on the north coast of Scotland to start the nuclear qualification on a simulator.
“In submarines there is no ducking or hiding,” he says. “You are expected to be able to do everything and I think that is an excellent way of doing it.”
By June 1976 he was an assistant electrical engineer on Repulse and was expected to take a desk job but he was sent to Resolution, another missile boat.
“We took it through a refit from the harbour to commissioning the refuelled nuclear reactor,” he says. “It was then taken to Florida where they fired a missile.”
In 1977 he was sent to the Royal Navy’s electrical engineering school. “It was really good news that I went there,” he said. “I was the only submariner there out of about 2,000 officers.
“Then, in March 1978, my wife takes a phone call one evening from the appointer. He is the guy who sends you to the various positions. I was six months into a two-and-a-half year role but I was reassigned to another submarine.”
This was Odin, a conventional submarine, which had been off the water for some time as there were issues with its refit.
“I think this was the single hardest task of my career,” says Mr Brookes. “Everything needed to be looked at but, as I had been there before, I was able to push through the work quicker than it had been going.”
Mr Brookes was then assigned to HMS Dolphin for nine months and then HMS Collingwood to look at the Royal Navy training programmes and the development of the engineering branch.
During this time he started to think about a career outside the navy.
“I decided I should go out and seek my fortune,” he says. “By this time I had spent a lot of time away from home and in October 1979 my son was born.
“I decided that I would apply for some engineering jobs but in this country they didn’t pay very well and I would have been earning less than I was in the navy. I thought ‘you must be kidding’. Then I got myself on a course in finance, sales and marketing. I had to talk my way on.” In 1980 Mr Brookes became a sales engineer at Mannesmann Tally in Reading. A year later he was made regional sales manager and then a year after that he became overseas marketing manager.
“I was looking after Benelux, Iberia, Scandinavia and Africa. I was the only one who grew the business every year,” he says.
In 1988 Mr Brookes moved to Madge Networks in Chalfont St Giles as vice president of international sales focusing on Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Within five years, he had grown the business to such an extent that he moved the family to Hong Kong. He left the company in 1995 and then worked for himself, helping American wireless start-up companies get a foothold in Asia.
The family moved back to England in 1998 and set up home in Henley.
Mr Brookes and his wife had always wanted to move to Henley after living in Peppard for a couple of years in the early Eighties.
He says: “When our now home came up for sale our friends went to take a look for us and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Since then he has wound down his work and gradually become more involved in the community, which he intends to build on as Mayor.
He wants to find out more about the community groups in the town to see if he can help make them work more closely together.
He says: “I am told there are 200 community groups and there are possibly a lot of unsung heroes.
“There is a lot of discussion about the future of the children’s centre and it could be that some of these groups can come together and provide activities.
“The YMCA appeal is another of my projects and that is almost there. I stumbled across it this time last year and, following a few conversations, I thought I could contribute and we now have a five-year plan in place that is waiting for approval which will mean we can plan for its future.
“The other thing is housing. We have to make sure that the neighbourhood plan is executed the way we want it to be and I am very keen to see that we have affordable housing and make sure that it helps the people that we want it to help.
“I also want people to know that there are sports facilities available and make sure that they are used as much as possible.
“I see myself as a pragmatist — I want to listen, I want to hear ideas and points of view and I have the commitment to contribute in what way I can. My phrase is ‘make it happen with a smile’.”