Sir John Madejski opens the door to his penthouse suite, the crowning glory of his beautiful Millennium Madejski Hotel.
It’s a large expansive open plan room offering stunning views of the Berkshire countryside and, on match days, the roar of the crowds in the adjacent stadium will rumble across the balcony. In the evenings, when Sir John has tired of meeting celebrities, he can carry on seeing stars with a large telescope pointing towards the heavens.
Carefully placed throughout the room are pictures of Sir John with the great and good, including Prime Ministers, managers and even Reading’s very own Chris Tarrant.
This is the powerhouse of a highly successful man; someone who has created a string of successful businesses including Auto Trader magazine. Someone who took Reading FC by the scruff of the neck and transformed it into a club that can compete in football’s highest echelons.
So the first thing Sir John says comes as a bit of a surprise.
“Can I make you a cup of tea?”
It shouldn’t be a shock. For all his wealth and influence, Reading-raised Sir John is also honest John. Down to earth, softly spoken and keen to be a blessing, not a hindrance, to the town.
As he’s accessible too: When the club received promotion to the Premier League for the second time last year, there were reports of a delighted chairman joining equally delighted fans in The Purple Turtle.
And more recently, Steve Fawke, the departing manager of Broad Street Mall, paid tribute to Sir John, saying: “I’m proud to call Sir John a friend. He’s helped to guide me.”
Others too will testify to his friendship, but Sir John’s reach into the town includes far more than the football club he part owns and the stadium that bears his name. He is passionate about the arts, sponsoring an art gallery in Reading Museum. He made a £500,000 donation to the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel in Pangbourne College, and is Chancellor of the University of Reading.
His educational influence also extends to the school that bears his name, the John Madejski Academy. Sir John, who was knighted in 2009 and is also a Freeman of the Borough of Reading, has greater aspirations. The Reading FC Community Trust is one such part of that plan and acts an extension between club and the community, giving it an opportunity to engage with and have an impact on local people.
Why does he do it? The multi-millionaire modestly says: “I’ve been very fortunate in the past and I like to share that.”
Although its main work is through football, the Royals’ Community Trust also works on social inclusion projects, including street dance, the Prince’s Trust, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and working in prisons to deliver workshops on everything from anti-knife crime to sexual health.
It’s a wide brief, and one that is close to Sir John’s heart.
“Reading Football Club is very much a community football club,” he says. “I’ve always felt that the Football Club is a pinnacle of the area. It’s an organic, moving thing that unites people. It’s a wonderful thing.”
As a football club, Reading is one of the oldest in the country – “that’s pretty important” says Sir John, who bought the club in 1990 and now shares ownership of it with Anton Zingarevich.
“I always said when I came in that we should reach the Premiership, which we did and I’m very proud.”
Of course, now the club are back in the Championship and the club are working on promotion for the coming campaign.
Sir John says: “I felt it was important to the citizens of Reading that the football club should prosper. It affects so many people in the area.”
Sir John is quick to emphasise that the club’s success isn’t down to him.
“We have a fantastic stadium and the people in it make a difference,” he says, praising the team around him, not just on the pitch but in the back rooms too.
One of his team is the Community Trust’s manager, Dave Evans. He’s been at the club since 2010 and has a specific brief of managing, developing and sustaining the trust’s key activities.
Sitting by Sir John’s side, he beams with pride as he shares some of the work of the Trust.
“Sports participation is a huge part, education is a big part in what we do,” Dave says, adding that they also work on social projects including sexual health and crime.
“Whitley is at the heart of where we work, we have good relationships there.”
Sir John loves the Trust and what it achieves. As well as helping nurture the footballing stars of the future it is busy at a grass roots level meeting the needs of local youngsters.
He says: “I’m delighted that Reading Football Club is a beacon of positivity in the community. We need to engage with the community and it’s all about friendship: Sport is so important.”
One of the projects Dave has worked in has focused on preventing gun crime; this is in partnership with Thames Valley Police. An officer shows young people what would happen if a gun was fired.
“It educates young people,” he says.
Another project shows the effects of drink driving, using ‘goggle eyes’ to show what it would be like to drive a car while drunk, while also showing videos of families affected by hit and run drivers.
“It really hits home the messages to young people not to take part in crime,” Dave says.
Sir John adds: “It shows the young people that a car is a guided missile and very dangerous. A car can be a lethal weapon, so we try and get people to use their common sense. It’s very important to understand this at a young age.”
The players too have a part to play in the Trust’s work, visiting coaching sessions, meeting youngsters and helping them with their coaching. Sir John is delighted that so many in the club want to share their knowledge.
“You do get players who want to get involved [with the Trust]. They’re good people and we need to help them with that; they’re professional footballers, not entertainers but when they can, they help. They’re very obliging in reaching out to kids and assisting them.”
And that help is fitted in around their training routines, as they prepare for games and ensure they are match fit. The life of a footballer is not turning up on Saturday for 90 minutes and then heading off down the pub.
“They have strict regimes,” Sir John explains. “They may have a fantastic lifestyle, but they’re totally disciplined.”
Dave says that one of the Trust’s skills is not talking down to the people they work with. This means they can earn their charges’ respect, making it easier to share their life-changing tips with them.
“Rather than going ‘you shouldn’t do this'” – he wags his finger to make the point – “we get into conversation with the young people and then you can engage with them.”
The Trust also welcomes children for football coaching sessions and the Club wants to use the sport to help break down barriers wherever they may be.
“We use this as a community hub. Parents like this – they say you want to go to Reading Football Club, it’s a good place.”
The Trust doesn’t just work with the disadvantaged and both Dave and Sir John are clear that they want to support every youngster.
“There are loads of kids out there doing the best they can,” Sir John says. “I think they should be shown praise for what they are doing. There are excellent Academy kids who haven’t had any difficulties and they are fantastic.”
There’s much, much more to the work of the Trust. It’s so wide-reaching that it would take several articles to get it all across.
It’s also a charity and Dave welcomes any fundraising initiatives to help it achieve its aims to helping the community come together and grow.
“You can give or hold an event for us, that would be fantastic,” Dave says. “The more people see us as a charity, the more we can do in the community.”
Sir John agrees. “We’re giving kids something good and reaching people on their own level. We’re presenting them with something invaluable.”
And coming from a multi-millionaire, that’s priceless.