Rick & Roll

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to singer-songwriter and dad Rick Astley, 52, about making his new album and having the best of both worlds

Q: Nice to speak to you. How’s your summer been?
“Fantastic thanks. Lots of touring and pottering in the sun too. We live a stone’s throw from Hampton Court Palace and the other night I was having a glass of rosé in the garden listening to Lionel Richie thinking ‘how wonderful’. I have a little boat – and it really is very little – which I take a couple of mates in to drift off down to the pub – my local is The Albany. There’s something about the river – in the mornings I’ll have a coffee looking at it and if you go off on a boat for even an hour, you feel like you’ve had a day out. It’s a great pace of life.”

Q. How did your new album come about?“
My wife was in America for a couple of weeks and, like any man left alone, I went to my ‘man cave’! Which is a studio at the end of my garden. Before long I’d made some tunes I really liked and thought ‘maybe I’m halfway through another record’. That’s how the last album [2016’s best-selling 50] happened. That one came after a big break from music and I got so much goodwill and love. I don’t kid myself that people are sat there with bated breath waiting for my next album to come out. But we’re on a bit of a roll at the moment.”

Q. Speaking of rolls, what about the ‘rickrolling’ phenomenon?
“It’s freaky and amazing. Years ago when it started, a friend of mine rickrolled me a few of times and I kept saying ‘yeah very funny, whatever’. I didn’t understand the concept, still don’t really! It keeps going and going – and it’s because of that I ended up invited on stage by the Foo Fighters last summer. I‘m a bit obsessed with the show Westworld and was stunned when the lead actress launched into Never Gonna Give You Up. Bring it on!”

Q. Do you love playing live?
“Yes; performing in front of human beings is the most exciting bit. Whether it’s your wife or friend – once you play a song and get a good reaction from someone, that’s amazing. Magnify that by playing in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people, and I do think it’s like a drug. It messes with the chemicals in your body and is a weird feeling – weird in a great way. It’s not like the real world.”

Q. Which other musicians do you love live?
“I’ve seen Adele in front of 500 and 80,000 people and she makes such a connection that it’s like being in her living room with her. I was going to say that’s her skill but it’s natural. I saw Gary Barlow the other day – again at Hampton Court Palace. I know Gary and said hi. When you look at his solo and band career he’s got a helluva set list – he’s worked for that and really works for his audience. Having read his book, I know he’s been through some s****y times and I think that always makes you appreciate what you’ve got more, and give more.”

Beautiful Life is out now and Rick Astley will perform at London’s Eventim Apollo on Thursday 8th & Friday, 9th November.

Win with Walliams

Liz Nicholls


Considered by many as the natural heir to Roald Dahl, David Walliams is the UK’s best-selling children’s author, and you could win his latest book.

“I think books are so immersive that children like being alone with them,” says David. “We have JK Rowling to thank for turning children on to books in their millions. A good children’s book should be funny and exciting, with a message that makes you think long after you’ve finished it. Dame Jacqueline Wilson is a genius. I read Tracy Beaker and thought I should give up, it’s so brilliant. Michael Morpurgo is an astonishingly good writer to teach children about history. Andy Stanton’s books are very funny, as are Jeff Kinney’s. I love to read Julia Donaldson with my son. Judith Kerr is a brilliant author and illustrator, and let’s not forget Michael Bond, creator of Paddington!”

WIN! To celebrate ten wonderful Walliams years, we’ve teamed up with HarperCollins Children’s to offer three signed copies of World’s Worst Children 3.

HOW TO ENTER: Use the hashtag #Walliams10 and add @randamag and @HarperCollinsCh @harpercollinsch before 28th September for your chance to be picked to win.

Visit www.worldofdavidwalliams.co.uk for games, info and more about David Walliams’ books.

Make believe

Round & About


Susannah Steel traverses rooftops and rainforests with prize-winning author Katherine Rundell to explore children’s literature and her inspiration

Children’s literature is that most imaginative, immersive, shape-shifting, character-building collection of written words. For many, it conjures images of wardrobes, wizarding schools and midnight gardens…

But what does it take to write? To create something so captivating, so fantastically unbelievable that your reader has no choice but to believe… So synonymous with them that they need only see a rabbit with a watch to know they’re in Wonderland?

