Star Q&A: Julia’s outdoor jewels

Round & About

Interview

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 https://theoutdoorguide.co.uk/

David Gray matters

Liz Nicholls

Interview

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 www.davidgray.co.uk

Talking Point: Clare Balding

Round & About

Interview

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 https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/dogcast-with-clare-balding/id1495796637

Talking Point: Russell Watson

Round & About

Interview

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.”

Tickets

For all tour dates and to buy tickets

Talking Point: Will Young

Round & About

Interview

Liz Nicholls asks local singer-songwriter Will Young, 40, about life, happiness, his new album Lexicon and upcoming tour

Q. You’re looking well! You said this new album has been stress-free –
is that why? “I think so, yes. Looking after your wellbeing is so important. I now work a four-day week and I’m working with a team I adore. Our rule is that if it doesn’t make us happy, we don’t do it! Also the music inspires me.
I think this [Lexicon] is my best album to date.”

Q. How do you like to listen to music? “In my car! I love driving down to Berkshire listening to BBC 6 Music… But I actually still own CDs!”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album on a sunny day and looking at the artwork on the LP.”

Q. Which tour dates are you looking forward to and which days out will you enjoy close to these? “I always love the New Theatre in Oxford. Kew Gardens in London is so beautiful and fun. Gigs in Gloucestershire are always fun as it’s near my sister and is such stunning countryside.”

Q. Do you like to travel & where’s next? “I love travelling. I have been to Marrakesh twice in the last few months. My next place is Brazil or India.”

Q. Do you consider yourself healthy? “I am healthy-ish. I try to eat greens a lot and drink a lot of water. I think moderation is important but my downfall is chocolate!”

Q. What advice would you give to any budding musicians? “It’s about finding your own unique voice and style. All of us are unique and we need to give ourselves the time to explore this.”

Q. What other projects are on your horizon? “I’m writing a book called How To Be A Gay Man which I’m very excited about. I’m touring the UK in October and also playing Pub in the Park gigs.”

Q. It’s lovely to hear you joyful. How do you feel now, looking back at your low period in terms of your mental health? “I feel very proud of how hard I’ve worked over the last seven years. It’s been a huge task and I’m fortunate to have the strength of will but also the time and money. I’m aware I’m very privileged and that’s spurred me to give talks on mental health to businesses around the UK to help set up a system that can aid their employees. Depression and anxiety are partners in that they create a cloud that descends over mind and body. It creates difficulties for one’s ability to function. I always say it’s like swimming in syrup.”

Q. Do you have a favourite book, artist, film and piece of music? “Enid Blyton’s Shadow The Sheepdog, Magritte – a Belgian artist, Remains Of The Day and Barber’s Adagio For Strings.”

Q. Who would be your dream party guests, living or dead, real or fictional? “Richard and Judy, Richard & Judy and… Richard and Judy!”

Q. What would you wish for if you had a magic wand to change the world? “Peace and love.”

• Lexicon is out now. He will perform at this summer’s Pub In The Park shows and has also just announced an extensive UK tour for October 2019, tickets via www.willyoung.co.uk

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Talking Point: George Clarke

Round & About

Interview

Home truths: Liz Nicholls asks architect, dad and TV star George Clarke, 47 about life & loves ahead of hosting Blenheim Flower Show this month

Q. What one piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to improve their home?
“Make it very personal and beautiful. I see so many homes that just look like any other and most are simply attempts to copy an interior design magazine. There is such a large number of bland global styles out there that sometimes I can hardly tell which country the house is actually situated. Of course, they are beautifully designed, but that’s it: they are a designed objects often devoid of personal charm or character. I get bored of that. Your home is like an extended member of your family, unique and personal and its design should reflect that. Make it about you and the people around you… not about what’s popular.”

Q. I know you love shopping – what’s your weakness?
“I love cameras. I’ve taken photographs since I bought my first camera at 14 years old (a second-hand SLR Chinon from a shop in Sunderland which is still there). I now have a bit of a camera collection. My favourite camera is my Leica CL. It’s a compact camera and it goes everywhere with me. I know there are great camera phones out there these days but taking a photograph with a beautiful camera that has an amazing lens on it feels completely different. I don’t keep a written diary, but I take photographs as a visual diary and they say a picture says a thousand words.”

Q. Do you know Oxfordshire?
“I love Oxfordshire. It’s a fantastic escape from London. And Oxford itself is the most wonderful city. My favourite place to visit is the Augustus Pitt Rivers museum. What an incredible collector he was. Oh… and a small part of me wishes I’d gone to Oxford University. I didn’t apply because I didn’t think I’d get in.”

