Hilary Bastone, Regatta Chairman
Hilary Bastone, Regatta Chairman
Hilary Bastone joined the Dartmouth Regatta committee in 1975, shortly after coming to the town to open a new branch of TSB – he stayed for 25 years, taking on most of the major roles on the committee and, incidentally, inviting a little-known air display team to perform at the town event too.
Now, 36 years later he has returned to become the organisation’s chairman once again – what has changed since those first fun days in the mid-1970s?
‘Health and safety,’ he says, simply, as we settle down for a chat about the town’s largest event, and the second largest regatta in the country, behind Cowes. ‘We now need risk assessments for everything we do, because that’s the way life is now. Considering some of the events we had in the past you can understand it, really!’
When you hear about the late-night children’s river lantern procession, perhaps you CAN understand.
‘It was children, at night, in boats carrying flaming torches!’ laughs Hilary. ‘It just couldn’t happen now - and I think that might be a good thing!’
Hilary has come back to step into the vacant chairman’s seat, and has been pleased with the strong work ethic all the committee members are showing in getting everything ready for this year’s regatta.
And he can remember that when he first joined, the mood was very similar.
‘Everyone just wanted to put on the best event possible,’ he says. ‘I joined thanks to a man called George Ball who convinced me it would be good fun. He was right! I felt it was good to be involved in something voluntary and to spend time with people of like minds working to achieve something good.’
Not long after joining, Hilary was persuaded to become assistant secretary – and less than two months later the secretary resigned, leaving him in a position of high responsibility.
But for Bank manager Bastone, responsibility was something he was used to; he just wanted to be involved and make sure the event went smoothly. ‘The atmosphere during regatta itself has not changed,’ he said. ‘The events on the water are still there and the regatta is built around that. The crowds were there, the buzz was there.
‘In those days the local rowing was a real challenge because they used the Britannia Royal Naval College whalers for the competitions – and although they would take the propellers off to reduce drag, they still had massive diesel engines in them!’
Hilary was always looking to improve and add to the appeal of the regatta at all times – so he decided to invite the Red Arrows to perform – and when they said yes (they couldn’t attend the first year he invited them) in 1978 they took the event by storm.
‘The natural amphitheatre provided by the Dart valley made it a very special place to see them perform,’ said Hilary. ‘They performed that day for free and for a number of years we weren’t charged. I remained display organiser for 25 years, before the current organiser, Ft Lt Jason Aylett took it on.’
He spent 12 years as secretary – with the last two years of that also being vice chairman too, before becoming chairman in 1988.
‘I felt that the chairman was actually a position of slightly less pressure than being secretary,’ he said. ‘It was very enjoyable for me and I did a lovely three year stint until 1990. After that I took a step back and became a normal committee member, helping to organise the Red Arrows and other things too.’
In 2001, after a quarter of a century, Hilary stepped down from the committee and was given the prestigious title of Honorary Steward – only given to those members of the committee who have given dedicated service.
He then got down to having some well-earned time off, or at least until he became a South Hams District Councillor in 2003. Then, this year, Hilary was invited back by the committee after it was left without a chairman.
Since then he has been back in the thick of it, helping to get the massive regatta ready for the final full week in August.
‘It’s great to be back and be able to help out,’ he said. ‘We have an event which is as great as ever and seemingly no smaller than when I first got involved.
‘However, in the old days if we wanted to do something we wrote a letter asking landowners or councils if it was ok and they generally said yes. Now we need to do risk assessments, look at the consequences of every action and prove we have fully thought through the implications of putting an event on. That’s different and probably not a bad thing because it ensures a safe event.
‘But the atmosphere of regatta will always stay the same because it is created by so many people returning to Dartmouth, seeing old friends, getting involved and having a good time.
‘I think regatta here is so successful because the town is all close to the water, so no matter where you are you are close to the action and the river valley means that every event on the water looks great and the air displays are especially dramatic.
‘For me, regatta is just perfect and I’m proud to have been part of it, and especially proud to be part of it again.’
First Published August 2011 By The Dart