Having lived in many countries, Katherine Rundell brings a wealth of experience and an original spirit of character and adventure to her books. Indeed, for her most recent novel, The Explorer (about four children whose plane crash-lands in the Amazon rainforest), she went on a research trip to South America. “I swam with pink wild river dolphins, captured tarantulas and fished for piranha, and then I put it all in the book,” she says.

This pursuit of authentic experience highlights the importance of storytelling in giving vicarious experience. Isy Mead, head of learning and participation at The Story Museum in Oxford agrees: “Children’s literature occupies a fundamental role in the formation of the imagination, as well as compassion, humour and perspective.” Katherine adds: “It’s true there are more alternatives to reading, but books still do something nothing else can – they give you another world you can know in an intimate, blood-deep, behind-the-eyes way.”

Whether writing about the African landscape, the strict corridors of a boarding school, Russian forests under inches of snow or the rooftops of Paris, Katherine brings a magical, poetic and vividly original flair to her characters. They include a refreshing collection of strong female protagonists. However, Katherine says, she did not set out to consciously redress this imbalance…

“They were the characters I had in my head; I loved them, and I wanted to see if I could make them fly. In fact my most recent book has a boy protagonist, Fred – but I fervently believe boys must be shown they can read books with girls in them as readily as girls read books with boys; it’s absurd that the old prejudice still has pincers in.”

Was writing always Katherine’s calling? “It was! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be other things along the way – architect, archaeologist, acrobat, pilot… But writing was the one that stayed at the centre.”

I wonder whether Katherine has been influenced by past children’s classics and fairy tales and, if so, which? “I’m sure I must be – I loved the dream of finding Narnia, I loved Paddington’s kindness, I loved the dry wit of E Nesbit. I loved Cinderella; but the 500-year-old, pre-Disney versions, in which Cinderella murders the wicked stepmother by chopping off her head with the lid of a trunk!”

Katherine’s stories usually include a journey, physical or emotional. What is it about a “journey” that so appeals to readers? “We love transformation, whether it be of a person or a landscape,” she says. “And I do love a good packing scene!” And her stories are not without sadness…“My reckoning is life is as difficult as it is beautiful, and all books worth their salt will acknowledge this, one way or another.”

Her characters are often aided by strong friendships. I ask her; Is the loyalty of friendship something she’s keen to explore? “Yes! I think friendships in fiction, particularly boy-girl friendships, can get sidelined by romantic plots, and I was keen to look at what friendship is made of – at that particular blend of admiration, love, trust, exasperation, and shared jokes that can shape your entire childhood, if you’re lucky.”

As for Katherine’s other characters, Sophie (Rooftoppers) loves to climb, Feo (The Wolf Wilder) plays with wolves and Will runs barefoot in the African landscape (The Girl Savage). Does Katherine share any unusual hobbies with her characters? “I love to climb,” she replies. “I think climbing can be a superb way to see and know the world. I used to go clambering on the rooftops of my Oxford college [All Souls], for a sight of the gargoyles, and of the world spread out below.”

And, with Katherine’s ethereal, almost timeless application of language, her empathy with character and need for adventure, the future of the growing children’s lit genre seems to promise a vivid and enticing view. Nonetheless, as Katherine reminds us, there are growing obstacles too…“What worries me is poverty, and its effect on literacy,” she says. “Three quarters of a million children in the UK don’t own a single book, and I worry that, as more libraries close, we’ll create an apartheid, where some children are shut out from the world of books and the joy comes with them.”

After all, views of landscape, adventure and wonderlands were created without borders. Let’s make sure they need not be seen only by telescopes and keep the expanding horizons of children’s literature visible for all.

Key Player

Round & About


Impressionist Alistair McGowan will show audiences a different side of himself this month. He chats to Peter Anderson ahead of his Maidenhead piano show

Impressionist Alistair McGowan will showcase his love for classical piano music, motivated by his desire to open the genre up to the masses. Audience members can look forward to beautiful music (with the occasional mistake), some interesting stories and a sprinkling of his trademark impressions…

So where does Alistair’s love of classical piano come from? “I grew up with classical music,” he says. “I can remember the Peer Gynt Suite from when I was about five. Then when I was in my teens I heard some piano music on the radio; I asked my mother what it was and she told me Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. When I said I really liked it, she said she had a record of it and we listened to the whole concerto.