Q. Please tell us your favourite aspects of your home in Notting Hill – it sounds amazing! And what are your fave hang-outs/ pubs/ walks in SW London?
“I love my home. It actually a 1960s modernist house that I’ve fully refurbished. It’s not a big house, but it has everything I need. My garden studio has to be my favourite part of it. It’s my escape. I’m never happier than when I’m in that space… whether working, reading, sketching or watching the tv. It contains most of my books on architecture and design as well as many architectural models of beautiful buildings from around the world. My studio goes some way to proving that even the simplest and smallest of structures can be truly life changing. I love living in west London because it has such a creative buzz. There are some truly amazing people living there. I’m within a short walk of Portobello Road market and Golbourne Road. Porto, the infamous Portuguese cafe, is my favourite place for a coffee and breakfast. My favourite pub is The Cow. Ive being going there since I moved to London in 1996. It always reminds me of the pub in Cheers because everyone knows everyone and no matter who you are, or what you do, everyone treats everyone exactly the same. “You want to go where everybody knows your name”. The Cow is an institution.

Q. Do you consider yourself healthy? Is there anything you eat / don’t eat?
“I’m pretty healthy, but I don’t exercise anywhere near the amount I’d like to. There is always an excuse for not keeping fit, but my schedule doesn’t lend itself to a regular routine. Very early starts and late finishes when filming and travelling so much isn’t great. Everyday I’m on a plane or a long train journey. I think I’m the only person I know who gets fitter, healthier and slimmer when on holiday. I exercise every day and eat a lot of salad and fish when on holiday. I never eat sweets, cake or milk chocolate because I basically don’t like them, which people find very weird. I’m lucky as I don’t have a sweet tooth at all.”

Q. What advice would you give to any budding musicians?
“I’m always jealous of anyone who has put in the hard work and education to learn how to play an instrument beautifully. I gave too much time to architecture, design and sport to learn an instrument properly. But beautiful music has the power to move you more than architecture does. Architecture has brought me to tears a number of times, but not as much as music has. I’m not qualified to give any musician any advice other than carry on what you’re doing and enjoy every moment making beautiful sounds. Everyone should listen to Delilah Montagu. She’s a 20-year-old singer songwriter from London. She’s at the very beginning of an exciting adventure in music. A super talent.”

Q. What’s on your horizon?
“I want to go to Alaska. It’s at the very top of my bucket list.”

Q. What’s your favourite book, artist and film and piece of music?
“Master & Margarita by Mikhaial Bulgakov. Turner’s my favourite artist. I’m a sucker for any James Bond film; Spectre is up there. I never thought Daniel Craig would ever be my favourite Bond but he’s there now. He’s brilliant.”

Q …And piece of music?
“Here Comes the Sun by George Harrison. Simplicity and beauty personified.”

Q. Who would be your dream party guests, living or dead, real or fictional?
“George Best, Will Alsop (architect), David Attenborough, Elvis, Pink, Charlize Theron, James Bond (Daniel Craig) and my wife Katie. It would be a great night!”

Q. What’s the best lesson parenthood has taught you?
“Firstly, that parenthood is the greatest thing on earth… nothing else matters once you have kids… secondly that love is completely unconditional.”

Q. What are your three favourite buildings in Britain, do you think, and why?
“That’s a tough first question! I have too many favourites. I think my first would be Durham cathedral. I went there for the first rime when I was 8 years old and I couldn’t believe that something so beautiful and so big could be built over 1000 years ago. I’m not a religious person (my only religion is that everyone on the planet should be kind to each other) but I love beautiful, peaceful spaces and Durham was building I would spend hours in, enjoying the peace and tranquillity and doing a few sketches along the way. Durham was the building that made me fall in love with architecture.

