IT was Royce Gardener’s mantra in life that it’s not what you know, but who you know – words that rang true as around 300 people packed St Cadoc’s Church, Caerleon, for his funeral yesterday.

He is described as larger than life, a great storyteller, gentle giant and the proud head of his family, and friends, relatives and colleagues laughed and cried in equal measure as they remembered his eventful life.

The former Abertillery pit worker became a detective constable in Gwent Police and was awarded an MBE for his work that included acting as Princess Margaret’s bodyguard and helping at the scene of the Aberfan disaster.

He died on December 29 last year, aged 88, 11 days after suffering a stroke.

While Mr Gardener moved around the area with his work, it was Caerleon that he made his home, acting as local bobby for 51 years and chairman of the town’s pensioners’ club for 23 years.

His grandson, Peter Horsell, said: “Grampy was charismatic, opinionated, a gentle giant. He had no regrets. He lived a hard life, but a good life.”

He told a tale of when the family was on a ferry from France and Mr Gardener spotted a man on board who was wanted for armed robbery in Cardiff.

They then followed him around the ship until it docked and Mr Gardener helped arrest him.

But he was also dedicated to his family. There were tales of barbecues where he set fire to the grass, his love of gardening and sitting at the head of his large family telling jokes.

Mr Gardener was also chairman of the Gwent Police Pensioners’ Association for 30 years and of the Caerleon Pensioners for 23 years, with Ralph Diaper, who succeeded him in that role, summing him up with the words “service before self”.

On the day Mr Gardener collected his MBE from Prince Charles in 2004, Mr Diaper described him standing out in a bright yellow waistcoat.

After the hymns, Mr Gardener’s coffin, adorned with the Gwent Police flag, was taken to Caerleon cemetery.

Gwent Police and Crime Commissioner Ian Johnston described Mr Gardener as a “copper’s copper” and said all who ever worked with him would miss him greatly.

He said: “He inspired others to do more. Even in retirement he continued to work hard, becoming chairman of Gwent branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers and the Gwent Police Pensioners Association.”