“With this concert, I hope to bring my love of classical piano music to a wider audience by playing about 18 short pieces and in between talking about the pieces and the composers who wrote them. There are many lovely composers for the piano whom not many people have heard of and I’d love to change that.

“One of the pieces I play is by John Field, one of the best Irish composers of classical music. During the show, there may be the occasional laugh, but this is me trying my best to play piano, not emulating Victor Borge or Les Dawson!”

I guess one of the scariest moments for an impressionist must be coming face-to-face with someone you impersonate? I wonder whether Alistair fancies meeting one of the classical composers… “Now there’s a question! I think some of the composers were a little terrifying. I think Tchaikovsky described Rachmaninov as 6 feet 6 inches of Russian gloom. John Field is someone I’ve studied and his music is good for beginners to learn. Then there’s Debussy and Grieg both of whom had a vast knowledge about piano playing.”

Alistair McGowan – Intoduction to Classical Piano is at Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Saturday, 11th August. For more information or to book please visit www.norden.farm/events or call 01628 788 997.

Summer favourites from Paul Clerehugh

Round & About


We chat to Paul Clerehugh, the star chef of The Crooked Billet and London Street Brasserie…

Q. What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“ My Vogue Speed Peeler, for planing Reggiano curls from a parmesan wedge. It produces perfect courgette, daikon and carrot ribbons and peels a waxy charlotte in seconds… I could even shave my legs with it.”

Q. What are your favourite al fresco summer dishes?
“Shaved courgette and parmesan dressed with thick green olive oil. Or else rotisserie spitroast chicken, loads of herbs, garlic and lemon. I’m also partial to a Mr Whippy with local raspberries and monkey blood.”

Q. Which are your favourite local suppliers, producers or farm shop?
“Blue Tin Farm Shop at Keepers Cottage in Ipsden. Great produce, a great smoke house, great providence and I fancy the farmer’s wife…”

Q. What’s your favourite summer veg, fruit and drink?
“Runner beans, tomatoes and Barbara Laithwaites’ Stoke Row English sparkling wine. I also love an ice-cold Dandelion & Burdock.”

Visit www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk  or London Street Brasserie

Summer favourites from Atul Kochhar

Liz Nicholls


We asked Atul Kochhar the twice Michelin-starred chef, and owner of Benares in London, Sindhu in Marlow and many other restaurants, about his summer favourites

Atul Kolchhar
Atul Kolchhar

Q: What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“I wouldn’t be without a wok or a karahi. A slightly heavier wok is best as you can stew, braise and fry. It’s a good idea to season a new wok before using it for the first time; Put plenty of salt in and heat then take a kitchen cloth and rub the salt all over the sides and base, wash with weak soapy water and dry.”

Q. What’s your fave al fresco dish?
“Anything I can do on the barbecue, meat, vegetables or fruit. You don’t need to add lots of spice; keeping it simple with salt, pepper and lemon juice is ideal. Try to retain the juices as much as you can by grilling on a high heat so the food seals quickly and retains flavour.”

Q. Do you have a favourite pub or restaurant?
“I love The Footman in Mayfair where, once in a while, I go for a pint with my team. A great place.”

Q. What about a fave farm shop or supplier?
Laverstoke Park Farm [in Basingstoke] does the best cheese, especially buffalo mozzarella.”

Q. Which British summer produce do you love?
“Early this year I made a pact with the family to spend less time travelling and more time at home so I’m mostly in the UK. Strawberries are my favourite. Chard and rhubarb I love, too, especially at this time of year. Chard is best blanched quickly, used in the same way as spinach. If I’m cooking a chicken curry I’d add the whole leaf to the pot – which makes it slightly salty but amazing, since it absorbs all the juices. The eating is fantastic! If you’re a vegetarian chard is a great option.”

Visit www.atulkochar.com

Stir Crazy with Ching He Huang

Round & About


We asked Ching He Huang, one of the many chefs starring at Woking Food Festival 31st August – 2nd September, about her kitchen faves

Q: What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“My Lotus Wok is a one-tool wonder; you can braise, steam, shallow fry, deep fry and make pop corn in it. Woks have thousands of years of history, but this humble tool is in danger of extinction as Chinese embrace western cooking equipment like the oven!”

