Star Q&A: Christine Walkden

Round & About


Jonathan Lovett chats to one of the nation’s favourite gardeners, The One Show’s Christine Walkden, who is also a proud life member of The National Allotment Society

Q. This year’s National Allotments Week runs from August 10th to 16th – what’s wonderful about allotments?

A. There’s the fact you can grow your own fruit and veg, but an allotment doesn’t just help with cultivating plants, it helps with cultivating people. On an allotment you are constantly cultivating friends and relationships and there’s a great sense of camaraderie. So much of modern society, particularly lately, is about isolation but on an allotment you get together as a community and it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or whether you have three heads or four…you’re just a gardener.

Q. When did you have your first allotment?

A. I was just 10 and by the time I was 14 I had five of them! I didn’t have any family interested in gardening, but I always felt very much at home on one. I started growing mustard cress which I forced my dad to eat and I gardened a little strip outside our terrace house, then I took over next door’s…and next door’s…before a Mrs Hargreaves suggested I take on her late husband’s allotment. I guess it was a bit strange for a young girl to be doing this, but it didn’t seem strange to me.

Q. A lot of people have taken to gardening during the lockdown. What essential tip do you have for the novice?

A. If you don’t succeed first time then try again. It amazes me that we have to learn to ride a bike or pass our driving test but, for some reason, with gardening people think it’s just going to happen. People don’t persevere and I don’t know why but if something in the garden doesn’t happen the first time then some folk just think, “Stuff it!” I had to persevere. When I started out in this business it was very male-dominated. As a teenage girl in the early ‘70s it wasn’t that easy – but I got there.

Q. How have you coped during lockdown?

A. I haven’t enjoyed it and it I can’t say it’s been a good experience. My work is about people and sharing but I haven’t been able to see anybody so I have found it very difficult. It’s also been quite scary that your life can come to an absolute standstill by external forces. My garden has been gardened to death over the past few months!

Q. You’ve appeared on many TV shows, including your own, and are the resident expert on The One Show. What’s it like meeting the A-listers?

A. I frequently have to pinch myself and find myself saying, “How the hell did a gardener end up working with people like Julie Andrews, Ian McKellen, Vera Lynn and David Frost?” One of my favourite celebs is Helen Mirren who is very keen on gardening and always very willing to open-up about what she does and is happy talking to you. It’s an odd couple – myself and Dame Helen Mirren!

Q. And am I right in saying you once appeared on Shooting Stars opposite Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer?!

A. Yes! I was on the 2008 Christmas special. I didn’t really know anything about the programme before I went on and I found it a very surreal experience. But a producer I know told me beforehand “Just give as good as they’re giving you” so I played them at their own game. Afterwards Bob said it took them a minute or two to realise what I was doing! It was as weird as one would expect but I survived!

Q. And was there a moment when you thought – I really would love to be a gardener?

A. I remember our headmistress coming into our class one day. She asked if any kids wanted to take plants home and I put my hand up and took three. When I got home my dad said, “What the hell are you doing with them?!” I replied, “I want to look after them during the holiday,” but he said, “You can’t because we’re going away on holiday!” So I put the plants in a bath full of water in the shed and went away for a fortnight. When I came back I expected them to be dead but I opened the door and they were full in flower! To this day I’ve never been able to repeat that…but it has led to a career!

To get involved with National Allotments Week visit The National Allotment Society

Star Q&A: Julia’s outdoor jewels

Round & About


To say TV presenter Julia Bradbury loves the outdoors would be an understatement, so much so that she set up The Outdoor Guide website packed with wonderful walks, picturesque pubs to stay in and everything you need to get out and enjoy yourself

Q. Let’s start with exactly what it does mean to you to be outdoors and its particular importance while we’ve been in lockdown?

A. I think a lot of people have reconnected with nature and with green spaces during lockdown. People talk about being able to hear the birds sing and they are noticing things like flowers in bloom, more bees in the gardens, along hedgerows and in their parks, cleaner air and lack of noise pollution. There is no doubt that the plus against all the negativity of the Coronavirus is that it has made people more aware of nature. I hope the message is coming across loud and clear that we need nature to protect us from viruses like COVID-19; it’s because of the manmade breakdown of nature that this disease has crossed over. The more forests, oceans and wildlife habitats we destroy the more endangered humans become.

