At 93, you’d think John Miller would be more than ready to put his feet up – and, certainly, those feet have always only modelled the very best of footwear.

For John’s, a member of the prestigious Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, has enjoyed a fascinating career as one of the UK’s finest shoe-makers, ensuring royalty and VIPs are exquisitely and comfortably shod, training up the next generation of designers and teaching his trade all over the world.

He still finds time to share his story with groups, school children and the press. Feet up? Best foot forward, more like.

“I do like to keep busy, yes,” he agreed.

“I enjoy telling people about my life and they seem to like hearing about it.”

Growing up in East London, John enjoyed a lively childhood as one of 11 siblings.

“I was the youngest boy, which meant lots of attention from my six lovely sisters.

“There wasn’t much money - one of my jobs was to go the butchers to buy scraps so my mother could make a big pot of soup to keep us all going - but we were very happy."

Gazette: Business - John Miller (centre) in Toronto with bosses from Bata ShoesBusiness - John Miller (centre) in Toronto with bosses from Bata Shoes (Image: Newsquest)

John’s father made boots and shoes in the basement of their rented house.

“I idolised him - he taught me the basics of shoe repair and he was so patient with me. If I did something wrong, we’d simply start all over again until I got it right,” he said.

On the last day of the Second World War, John, who was 14, walked into a Hackney shoe factory that made military footwear.

From then on his career was mapped out. There was a brief stint in the air force as volunteer in the late 1940s, but John said: “I never wanted a full-time forces career - it was always shoes for me.”

John married Irene in 1952 - they’d been sweethearts since their early teens.

“When the Germans bombed the reservoir in Chingford, I was out helping distribute water. Irene - then about 13 - asked me to fill her family’s bath tub, but I told her we could only fill saucepans and kettles.

“We got talking and that was it - we went on to have over 60 years together.”

Meanwhile, John was now working at Richmond Shoes, rising through the ranks to end up as foreman.

“I used to surprise the workers who didn’t realise I was fully trained myself,” he recalled.

“If they weren’t doing something properly, I’d get on the machines and show them what to do.”

One of those he took on in a starter role was a young Jimmy Choo, today a leading figure in the footwear world.

“Jimmy and his brother used to take the waste leather from our factory and make sandals with it, which they then sold in the market. That’s how it all started for them,” said John.

The team at nearby Cordwainers College (“the old word ‘cordwainer’ - or shoe-maker - comes from the place name Cordoba in Spain, where the finest leather was once found”) soon recognised John’s skill and hired him as a lecturer.

“Jimmy Choo enrolled on a course with me to further his skills and I trained students from all over the world, many of whom went on to become key industry figures.

“I once helped an American student design shoes for herself and her bridesmaids for her wedding. Her wealthy father then flew me and Irene out to Long Island for the wedding, so we could admire the end result.”

John’s first royal shoe-making experience was for Princess Anne.

He said: “On a visit to Cordwainers, she told me she was having trouble finding comfortable riding boots. I offered to make her a pair, which she then wore when competing in the 1976 Olympics.

“They were lined with the softest kid leather and the backs came down so they wouldn’t rub her heels.”

Later, as manager of Rayne shoes, holder of the Royal Warrant, John was heavily involved in the making of shoes for Princess Diana, worn on her tours of Australia and South Africa.

“I’ve still got a piece of the black fabric from an evening gown that a pair of her shoes was designed to match, and a copy of a thank you letter she wrote to the team,” he said.

John’s wife, meanwhile, benefitted when he made shoes for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

He said: “I’d buy the test pairs we made at price. We used to say Irene was in Mrs Thatcher’s shoes before Mrs Thatcher.

“She certainly didn’t have to ‘break them in’ for Mrs Thatcher, though - Rayne shoes were so well designed they didn’t need it.

“In shoe making, it’s all about quality and craftsmanship and I used to visit the tanneries in Nottingham and Leicester to select the best leather.”

John was supposed to retire in 1991 but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

“Unesco got in touch and asked me to teach a couple of six week shoe-making courses in Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan.

“We achieved an 87 per cent pass rate - prime minister Benazir Bhutto even popped in to the college to see how we were getting on - and I still get Christmas cards from some of those students today.”

Later, when invited to guest lecture by shoe company Bata in Toronto and at the Fashion Institute in New York.

John, widowed eight years ago, is today firmly ensconced back in his home of 30 years in Colchester, and has two sons as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Talks to groups continue to be on his agenda.

John said: “I’ve told the WI I don’t think much of today’s shoe designs.

“It’s all trainers and they’re really not good for feet - you need something that supports the arches - the wedge is the best shape for women to go for.”

School children, he said, also enjoy his visits, “I get lots of questions about how shoes are made and how to look after them.”

So of all John’s experiences - the making, the teaching, the travelling, what has meant the most to him?

“It’s all been wonderful,” he said, “but I think I’d have to say the teaching, simply because it’s good to know my skills have been passed on.

“That’s something that makes me feel especially proud.”