Q. What’s your favourite summer dish?
“I love a noodle salad. A Chinese-style salsa verde with ginger, spring onion, sichuan pepper chilli oil tossed with courgetti noodles, sliced radishes, basil and fresh hand-picked Cornish crab – British produce with a slight Chinese twist.”

Q. Do you have a favourite food supplier?
“My husband’s family have taken me to visit Garsons Farm recently – you can pick blackberries and sugarsnap peas. I love the farm shop there; you can get organic milk from Goodwood Estate and Woodhall’s ham, which is perfect sliced and stir fried with scallops and black rice vinegar.”

Q. What’s your fave summer fruit and tipple?
“Strawberries – my garden patch has produced quite a bit this year so I’m delighted! They’re perfect in a glass of Pimm’s, of course…”

Visit www.wokingfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk

Stir Crazy by Ching He Huang
Stir Crazy by Ching He Huang

Round & About Magazine has a signed copy of Ching’s book, Stir Crazy, and one of her Lotus Woks to give away. Simply answer the following phrase: Which ingredient would you find in Ching’s noodle salad…
a: Homegrown Strawberries
b: Cornish Crab
c. Woodhall’s ham


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Feast of fun

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to musician, cheese maker and dad Alex James, 49, ahead of The Big Feastival which takes place 24th-26th August, in the Cotswolds

Q: How do you start planning each new Big Feastival?
“The first thing we do is invite The Cuban Brothers and Justin Fletcher; then we’ve got a party. Justin turns up and marches on stage with his little red nose on to sing One Man Went To Mow and brings the house down, without fail, every year. As time goes on it gets easier to attract the big stars. I’m delighted Marco [Pierre White] is involved this year; the whole British food revival started with him. Raymond Blanc and Pierre Koffmann complete the trio of culinary granddaddies.”

Q. Do you love the local food scene?
“Totally. We’re lucky with such a brilliant culture of food, starting with Daylesford just up the road and that’s drawn loads of brilliant chefs to the area. I love all the great pop-ups, farmers, producers…”

Q. Do you get to enjoy the festival once all the hard prep work is done?
“Yes; it takes all my charms and the odd cheese parcel, as well as loads of hard work. But when the sun’s shining and everyone’s jumping up and down, having a good time, it’s worth it. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun as this – it’s an absolute scream. I get the whole family involved; everyone’s got a role.”

Q. You make parenting look easy, with your big brood!
“Haha! Yeah but I do get stressed too, man. Having a big family teaches you to roll with the punches, focus on the horizon, keep pushing.”

Q. You seem very productive?
“I’ve made five children, six cheeses and seven records. That’s the only reason I can do a food, music and family festival. You’ve got to care to make it happen.”

Q. How do you stay so svelte, making so much cheese!?
“Thanks for saying; I don’t feel it! I’ve got two new cheeses out this year so each one is quite a bit of time in the gym. It’s difficult not to invent cheese without eating loads of f***ing cheese!”

Q. Where do you want to travel next?
“Marco and I were talking about this the other day – he wants to go round Europe. South America, for me, is mind-blowing. The last time I was in Chile with the band I had a great meal and there wasn’t one ingredient I recognised. There’s interest in doing a festival down there, actually. I love travelling as a family; it’s so easy to travel in the 21st century.”

Q. Do you still love astronomy?
“Yeah; I watch lots of videos on YouTube; science, physics. It’s a good way to zone out at the end of a long day. Since the kids arrived I’ve got more down-to-earth concerns but my love of astronomy has gone into a more abstract realm of higher maths.”

Q. Who’s your favourite author?
“I like to re-read those books I’ve always loved, especially Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson.”

Visit www.thebigfeastival.com

Hurry! Enter for our The Big Feastival Competition – ends Friday, 27th July

Plots for Pollinators

Liz Nicholls


Alan Titchmarsh is calling on all gardeners to unite to create a refuge for struggling butterflies, moths and other pollinators this summer. Join us in your garden – and online.

