Dik Barton is trying to explain what it is like to dive to the wreck of the Titanic. “Imagine taking a luxury hotel 600 miles offshore, cracking it open like an egg and scattering the contents over the sea floor...”

Precious items – in value and in emotional terms – lay scattered across the sea-bed in the icy waters off the coast of Newfoundland.

The former member of the parachute regiment, intelligence officer and marine security advisor had witnessed and experienced a lot of life. But this was emotional for him.

He admits he wasn’t an academic pupil and when he left school in Leeds he took a commercial diving course and worked in the gas and oil industry. When technology and the use of remotely operated submarines took over, he joined the parachute regiment, reasoning that the navy would be “too logical”.

Joining the paras meant continuing the “boy’s own dream” he’d started with the diving course. He ended up as a captain in the intelligence services, stationed in Hong Kong as its sovereignty was being transferred to China.

He was running a commercial anti-terrorist and anti-piracy security business throughout Asia when he was recruited to join RMS Titanic as director of operations.

He was introduced to two men who were raising money for a salvage operation on the Titanic. It just so happened that they also needed a director to run the operation.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” he says. “It was a tremendous opportunity. The choice was do I get a real job or do I do this? I continued the boy’s own dream.”

“My latter time in the military was intense and there was a lot of responsibility so it was important to decide what I wanted to do and this decided it for me and played to my strengths and skills.”

In 1993 he was the first British man to dive the Titanic and went on to make 22 dives to the wreck.

Dik Barton It lay broken backed, two and a half miles down. It took the tiny three-man sub two and half hours to descend and two hours to resurface. Eight hours were spent on the sea bed.

“Our role was to recover artefacts as a responsible diver to ensure that if we picked anything up we could conserve it and not just disturb it,” he explains. “The end game was to bring the Titanic to the masses.”

The descent was in darkness with the crew unsure where they would land on the sea bed because of the strength of the tide.

“We turned the lights on and it was a moment of dramatic experience – there in front of us was the bund, the raised seabed where the bow had ploughed into it at a rate of knots.

“The lead edge was 15 metres in the sea bed.

“The sub then picked up the rest of the ship and as happened in the movie, we followed the bow of the Titanic. I said ‘oh my god’ when what you are looking at dawns on you. Then you flick back into work mode and remember what you are here for: to photograph and record.”

That first dive was to reconnoitre the wreck and gather intelligence on what was there and what was recoverable.

“Part of your responsibility is that you are the custodian of the wreck. It is iconic and we wanted to give her due respect. People did die on board but she is not a graveyard per se. ”

The two halves of the ship are separated by about half a mile, the stern badly mutilated and twisted.

Two subs were used, one with a collection basket to scoop items from the seabed and one with highly dextrous arms to pick up large items.

The divers were not allowed to collect items from the wreck, but Dik describes the scene as: “If you were to take the best hotel in the world 600 miles off the coastline, crack it in half like and egg and spread the contents on the seabed.

There were personal effects through to pieces from the galley and staterooms.

“It is the ideal, most stable conservation environment in the world. There is no light, very little erosion and it is zero degrees temperature,” says the 57-year-old.

In amongst the 8,000 pieces he helped collect, the crockery, and cutlery, bags and suitcases and wrenched off parts of the hull were more poignant items.

A phial of perfume essence Like the bag of still-sealed scent phials that belonged to a German parfumier aiming to make a new life in the new world.

“When we got it up to the ship, the whole lab was filled with this extraordinary Edwardian scent. I said ‘we have seen Titanic, we have touched Titanic, we can now smell Titanic.’

An even more emotional find was the one-and-a-half child’s marbles Dik discovered.

“At the end of every dive we would hose off the bucket at the front of the sub because there was always a lot of detritus. As we hosed it, I saw these two little shapes in the sand and it was a very sobering and emotional moment.

“It is very emotional. You can be as hard as you wish to be, but... Without question there is an atmosphere on the wreck site because of the number of people who died.”

Dik did not take anything for himself. Security was ultra strict and one of his duties was to ensure that nothing was taken.

Every single item had to be photographed, given a certificate of origin and be logged in the database. Hundreds of hours of video were catalogued.

Dik spent seven years working on the Titanic in two periods, presenting exhibitions and talks as well as taking part in the dives.

The company worked with James Cameron as technical advisors on his epic movie of the ship’s doomed voyage

He finished in 2002 but continued a life of travel and adventure, this time as a safety engineer and project manager in the oil and gas industry, working in Russia, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Africa.

He left the industry last year following the worldwide downturn in oil production and now works in the construction industry in North Shields, near Newcastle.

It’s the first ‘proper job’ for the father of three and he’s enjoying being settled in Cumbria and having weekends off.

Although he and wife Mandy moved to Crosby on Eden, near Carlisle, in 1993, he barely saw home until 2004.

He is still involved with what he terms the ‘Titanic fraternity’ and will be giving a talk in the near future as a preview to StagedRight’s production of Titanic the Musical.