Q. Did you always have a love of the outdoors as a child, any special memories?

A. I was incredibly lucky. I had a dad who adored the great outdoors. I went to school in Sheffield, I grew up in Rutland and Sheffield and after school and at weekends my dad Michael, a Derbyshire man, would take me walking around Buxton and the Peak District, which is where he used to go exploring with his brother when he was a little lad. They were fantastic bonding experiences for him and I, but also, I think it planted this seed deep in my psyche, deep in my heart and deep in my brain, to appreciate and love the outdoors.

Q. Do your children share your love for the great outdoors?

A. Yes, and in fact, their favourite day from last year was a cold, wet October windy day when they got dressed up from head to toe in their outdoor guide waterproofs. We all zipped up so the only thing that was exposed was our faces and we went out into the sheet rain. We had a full-on wet leaf fight and rolled down the hill, jumped in puddles, and we got soaked. They often talk about that day and they just want to go out and roll in the leaves again.

Q. You’ve recently done a Q&A on The Outdoor Guide with psychologist Jonathan Hoban about mental health, what did you take from that?

A. We started doing our lockdown sessions which are up on TOG for people to access who have been struggling with mental health issues throughout this period. We touched on topics like keeping routine and how important that is for lockdown, how it’s okay to feel angry and how it’s alright to feel emotional. I actually had a day a few weeks ago, in the midst of the lockdown period when I just lost it. I couldn’t stop crying; all because I couldn’t get an iron to work. It wasn’t about that of course – it was the whole situation, all the questions and uncertainties that we are all facing. It’s OK not to be OK all the time! It’s very beneficial to have these weekly discussions with Jonathan, hopefully for lots of people.

To find out more visit The Outdoor Guide website at

David Gray matters

Liz Nicholls


Twenty years on since his masterpiece White Ladder, Liz Nicholls chats to musician David Gray

Q. Hello! Does it feel like 20 years since White Ladder was released? “It does feel like 20 years – it’s not gone by in the blink of an eye. There’s been a lot going on, a lot to negotiate in these intervening years. It feels good to be at this moment now. I was a bit ambivalent about the idea of a tour when it was first hoisted up the flagpole. But I think years went by and then I thought maybe this is the time to do it because people get sick, things change and then suddenly things aren’t possible in the way they used to be. None of us are getting any younger, so this is the time to give it the full celebration. Then I’ll move on to creative pastures new.”

Q. I’ve been reading that White Ladder came from a dark place… “I think the press use the word ‘dark’ a little too liberally… I mean, let’s face it, I was living in north London. I wasn’t in Bosnia. Or Syria. I was eating croissants from the local patisserie… such was the darkness that was engulfing me! I think things hadn’t worked out [with sales] and that was a hard pill to swallow. I was in a place that, after three albums, I thought ‘is this it?’ When that happens to a musician over a course of many years, it gets worse & harder. A real sense of futility permeates everything you’re doing. Apart from in Ireland, importantly [where David’s music started selling first]. That kept me going; the fact that I had a real connection over there and a fan base kept me believing something could still happen. But I did think, ‘I can’t go on like this, I think I have to change paths’. Then I thought, ‘well, maybe I can make a better record’. You can blame the world, you can blame the journalists, you can blame the record company but I thought: ‘can I make a better record?’ And the answer was yes.”

Q. Did going lo-fi help? “We took the record production in-house with what money was left. We bought a few bits of gear. We got back to making music in my spare room. And that was the best sense of freedom and intimacy. The freedom to explore and discover and get more hands-on with the recording process was the beginning of making this album. A very limited palette of options ended up  one of the strengthening factors in the sonic world we created. We pooled all our creativity. There’s a brightness to the record, even though a sort of melancholy creeps in here and there. It’s the negative charge flipping into positive. It was a ‘do or die’ moment – how do you face the world after it’s shunned you or been indifferent? You open your heart even wider and you go again. That’s the answer. Openness hurts, as Rumi once said. That’s the approach and it’s just incredibly open, melodically unfearful. [White Ladder] is a record that’s happy being exactly what it is. We made the record and we were proud of it when we finished. We’d taken such pains over every tiny bit. It would have been preposterous to imagine the success that was going to come.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Two things. It would be my dad playing records when I went to bed. The smell of fag smoke, cigar smoke, wine, beer and then The Beatles or Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road. Particularly Cat Stevens’ Hard Headed Woman, Wild World. Those songs really take me back. Rod Stewart, Atlantic Crossing. That was the early ’70s soundscape I remember and also all the beautiful TV music. Bagpuss. Hector’s Garden. All those sounds were very entrancing.”