The future of our butterflies, moths and other pollinating insects is under threat,” warns Mr Titchmarsh, vice-president of Butterfly Conservation.

The cold start to spring may affect how some butterflies fare this year, as they could have less time to feed and breed. But you can help by creating some ‘plots for pollinators’.
“So many flowers are great nectar sources,” adds the local star, “such as catmint, cosmos or calendula. You could attract butterflies such as my favourite, the Red Admiral,” adds Mr Titchmarsh. “[Your square metre] doesn’t have to be on the lawn – you could create a vertical garden on an unused wall or fence.”

The project encourages you to set aside one square metre to plant a nectar-rich flowerbed or a colourful container garden over the summer.

Pollinating insects fertilise many crops, as well as other plants, trees and wild flowers. Gardens can act as vital refuges for pollinators, which are increasingly under threat from habitat loss, agricultural intensification and climate change. Previously widespread species, such as the Small Tortoiseshell and Garden Tiger Moth, have seen numbers plummet in recent years.

Titchmarsh’s Top Tips

Measure one square metre of outdoor space as a plot of pollinators and fill it with open-flowered, nectar-rich plants. Choose a sunny, sheltered position and group pots on a patio, grow up a fence or wall, or pick a flowerbed patch.

Water your plot regularly – ideally from a water butt which is more eco-friendly. Water soil not the plant; larger leaves can act as an umbrella shielding roots! Remove your watering can’s rose to get nearer the plant base if necessary.

Put a layer of mulch on the surface of the soil around the plants to help prevent water evaporation and suppress weed growth.

Always choose peat-free compost and cut down on plastic. Use recyclable and recycled containers or be creative and turn tins and tubs into pots, drilling drainage holes in the bottom.

Dead-head after flowering for more blooms.

Inspire your neighbours to plant a plot to create a flowery super highway.

Avoid harmful pesticides by removing slugs and snails by hand instead. Night is the best time.


Live & Direct

Liz Nicholls


Historian, broadcaster and TV presenter Dan Snow tells us more about his upcoming History Guy tour…

Q:What will you be talking about in your show? “A large chunk will be about local history, with direct relevance to the place we’re in…”

Q: Do people want to recount their personal histories, too? “Yes, they often want to tell me all about their family or the part their family played in history, such as a soldier in the First World War. A huge number of people tell me stories about their ancestors. They’ll say something like ‘My father was the first black RAF pilot’. Listening to them, you realise how many firsts there are.”

Q: Is your hope that you can captivate audiences with your infectious enthusiasm? “Yes! History is not all about dead kings, old libraries and dust: it’s everything! It’s your parents’ eyes meeting across a crowded room and why we are who we are and why we are speaking English and why it’s acceptable for women and men to mingle together. I hope people walk out of the theatre saying that they had a really good time. I also hope they leave having thought deeply about the past of their town, their country and their world. I just love this country – there is so much character and history here. Wherever you go in Britain, there are so many stories.”

Q: What do you think are the benefits of studying history? “It’s very good for your mental health to go to these places. When I went to Odiham Castle recently it was a beautiful sunlit morning – not a bad way to spend 20 minutes. Being a historian is a lovely job, but we can all do it at any time.”

Q: Tell us about your channel, History Hit TV. “Life is very exciting at the moment. Our podcasts have a million listeners. I love doing the podcast because of its simplicity and speed.”

Q: What you do in your spare time? “We go on holiday and visit historic sites! The kids are more manageable when you’re doing stuff with them. Having them around the house in winter is brutal. Looking around Winchester or Basingstoke is great fun. Walking around the Roman walls of Chester is a really good day out. You’re a better parent if you take your children to these historic places; it makes better citizens. We’re also on the water all the time. I often row with the kids near our house.”

Q: Did you inherit your love of history from your family? “Yes. My dad is fantastic on the heritage side. I inherited that from him. He has relentless energy. Also, my Welsh grandma, Nain, was a huge storyteller. She taught me to give history a human element and to bring it alive. I hope my history is real and vivid because of her.”

Enjoy Dan Snow: An Evening with “The History Guy” at The Swan in High Wycombe on Thursday, 7th July. For tickets, visit www.wycombeswan.co.uk or call 01494 512 000.