Second would be Sir John Shane’s house in Lincoln’s-in-Fields…one of the most incredible homes in the world. When Soane joined the 3 existing houses together and refurbished them in the 19th century they must have been a magical wonder like no other. My third should be my own home…as your own home is the most important piece of architecture in your life. But I can’t have a top three and not choose an Edwin Lutyens house. I’d go for Goddards in Surrey. It is owned by the Landmark Trust and I’m a very proud patron. I was lucky enough to stay at Goddards in 2002 and it blew me away. The beauty and craftsmanship of the arts and crafts movement, leading into the Edwardian age, is one of my favourite periods of architecture. Lutyens is my favourite British architect and Gertrude Jekyll my favourite garden designer. Their collaboration at Lindisfarne in Northumberland would be my next favourite……see that’s five favourites…not three! I told you it’s too tough a first question”

Q. What would you wish for if you had a magic wand to change the world?
I’d reverse climate change so that everything we did made a positive contribution to the environment rather than a detrimental one. I genuinely worry everyday about the impact we are having on Mother Nature. If we don’t get our act together soon we are really going to screw things up…if we haven’t already. Everyone knows what is going on, but it’s going to require a massive change in the way the way we live on this planet for us to sort it out. That’s a depressing end to a nice interview. Sorry!”

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Prophet Sharing

Round & About

Interview

Two great religions. Two great comedians. The descendants of Abraham may have gone their separate ways, but now stand-up comedian friends Ashley Blaker and Imran Yusuf are joining forces in the most-unlikely double-act since Kermit and Miss Piggy, the pair are travelling the UK uniting people of every faith and none for an evening of laughter and come to South Street Arts Centre this week. Peter Anderson caught up with the pair to chat about the show and their love of comedy.

With the current divisive nature of politics, it is nice to see comedy trying to bring unity, where did the idea for the show come from? Ashley replies “: I had thought for a while about doing something like this and then Imran came to see my Edinburgh show and really enjoyed it so I thought it would be worth asking him”. Imran agrees;” The show was Ashley’s idea I went to see him in Edinburgh last year and afterwards we got talking and he pitched this format.”

Speaking of the format, what can audiences look forward to? “Authentic experiences of two people from religious backgrounds who actually know what they are talking about.” Imran explains, whilst Ashley entices us “We perform separately and then do half an hour together. Thereafter I don’t want to give too much away.” He smiles.

Would there be the possibility of a sequel, together or perhaps with comedians of other faiths following your splendid lead? Imran replies “I hope this inspires other comics to explore something similar. Ashley and I are both quite well read into our faiths with some hardcore experiences, I hope to see more of something like this rather than the pedestrian narratives that are well worn out now.

I’m already working on another solo show and have vowed to read every major religious book over the next few years to help understand the multiple world views we are all so devoted to.” While it seems, Ashley has a partner lined up for 2020! “I have asked Tom Cruise if he’d like to do a show with me – orthodox Jew and Scientologist. Not sure how funny he is but I thought he would probably shift a lot of seats.”

You are coming to Reading, is this somewhere you have happy memories of? Ashley replies “Yes I’ve performed my last two solo shows in Reading, so I am very much looking forward to coming back.” Imran has also performed here “Yes, I’ve performed in Reading a few times before. At the Uni and for two previous solo shows”.

For your chance to see them together, they are at South Street Arts Centre on 4th June.

  For information go to Reading Arts.

Talking Point: Julia Donaldson

Round & About

Interview

Multi award-winning author Julia Donaldson tells us about seeing her work adapted for the stage as Zog goes on tour across the UK this month.

Q. You’ve written almost 200 books – where do you get your ideas?

“It varies, but I always develop the storyline fully in my head before I start writing. I think you read some books and you can tell that people have just made it up as they go along – but I always think, you wouldn’t start telling a joke if you didn’t know what the punchline was.”

 

Q. Are you excited to see Zog adapted for the stage?

“I’m tremendously excited that Zog will be taking flight around the UK in this first ever stage production. Going to the theatre can be a truly magical experience, I know it will be such a thrill to see the world of Zog being brought to life on stage.”

 

Q. Where did the idea for Zog the dragon come from?

“My editor said to me ‘it would be lovely to have a story about a dragon’, so I started thinking about it and the name ‘Madam Dragon’ came into my head, which I thought had a nice sound. The story came to me bit by bit. My husband Malcolm, who is a doctor, also had some input here. Because when I was planning the story, I knew Zog would keep meeting the Princess, and originally I was going to have them play together and toast marshmallows. And Malcolm said that’s a bit soppy, couldn’t it be something with a bit more oomph? And then I came up with the doctor angle.”

 

Q. Animals feature very strongly in many of your books – why is that?

“It’s often used as a convention – like in Aesop’s Fables, where the animals aren’t really animals, they represent a quality or a characteristic. I also think it would be far more boring for the reader or listener, if Mouse in The Gruffalo was just a small but clever person, or the Gruffalo itself was a big, scary but rather stupid person. Or in The Snail and the Whale, if the Whale was just a big person and the snail a little person – I think you need animals to represent the qualities.”

 

Q. Your books always have a happy ending, which is very comforting, do you think it’s important to give that to your readers?

“I often think about the role of storytelling for young people. In life, not everything does have a happy ending – but I think storytelling is probably very important because to grow up with stories helps you have aspirations, even if life doesn’t turn out like that. Even as grown-ups, we know that there is a lot of sadness in life, but I think if we didn’t have those stories, aspirations and a sense of what’s ideal, life would be much harder to live.”

 

Q. As you’re writing, you must visualise characters in your head. What’s it like when an illustrator then comes up with something different?

“I always say it’s like going on holiday – you’ve got an idea in your head of how it’s going to be, and then it’s always totally different. But once you’re there and enjoying it, you just forget what was in your head before. It doesn’t influence the storyline, but it will influence how I picture the characters – so I’m usually not surprised when I see Axel’s interpretation.”

 

Q. What do you feel a visit to the theatre gives young children?

“Well I remember going to see The Nutcracker when I was a child and I found the whole thing completely magical. I can still remember how I felt when the curtain went up. I suppose in a way it’s the same thing that a book gives you, in that while you’re reading or watching, you believe in a different reality. And if it’s a good show, parents love to see that their children – even very young ones – can just be transfixed by it.”

 

Q. Your books are read around the world, and have been adapted many times, what do you think is the appeal?

“I don’t know for sure, but I think there are three main things: the storyline – it’s really important to have a well-crafted story; the language; and the illustration – and I do have to give a lot of credit to the illustrators. I think it’s a combination of those three things done well.”

 

Zog plays at various venues including Wycombe Swan, Guildford’s G Live and Oxford Playhouse between now and summer.

Photo credit: Zoglive.com

  For information and tickets visit ZogLive.com.

Talking Point: Nigel Havers

Round & About

Interview

Liz Nicholls chats to actor, dad, and all-round charming man Nigel Havers, 67, who is set to star in ART at Richmond Theatre.

February is here which brings Valentine’s Day! Do you celebrate?

“In a word: no! My wife is not interested in Valentine’s Day, thank God. We don’t bother at all. If that sounds unromantic, perhaps it would be to say that I think every day should be Valentine’s Day!”

Q. What do you enjoy most about ART?

“ART is my favourite play which is why I’ve done it so many times. It’s beautifully written by Yasmina [Reza] and one of the best comedies ever… Thirdly, it’s a joy to take part in because, being such a short play, you’re in the pub before 9pm!”

Q. You always have a lot on; how do you relax when you’re not working? Do you watch soaps?

“I don’t watch any soaps, no. It being panto season, I haven’t not worked for quite a while – I’ve forgotten how I relax! I tend to keep busy, but if I’m not lying down, I’m walking.”

Q. Does your dog accompany you much?

“Yes; she’s a black poodle who’s cut like a mongrel so people are always surprised when I tell them her breed. She’s called Charlie and a real character. I live between Wiltshire and London and we often take her to the pub with us. The Bell at Ramsbury is a lovely dog-friendly pub near us. In London there are several; we like Colbert in Sloane Square and a restaurant called Lucio’s in Fulham Road. I don’t know why more places don’t allow well-behaved dogs.”

Q. What’s the greatest lesson fatherhood has taught you?

“Agree with your daughter! Give them anything they want! Because they’ll win in the end so that little nugget will at least save you time.”

Q. Is there anywhere in the world you’d like to visit?

“I haven’t been to Vietnam and I’d like to explore that part of the world.”

Q. You’re godfather to Jack Whitehall, too. Do you see a hidden side to him?

“He’s a very bad influence on me! No; he’s a sweetheart; a really lovely man. There’s nothing secret about him because he lays it all bare in his acts. He’s very honest about his life. When he first started as a comedian, he performed at a pub in Putney and invited me to come along to watch and advise. My advice to him at the end of it was: look – don’t try to be a comedian! Well, that didn’t work and I’m glad he didn’t take it!”

  Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson star in ART on tour this month. Visit www.arttheplay.com for more information.

LONDON

See it at Richmond Theatre, 4th to 9th March.

For tickets, click here or call 0844 871 7651 (normal charge plus 7p per minute).

SURREY

See it at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, 18th to 23th February.

For tickets, click here or call 01483 440000

THAMES VALLEY

See it at Oxford Playhouse, 4th to 9th February.

For tickets, click here or call 01865 305305

 

Q&A with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody

Round & About

Interview

Snow Patrol’s frontman Gary Lightbody chats about his recent move to L.A. and what goes into their shows.

Q. Is it good to finally be back with Snow Patrol after so long away and obviously working with other musicians on other projects?

“Yeah, course. You know, we were working together all the way through those seven years. I mean we started making the album that would eventually be called Wildness in 2013 with a view of getting that out in 2014 I guess, but it just didn’t work out that way and we wanted to keep rolling really. All we did was take one year off Snow Patrol, and then we got back at it. The songs just weren’t ready, they weren’t right, unfortunately it took a lot longer than we thought. It’s so exciting to be back, to have the album finished, have the album out there, to get back out on tour, and you know, to tour Britain and Ireland again is amazing. We can’t wait.”

Q. With you having moved to LA and other members living in the UK, how easy was the writing process?

“Yeah I mean, we took a little bit of a break. Nathan went and started Little Matador, I did another Tired Pony album and co-wrote with a bunch of different people including Taylor Swift, and Johnny McDaid was doing that as well with lots of different people and producing. Jonny started Polar Publishing, Pablo was writing and producing with people, too, so everybody was doing their own thing, and I was trying to write the Snow Patrol album at the same time but, you know, I’ll write generally on my own and then I’ll take it in to Garrett (producer) and we will work on tracks together and then everyone else will come in over the period. The years between 2013 when I started writing and 2017 when we finished, we would get together for a couple of weeks or a month at a time. I think the album was probably about nine months work in those four, nearly five years. So it wasn’t constant working for five years – that would have probably killed us.”

Q. Now that you have had that turnaround in your personal life has this changed your songwriting?

“I have access now to a part of myself that I was always maybe afraid of. ‘Afraid of’ is maybe the wrong term, but I was afraid that it would make other people not want to be my friend! You know, like, as in, if I, if we all had that fear I think, or we all have that fear that our deepest, darkest thoughts would frighten everyone else, and that’s, to me that was always the reason why I never talked about it, you know, and I found quite the opposite when I started to talk about it, when I started to talk about my demons, I realised that people then go ‘oh yeah, you know, I’ve gone through the same thing’ or ‘I understand what you’re going through’. People, at the very least, understood what I was going through, and at the very best had actually been through the same thing themselves. It made me feel so much less isolated, so much less alone, and I waited until I was 40 years old before I opened my mouth about it. I feel like, I’m so glad that I did, I just wish I had done it sooner in my life. I guess this was just the right time to do it and you know, when you let the light flood into those dark places in yourself, you kind of create this space in yourself, you create this kind of bravery.”

Q. Do you find much difference between the large and the intimate shows, aside from the crowd size?

“Yeah, you know it’s funny, when I first started out, I had no confidence in my stagecraft. I just used to get on stage and stare at my feet and had a big red face the whole time, like I was embarrassed to be there. I guess I probably was, I was still probably questioning what I was doing and I didn’t really have any self belief. Then over time, over many, many gigs, many, many years, as the gigs started getting bigger the confidence kind of grew, that outer shell began to thicken a bit, and I was able to look at the crowd to begin with  and then interact with the crowd, and then cause a reaction in the crowd, go out there and try and make sure that everybody has a great night, make sure everybody has fun and get people singing along. Sometimes it happens naturally but other times it’s not a bad idea to start a sing-a-long, you know. Freddie Mercury showed the way on that one.

Towards the end of 2012 when we were finishing the last tour, I think I was a very good front man, and getting back into that has been an interesting thing. I sort of feel with the smaller shows, I was closing my eyes a lot, maybe feeling a little shy. The bigger shows; after the first few rows everything starts to blur a little bit; my eyesight is not that great at it, so you’re able to come out of yourself more and I think in the last few shows, I’ve really felt like my old self on stage again. We toured with U2 for many years, in 2005 and then in 2009, and ‘10 or ‘11, and I watched them every single night. I watched the two-hour set and it’s a masterclass.”

Q. Anything planned for the live shows?

“We don’t just turn up with our equipment and a couple of lights on the night and go ‘alright, well, where do you want us to set up these?’ We’re thinking about the visuals, we’re thinking about the staging, thinking about how the stage looks, we’re thinking about how everything is presented, we’re thinking about the lighting of course. We’ve got one of the best lighting directors in music – he’s won many awards – working with us. We call him ‘jock for life’. We’ve got some lovely, lovely little tricks up our sleeve and some things that we’re very excited to bringing out on this tour.