Q. What format do you listen to music on? “Well I’ve succumbed to the algorithmic world of Spotify, and for some things YouTube. I might occasionally play a record… three months later you come back and the turntable’s still going round and round. Sometimes a CD. Some songs don’t exist as streaming music. I’ve got some records you can’t listen to any other way. It’s a bit like DVDs. I’m still watching a lot of films on DVD…”

Q. Any talented up-and-coming singer-songwriters worth your time and a leg-up? “I don’t think they need a leg-up from me but I will mention a couple of people I’m enjoying. One would be Big Thief; a group of musicians from America . And a Bristol collective called This Is The Kit [alias of Kate Stables]. They’ve grabbed my ears in recent years. I could go on but I’ll just meander out into obscurity. Word of mouth is still the most potent means of discovery. If Spotify or Apple recommend I listen to something, 99 times out of 100 I will refuse. That’s the kind of stick-in-the-mud that I am. I’d rather sit on my own at the bus stop with the rain lashing down on my face listening to nothing than listen to their recommendations based on everything I’ve already listened to. One problem with the predictive thing is that if your kids are listening through the same service, it suggests you listen to all the stuff that they listen to, which at the moment is a heavily urban kind of vibe. Not my chosen mood of reflection.”

Q. Mind you, I sometimes discover rare delights from my daughter’s choices before they go mainstream, such as Billie Eilish… “Billie Eilish is one of those rare successes; there’s real talent there. The record production as well. She gets all the plaudits but really her brother [Finneas] is a big talent sculpting the whole thing. It’s really nicely done so hats off to them.”

Q. Do you have a favourite book? “Well, I’ve got lots. Moby Dick by Herman Melville would have to be one of my favourites, an enduring favourite which I’ve read several times. You could do a lot worse.”

Q. What about your favourite film? “You’ve switched tack… you’re not going to ask my favourite colour next, are you?! Well, as it happens I was rather disappointed by Parasite, which got a huge amount of publicity with its bizarre Oscar-winning run. But that’s because I’d enjoyed their previous film Burning more – it’s a really good watch. It’s a dreamlike, based on a Haruki Murakami short story. You never know what’s real or what’s imagined; it’s set on the border with North Korea. I loved that film and it should be the one everyone’s watching. It’s more fully realised and poetic than Parasite managed to be.”

Q. White Ladder means a lot to me and was the soundtrack to a poignant breakup in my life 20 years ago! Have you had any weird fan mail or comments from your fans? “Course I have… but whether I’d want to draw attention to how weird, or how… suggestive, would not be healthy for people to hear! I’ve had some very odd things. Generally the things I get to read or that are sent are very touching, moving. People’s lives, deaths, disaster, triumph, childbirth, illness, madness. It’s all bound into the album & what it meant to people at that certain time in their lives. I came out of a pub earlier this year and this guy was hanging on to a Rottweiler which was dragging him down the street, with his dodgy mate, in the rain. One eye slightly off to one side. The kind of person you step out of the way of. And as I was stepping out of his way he grabbed me and [adopts husky, menacing shout] ‘David Gray mate! Yeah your record saved me; I got off heroin.’ Suddenly I was having this very intense conversation with him about how his friends were dying and as he got into his recovery process he discovered the record. Something about it helped him strengthen his resolve. Well, as he puts it, it made him feel ‘there was something bright out there he could grab hold of’. You hear mad stuff like this and it’s quite hard to process.”

• David Gray’s White Ladder has just been re-released in a deluxe edition as well as on CD, digitally and on vinyl. For this and updates on the tour, which was set to include Blenheim Palace, visit

Talking Point: Clare Balding

Round & About


Liz Nicholls asks Clare Balding about life, sport and pets as she launches her new Dogcast podcast

Q. How do you feel about where we’re all at as feminists as we approach another International Women’s Day? “I think we’ve achieved a lot but there’s still a lot to do. We all need to realise many companies are not valuing the work of women in the same way they value that of men. We have to protect and support those who have been denied opportunity and financial reward and we have to consistently and insistently point out to employers where they need to shape up.”

Q. We’re real dog-lovers here, and even have an office dog (Booster the black lab)! Can you tell us more about Dogcast and your love of dogs? “I grew up with dogs and the first face I remember seeing and feeling a connection with was my mum’s Boxer, Candy. To be honest, I think Candy felt more protective towards me than either of my parents. I spent most of my childhood dreaming of being a dog. There are so many benefits to dogs being a part of our lives and Dogcast is all about exploring that joy, as well as offering practical advice on veterinary and behavioural issues. I’m fascinated by the positive impact dogs can have at work, in schools and in hospitals and care homes. Maybe I should come and visit your office to see what Booster has done for the team… “

Q. Do you play golf and are you looking forward to the Ryder Cup? “I do play golf and I thought Europe’s victory in last year’s Solheim Cup was one of the sporting highlights of the year. I love team golf and will watch the Ryder Cup as much as I can and hope we’ll see a reigniting of the successful bromance between Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. They were amazing together in France in 2018.”

Q. 2020 is a huge year for sport – which aspects of the Tokyo games are you most looking forward to? “I can’t wait to see the new sports in action – especially skateboarding and rock climbing. We’ll have the youngest ever British Olympian representing Team GB in skateboarding (Sky Brown) and I hope she can win a medal. I’m also hugely looking forward to the Paralympics and I’m sure Tokyo will do a great job of hosting.”

Q. Did you enjoy your school days? “I had a mixed time. I started off very unhappy and got into a lot of trouble. I was suspended for shoplifting and de-housed. Then I rebuilt myself a bit, with the help of a very good set of friends and by throwing myself into sport. It all worked out in the end. I had a very good English teacher and she helped me get into a decent university to read English, which I loved.”

Q. Can you tell us about your love of horses? “My dad was a racehorse trainer and I was put on a pony before I could walk. It seemed easier to learn how to ride than stand on my own two feet and fairly soon I was falling off at regular intervals and rolling around on the ground laughing. I wanted to be an Eventer and my dream was to compete at the Olympics for GB. Then I started riding racehorses at the age of 16 and I discovered that winning races was a lot of fun. I won my first car by riding in races and I won my weight in champagne – which is the only time I’ve been delighted to be on the heavy side!”

Q. Is there anything you love to eat & drink? “I don’t mind champagne (luckily) but I really enjoy a rhubarb & ginger flavoured gin with tonic. I like most food apart from tomatoes, which I really hate. I don’t mind tomato sauce or sundried tomatoes but I really dislike them raw. It’s something to do with the squishy texture and the way the pips get everywhere.”

Q. What was it like growing up In Hampshire and any favourite places to visit? “It’s a beautiful part of the country and I was lucky enough to grow up next to Watership Down. I love the rolling hills and the clear chalk streams. I’ve done a lot of walking in Hampshire and the Home Counties but there is still so much more to explore. The other week I walked from Winchester Cathedral, past the college and through the water meadows, before climbing up to St Catherine’s Hill to explore the ancient labyrinth on the top. It was absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t believe that it had taken me until then to discover it.”

Q. What’s your favourite book, film and artist? “I’m always reading so I can’t say I have one book that I would choose above all others… But if I had to recommend something that summed up the British countryside, I’d go The Wild Places or The Old Ways (both by Robert Macfarlane) or Rising Ground by Philip Marsden. I also love Caitlin Moran’s books and anything written by Nora Ephron. I watch a lot of films and have really enjoyed the development of storylines in which women can be leading characters, rather than just victims or support players. I would hold up Hidden Figures as a great example of a film about women who made a real difference to the development of the world as we know it and had previously been ignored by history. As for a piece of music, If I Had A Million Dollars by Barenaked Ladies makes me laugh every time I hear it. My go-to album on repeat is For All Our Sins by Sound of the Sirens. I love every song on it.  If you meant artist as in painter, I would say Davy Brown – a Scottish landscape artist who paints beautiful water colours.”

Q. Who would be your dream dinner party guests? “Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Julie Walters, Emma Thompson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman. Someone would have to be in charge of cooking as I get stressed by cooking for more than one person.”

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And what advice would you give your younger self? “Best advice is that ‘whether you think you can’t or you think you can, you’re probably right’. The power of the mind is an amazing thing and can influence the way we perform almost any task. I like to say ‘yes’ to things at work that scare me a bit – like working on the last General Election – because I think it’s good to be out of my comfort zone and it means I always feel challenged and am learning more about how to do the job. I’d tell my younger self to read more books and to stop worrying so much about clothes and hairstyles or trying to fit in.”

Q. What else is on your horizon this year and beyond? “It’s a big year because of the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo. Before all that, I’m launching the new podcast, Dogcast With Clare Balding and I’m working on a new book for kids. It’s in the non-fiction space and it’s all about resilience, patience, confidence and concentration.”

Q. If you had a magic wand, what one wish would you make for a better world? “I’d try to reverse climate change, clear up the oceans of plastic, stop the fires in Australia (and elsewhere in the world) from destroying so much wildlife and natural habitation, stop the floods that cause so much damage and basically create a world in which we are living in harmony with nature.”

* Download the Dogcast with Clare Balding podcast at

Talking Point: Russell Watson

Round & About


Liz Nicholls chats to singer and dad Russell Watson, 53, ahead of his 20th anniversary UK tour.

Q. Hello! Congratulations on 20 years since your album The Voice. How does that feel?
“Thank you! You’d expect to be more thrilled and grateful at the start of your career and then becoming used to it but for me it’s the other way around. I didn’t realise the significance of the record sales at the time. The Voice spent a year at number one in the charts and people kept congratulating me but at the time I was a bit ‘meh’ – I’d say, nah, Robbie Williams has done more, Elton’s done more. Now I look back and can’t believe the arena tours, the sales. It was just happening so quickly but I’m more grateful now.”

Q. How do you take care of your voice?
“I’ve always had to take care of my voice. If you don’t you pay the price later down the line. Dairy is an absolute no-go, as are fizzy drinks and anything spicy. I lived on chicken and boiled rice throughout the entirety of the last 25-date tour I did with Aled Jones, but he didn’t! I’d meet him in the canteen where Aled would be tucking into his meat & potato pie, chips, peas, gravy and a Diet Coke. I‘d ask him how he could have that before going on stage and he’d say ‘Well, that’s the downside of being a tenor!’ But I love Aled; we’ve become really close. It’s nice to have someone you can talk to and trust in the music industry.”

Q. You’ve worked with some stars – who would be your favourite?
“I’ve been very lucky. The list is endless and I’d never want to forget anybody. From Luciano Pavarotti at Hyde Park to Paul McCartney at the Nobel Peace prize awards in Oslo when we sang Let It Be. When I was a kid I remember sitting in my bedroom playing the Beatles bumper songbook and 15 years on I’m singing with the man himself, wow. Shaun Ryder, Meatloaf, Lulu, Mel C ¬– so many amazing people! Lionel Richie definitely stands out, and Cliff Richard; my mum was a massive fan of Cliff when we were kids.”

I haven’t ever stopped loving it!

Q. What’s your first memory of music?
“My grandad was a fantastic classical pianist trained to the highest level but sadly he had serious confidence issues so he never went on stage. But my earliest memories are of leaning against the back leg of his grand piano, falling asleep to the vibrations of the Chopin waltz.”

Q. You left school early didn’t you?
“Yes; I loved school but not from an academic perspective – I always felt I wasn’t ready for learning as a child. I learned more about life and started to read more after I’d left school – I’m not an advocate of leaving school early, though! I come from a working class background and I love my mum and dad to bits but they didn’t in anyway to encourage me to be academic. Maybe if I’d had parents who’d been more pushy I might have been. But I wouldn’t change anything.”

Q. Do you get stage fright?
“No not really! I’d been doing the clubs for years then in 99 I was invited to sing at Old Trafford for Manchester United’s last game of the season in what had been a truly iconic time for the team. I sang Nessun Dorma and walked off to see my dad at the side of the pitch with a tear in his eye (it was windy, he said!). He said: ‘were you not nervous?’ And I said no – I love it! And I’ve never stopped loving it. The more the merrier in terms of the crowd.”

Q. Do you love being a dad more than ever?
“Yes; my bond with my girls got even closer after getting ill with the tumours, particularly the second one when I nearly died. My eldest is 25 now and works with me and they’re both nearby. We pull funny faces and sing the wrong words to pop songs, crying with laughter. They bring the best and most stupid side out of me.”


For all tour dates and to buy tickets

Talking point: Liz Bonnin

Round & About


Liz Nicholls asks award-winning presenter and biologist Liz Bonnin about school, the live tour of the BBC’s Planet Earth II this spring and how we can all do our bit.

Q. Which early experiences or teachers sparked your love of nature? “I grew up in France, in the mountains above Nice. My sister and I were always out in the wood near our house with our two dogs, having adventures with hedgehogs, snakes and spiders. Nature just works its magic if you plonk kids in the middle of it. At school, I was fascinated by little birds, how everything worked inside that perfect little body, which led me to biology. Then I wanted to understand how everything worked in every living system and I had a great chemistry teacher in Ireland who nurtured my passion. A good teacher will do that. I wasn’t very good at physics or maths but I loved school.”

Q. Do series such as Planet Earth, and Sir David Attenborough’s latest Seven Worlds, One Planet have an influence on how we treat our planet? “We’ve reached a tipping point in terms of our impact, and one of the things I’m most astounded by is that petrochemical companies are just seemingly carrying on as if it’s ‘business as usual’. I believe we can make a difference, but need to be aware of the facts. I think series like Planet Earth can both move and inspire people.”

Q. Has filming Meat: A Threat To Our Planet changed your eating habits? “I already was eating less meat. The show certainly made me think again about how we treat a food that, considering its impact, should be a luxury rather than an everyday staple. I don’t eat red meat and any chicken I eat is free range, high welfare.”

Q. How do you feel about Planet Earth II’s live tour? ”It hasn’t quite sunk in that I’ll be involved. So, to be stepping out as part of the tour and getting to see it all on a gigantic screen with a full orchestra as well… I think I’ll be quite emotional.”

Q. What is it like working with a national treasure Sir David? “I’ve met Sir David on a few occasions now, and I’ll never forget the first time I saw him about 12 years ago when he was talking at an event. I was a bit starstruck; he was my hero when I was growing up. He went from production work into inventing natural history programming with the BBC. There really is nobody else like him and I doubt there ever will be again. He’s not just a national treasure, but one for the whole world.”

More info

For Planet Earth II Live in Concert 2020 visit the website and see our competitions.

Talking point: Brydon time

Round & About


Television star, singer and father of five Rob Brydon, 54, talks about his life & career ahead of his new Songs & Stories tour

Q. You’ve just come from your photoshoot for his new live tour, looking good!  “Yes, I was looking rather lovely in a suit and freshly pressed shirt. It was a glorious sight to behold. As you know, I’m a very elegant man. I encapsulate a lot of Daniel Craig… Albeit after he’s been savagely beaten.”

Q. You’ve won gongs at the British Comedy Awards and the Royal Television Society… Why are you yearning to go back to live shows? “Live comedy is just such a buzz. People come just to see you. Sometimes you stand on stage thinking, ‘Good God, these people have all gone to the trouble of paying a babysitter and chosen to come and watch my show.’ That’s a very special feeling. It feels very natural to me. Sometimes people say, ‘I can’t imagine getting up on stage and performing. It would be so terrifying.’ But you don’t choose that life – it’s almost a calling, something you just have to do. You feel very comfortable on stage, and that grows over time. The more you get used to it, the more it becomes your norm. I like to entertain people and make them laugh. It’s a real privilege.”

Q. Is performing Songs & Stories not a risky business? “It’s a deliberate risk. I’ve got to the stage of my career where shows I’m in like Would I Lie To You? and The Trip and stand-up tours return. But I want to go outside my comfort zone and test myself. I’ll be nervous before this tour thinking, ‘What will the reaction be?’ But I’m taking a chance, and the fact that there is risk involved is part of the thrill of it. It will take some people by surprise. There are so many media outlets nowadays that some people might only know me from Gavin and Stacey or Would I Lie To You?. Those people often say to me, ‘I didn’t know you could sing’, and yet I have sung a lot. I hope this show is a very pleasant surprise for audiences. I recently went to see Jeff Goldblum play with his band. That was wonderful. That guy was just there to entertain people. He played his songs, but he did lots of other things as well, like film quizzes. The show followed no rulebook. I found that very liberating and quite instructive.”

Q. When did you realise you had such a beautifully rich singing voice? “I go back to my childhood. I was 16 and starting to get interested in girls, but I was always pining from afar. In my teens I lived in Porthcawl, a coastal town in Wales, and all the cool boys were surfers. I wasn’t a surfer. I had a go once, but I hurt my knee.”

Q. So music was your ticket to cool? “My musical taste was never considered cool. I never set much store by stuff being fashionable. I loved David Bowie and The Police, but also Shakin’ Stevens and Cliff Richard, which not many boys of my age did. Well, not the ones sitting at the back of the bus!”

Q. You don’t sound like a typical teenager! “I didn’t drink. My friends would all drink on a Friday and Saturday, and on a Tuesday and Wednesday, too, just for good measure. That meant they lost their fear of rejection. Unfortunately, I never lost that fear. I knew that I was funny and could make girls laugh. They would want to spend time with me. Had I had the nerve to close the deal with a kiss, I’m sure they would have responded, but I was too frightened. I would see neanderthals from my class with their arm around a girl at the school disco and think, ‘How did he manage that? He can’t string a sentence together and now it looks as if they’re setting up home together’. I talk a lot about my bemusement that girls were going out with those boys. At the time, Joe Jackson’s song, ‘Is She Really Going Out with Him?’ was a big hit, and I sing a bit of that by way of illustration.”

Q. What do you hope the audience take from Songs & Stories? “I hope people will come out happier than when they went in because they’ve had such a great time. I hope they will have forgotten about the world for two hours. As a performer in the last few years, you can really feel that people just want to escape. It’s tangible. People come up to you afterwards and say, ‘I’m so glad you didn’t talk about the state of the country or the current US President.’ My show is an escape. It’s a service. People want to go out and be entertained. In times of adversity, which you could definitely say we are in now, people want that more than ever. Of course, if the box office is still open, a percentage of the audience will be looking for a refund, I don’t doubt that.”

Songs & Stories

is at:

Wycombe Swan on 3rd March
G Live, Guildford on 16 March
New Victoria Theatre, Woking on 24 March

Sir Ranulph Fiennes at Cranford House

Round & About


Junior pupils at a South Oxfordshire school have been exploring polar ice caps, arid deserts and yawning caves thanks to an exciting project focused on exploration and the environment.

And now they can look forward to sharing their hard work with none other than the world’s greatest living explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Cranford House, a small independent school in South Oxfordshire, has been running the inspiring project in parallel with several local primary schools whose Years 5 and 6 pupils will also be there on the day to meet the great man himself. As well as enjoying the chance to discuss their work on exploration and climate change with Sir Ranulph, they will also hear him speak of his experiences of life in some of the world’s most extreme places.

Among his many achievements, Sir Ranulph Fiennes successfully climbed Mount Everest, becoming the first person ever to have climbed Everest and crossed both polar ice-caps. He is also the only man alive to have travelled around the planet’s Circumpolar surface.

His latest challenge will see him attempting to become the first person to have crossed both polar ice caps and climbed the highest mountain on every continent. His expedition will raise funds for the Marie Curie charity and Cranford House is proud to be backing his expedition fundraising.

Cranford House’s pupils’ focus on exploration will culminate in a spectacular community event on the morning of Saturday 9th November with balloon rides, climbing walls, viking longships and desert dunes all on offer, and all free of charge.

The school has a history of attracting luminaries from the world of science and literature and Sir Ranulph joins the likes of recent visitors such as astronaut Helen Sharman OBE, and author Marcus Sedgwick in meeting and inspiring pupils.

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Talking point: Jack Savoretti

Round & About


Liz Nicholls chats to globally successful musician & dad Jack Savoretti, 36, who has just released his third hit album Singing To Strangers

Q. You’ve worked with truly amazing musicians. Who would be your dream collaboration? “I have! Seeing my name next to Bob Dylan’s on one of my records is one of my most surreal highlights; his was the first concert I ever went to, aged 17.  Collaborating with lovely Kylie was a pinnacle, too, and working with eccentric, beautiful Mika on this album. Connecting with people, for me, is the best thing about music. Being in a room with someone who has this gift is incredible. My dream collab would’ve been Johnny Cash; that amazing voice.”

Q. How do you listen to music? “I have a beautiful 1960s record player. It doesn’t offer great quality but it gives a wonderful sound, if you know what I mean. My current favourite record is Chet Baker. I also have a nice Bose system for taking it up a notch. My earliest memory of music was the school run and it’s funny because now with my own children that’s the time we all share music, too. My four-year-old son reminded me the other day how great the Ghostbusters song is and my daughter is a little obsessed with ABBA. I wasn’t an ABBA fan but she’s slowly converting me – the songs are brilliant!”

Q. What surprises you most about parenthood? “I think how much you feel. I spent most of my twenties numbing myself. The love, the fear, the worry, the desperation they go to sleep… it’s overwhelming. They don’t know they have this magic trick at first until they figure out how to 
use it against you. I’m eternally grateful.”

Q. Being of European heritage, how does Brexit make you feel? “Sad. It’s a shame that we seem to have trivialised one of the greatest peace treaties of all time – certainly of the last two centuries – and I hate the divisive language being used. I heard the Prime Minister use the word ‘surrender’ and thought that was cheap. The EU isn’t without dysfunction and negotiating changes would’ve been good. But this feels like a lose-lose situation.”

Q. Does November’s season of Remembrance mean much to you? “Yes; a great deal. I think we need to remember the sacrifices previous generations made for us more, especially in school and with what’s happening in politics at the moment. From a personal point of view, I think of my grandfathers. One was Polish and Jewish; he married a German woman young and escaped to Paris and then London. My father’s father fought against Fascism to stop his country being torn apart by divisive language [in Italy a street bears the Savoretti name]. I’m fascinated by that generation’s stories. That’s how complex peace is – ironically you sometimes have to fight for it. Many men and women suffered and lost their lives in the name of peaceful, liberal values which I hope endure.”

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Read more about Jack’s music and to buy his album

Talking point: Country smile

Round & About


Liz Nicholls asks broadcaster & dad John Craven, 79, about his life & career ahead of his appearance at Guildford Literary Festival

We’re looking forward to reading your memoirs. How has it been looking back on your long & successful career? “It’s the first time I’ve written anything like this and it took a bit of getting used to. All through my TV career I’ve had to keep my scripts short – but the book gave me the chance to expand and I ended up with 93,000 words. There are chapters on everything from my childhood to Countryfile, taking in my time on Newsround and SwapShop – three programmes which were all TV ‘firsts’ and which I’m incredibly proud of. Some people would prefer to forget the shows that made them well-known. Not me!”

 How did you get into broadcasting? “I had a false start; at 18 I’d been ‘spotted’ by an ITV youth programme but they sacked me after a few appearances for being too old! So I went into print journalism, joined the BBC in Newcastle as a news scriptwriter in 1965 and made a few films for the regional Look Northprogramme. I then moved to Bristol as a freelance reporter. The network production centre there made children’s programmes, such as Animal Magicwith Johnny Morris and Vision On with Tony Hart, and I auditioned for the presenter role on a new one called Search. I got the job and that led to Newsround in 1972.”

What do you think has been your greatest highlight? “There’ve been lots but one that I recall in the book is when I knocked on a door and it was answered by a future saint…. Mother Teresa. I went to the Mother House of her nuns in the slums of Kolkata to make film about her mission to care for both the dying and young orphans and she was wonderful.”

If you could make one change to benefit the UK countryside, what would it be? “We need to stop young people leaving the rural communities by building more affordable homes and more amenities. Rural people have become increasingly isolated and we need to reverse that trend. More than a third of small farms have disappeared this century and many others are struggling to survive. Unless we can attract more people to farming I worry for the future of food production in this country.”

Where are your favourite parts of the UK? “My favourite spot in Oxfordshire is Blenheim Palace with its spectacular grounds and walks. I was born and bred in Yorkshire and have lived in the North East, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire – all places with wonderful countryside – but if I were to name my favourite part of rural Britain, it would have to be the Yorkshire Dales where, as a child, I first came face-to-face with nature.”

 Like me you started as a newspaper reporter – how do you feel about how the media industry has changed? “It’s so different now from when I set out. Television was black-and-white with just two channels. There wasn’t a clear career path and no such word as ‘media’. Now there are media degree courses galore, and many different programme outlets. On the minus side, there is a lot more competition. But I’m a great believer in luck, and with determination and a bit of talent, there is no reason why you can’t make it.”

Do you consider yourself healthy? “I don’t do anything special but I do try and make careful choices and be sensible. I also walk a lot, but that’s it. Until a few years ago I went to the gym regularly but I don’t feel the need to do that anymore.”

What advice would you give to any budding journalists or presenters? “I always say ‘Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it safe’.”

 Who would you most like to have worked with? “Thomas Telford is one of my heroes as he has had such an impact on our landscapes building canals, roads, bridges and viaducts. What a privilege it would have been to work with him.”

What’s on your horizon? “I’ve always dreamt of being on a big-budget programme but it’s never happened, and I know it won’t come along now. I’ve had a reasonable life from TV and continue to do so although it’s on my terms these days. I still do around 10 assignments a year for Countryfile, and I’m able to pick and choose.”

What are you reading now? “Airhead by Emily Maitlis. It’s a brilliant, often funny, behind-the-scenes account of her working life, written by one of Britain’s best television broadcasters. It proves she’s far from an airhead!”

What is your proudest moment? “Apart from becoming a father twice, it was receiving the OBE for services to children’s and rural broadcasting – the two areas that have defined my career.”

Headlines & Hedgerows:

John will talk about his memoir, Headlines & Hedgerows, at Guildford Book Festival on Tuesday, 8th October, 6.30-7.30pm, The Electric Theatre, Guildford. Book at via website or call 01483 444334.