My Suffolk - Derek Johnson MBE
Derek Johnson MBE is one of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs and businessmen who co- founded Johnson Stevens Agencies Ltd, Britain’s leading independent family-owned liner agent and in doing so helped to make Felixstowe into the UK’s premier shipping port.
His extraordinary career in the shipping business started in 1954 when he worked as an office boy in the City of London, he then went on to work with Sealand and American Export Lines but set up his own business with Tom-Bax Stevens in 1976. He’s worked in the town since the 1960s but only moved to Suffolk three years ago – and he’s here to stay. Places and Faces asked him about what makes Suffolk so special, his life and his charity work.
What’s your favourite place to walk?
On the seafront at Felixstowe – either to the ferry or the town. My home overlooks the sea so all I have to do is turn left to the War Memorial, past the Spa Pavilion, to the bottom of Bent Hill, where we may stop and have a drink or we will go up Hamilton Road and back home. I enjoy these sort of walks three or four times a week.
Where do you like to eat out?
The Talbooth at Dedham or Hintlesham Hall. I also eat at every restaurant in Felixstowe, The Blue Naan, The Alex, Benecotta and also the Orwell Hotel.
If you were entertaining guests who had never been to Suffolk where would you take them?
To Hintlesham Hall, or the Talbooth and then drive to Lavenham or maybe Cambridge or Woodbridge. My wife Angelica and I do visit Southwold and Aldeburgh but that’s where we go ourselves and I think Felixstowe has more to offer.
Adnams or Greene King?
Both are good but I guess I would probably go for Adnams.
Where do you go for entertainment?
We go to London but also go to the Spa Pavilion when there’s something worth going to. From time to time we’ll go to the Regent in Ipswich and occasionally Snape for a concert.
What football team do you support?
Ipswich Town, I frequently get invited to the boxes and sometimes I’ll go twice a month during the season.
Do you shop locally?
We like to go to Suffolk Food Hall for seafood and local produce and we get our meat from The Four Winds at Melton which sells the best steak you can possibly get. We support the local shops as much as we possibly can.
What about hobbies?
I used to breed racehorses every year but it takes four years to find out if they are any good – and I don’t do that any longer. I spend a lot of time working on my home, I have a couple of vintage Jaguar cars, we also like going out and eating and we attend a lot of functions.
What cars do you drive?
I have a Rolls Royce EWB, silver over blue velvet as a company car. I’m told that I had the first one, Simon Cowell had the second and Sir Alan Sugar had the third. On a daily basis I use a Range Rover (painted in Lamborghini Yellow), and I have a 1954 XK150 Jaguar and 1974 Jaguar E-Type V12, which I only drive when the sun shines.
What ‘s your ideal holiday?
We love to go on cruises - at least one or two a year. Our next holiday is with Celebrity Eclipse – about 15 days visiting Spain, Portugal and Italy. I went to a Help for Heroes event at Glemham Hall the other week and I never realised how many thousands of our servicemen are injured. Fred Olsen Line put up a cruise and I felt duty bound to buy it.
Can you tell us about your charity work?
I am chairman of the Port Community Fund – in the last two years we have donated £100,000 to good causes. The fund is administered by the Suffolk Foundation and the money goes to help the disabled, the aged or children. Over and above that I support Guide Dogs for the Blind and I am also a trustee of Living the Dream Barking and Dagenham Trust .
What’s the one outstanding feature of Suffolk?
It’s so friendly, everyone talks to you and because we’re the UK’s primary shipping port you know a lot of people. I have been involved with Felixstowe since 1966 and from day one it’s felt like home. Is there anywhere else you’d rather live? No, there’s no question about it I will live here forever – well, until I am finally called away.