Graduate Craig Jones

Graduate Craig Jones shares his experience of Portsmouth in the 1980s

5 min read

Alumnus Craig Jones is Joint Chief Executive of Fighting with Pride, an Armed Forces LGBTQ+ charity. In 1986, he moved to Portsmouth to study BA (Hons) Economic History. In his final year, he knew he was gay. To pursue the career he had always wanted in the Royal Navy, he had no choice but to live a double life for 11 long years.

Lifelong dreams

I chose to study at Portsmouth because I’d always wanted to join the Royal Navy. I was excited by the idea of driving warships, visiting fantastic places and maybe sitting under palm trees with a pina colada, which happened a couple of times!

Also, BA (Hons) Economic History was a fantastic course and something I’d always been interested in.

Student life and me

I moved to Portsmouth in 1986. My first day as a fresher was a mixture of excitement and fear. I remember walking into a lecture hall with 100 people doing the same course and thinking that, in a year or so, I'll know all of these people.

I wasn’t academically gifted and failed a few exams in first and second year. Professor Mike Dunn was so supportive. He was very kind to me throughout my studies, always gave me extra time and opened doors of understanding that helped me along.

Student life was very fun and vibrant. I particularly loved The Students’ Union which, in those days, was called Nelson Mandela House. It was a wonderful place to be.

The best bit was the University’s Royal Navy Unit. I could find out more about the career ahead of me and prepare for my admiralty interview board at the end of second year. Throughout my course, I didn’t waver or take any interest in other careers. When I wasn’t studying, I’d visit the Historic Dockyard and look at the ships.

I did really enjoy my course; it really lit my bonfire. I carried everything I’d learnt through my life and later on, when I became a businessman, it was so useful to me.

Portsmouth in the 80s

It was a really fun city on a journey. It was a little bit run down in some areas. The Royal Navy was contracting and the University was expanding.

Since then, it’s become a vibrant modern city with a new balance of commerce, University and military; a brilliant place to live, work and study.

I lived in digs close to Fratton Park. There were 4 students and we lived with an elderly couple in their 70s. In those days, we didn’t have the fantastic accommodation options that exist in Portsmouth today. I still felt I was in a safe and happy place.

I remember the Great Storm, October 1987. I was out for the Trafalgar Night celebration and the storm hit in the early hours. My mother phoned the next day asking if I was okay. I said I’ve got a terrible headache from last night - I didn’t even realise there’d been a storm and slept the whole way through it! But there was lots of destruction in the city, yachts in the middle of the Common and trees down in Eastney.

I suppose if you held me up to the light, the watermark would be Royal Navy and not gay. So I carried on and put it to the backburner.

Craig Jones, BA (Hons) Economic History

I’m gay

At the end of my second year, I applied for the admiralty interview board - a three day selection process to build rafts, jump on ropes, complete academic work and interviews. 

You might imagine I was full of nerves, but I learned through University that if you are prepared and have the fundamentals right, success can happen. I went through the door with confidence, not arrogance and was given a reserved place after my third year.

During my third year, I realised I was gay. I had some inkling as I knew the Gay Society met on a Tuesday in the Union. I never had the courage to go there and I wasn’t entirely sure if that was the case for me, yet.

One day, I was walking down Elm Grove and saw a magazine in the newsagent’s. I purchased it and took it back to my digs. It was the Radio Times, and on the front page there was a picture of Michael Ball in Les Misérables and I thought ‘oh crikey, I fancy Michael Ball, ergo I must be gay!’ That was a huge complication for me, because to be an officer in the Royal Navy being LGTBQ+ was not allowed.

Throughout my life, what interested me was going to sea, driving warships, visiting fascinating places and being involved in exciting operations. Also, in the late 1980s, there were no LGBTQ+ role models or anyone to identify with. What was relevant to me was this amazing career that Portsmouth helped me prepare for.

I suppose if you held me up to the light, the watermark would be Royal Navy and not gay. So I carried on and put it to the backburner.

A double life

In 1995, I visited a gay bar for the first time and met my husband, Adam. From then on, I had a secret which led to five years living a double life. 

We lived in Brighton because there was no military presence. I had to find lots of mechanisms to keep us safe. If you looked at my address book, there were lots of couples I’d had to change names for, so George and John became George and Joan.

I couldn’t even push a shopping trolley around a supermarket with Adam as there would have been questions. And when I was abroad, we had to take great care on the phone as operators listened in to calls. If it was found out, I could’ve been arrested.

The ban was lifted on 12 January 2000 and by that time I’d seen scores of my wonderful colleagues taken away by Royal Military Police for being LGBTQ+. I felt a sense of injustice and came out as gay on the day, like a rocket. 

I was the first person to come out in the Armed Forces and was the only one for some time. It was a lonely existence. Unfortunately it would take some years to improve and become the brilliant place it is to serve today. 

Fighting with Pride 

I engaged in a change programme and, through persistence, we did make changes. But in 2008, I left and worked at Barclays as Head of Equality and Diversity. 

We started the Fighting with Pride charity in 2020, on the anniversary of the lifting of the ban. We wanted to look back at the veterans most affected because that was lost from memory. Until 1995, people were sent to prison for being gay. It was such a sad thing and wrecked lives, and there has been no remedy today. 

While we do now have LGBTQ+ individuals working on the front lines and doing a great job, we have to remember that time has stood still for those affected. There are mental health and financial issues, as well as criminal convictions which have wrecked careers.

We petitioned the government to undertake an independent review of what happened to LGBTQ+ veterans, and made recommendations to parliament for reparation to support them in health and wellbeing. 

We were really thrilled that, on 19 January 2022, they announced a review would happen. They’ll take a close look at what can be done for this group of men and women who stepped forward to service for the United Kingdom and were treated so unfairly. 

Find out more about the great work Craig is doing here: