Tony Christie: My Yorkshire

South Yorkshire’s Tony Christie’s career was resurrected when Peter Kay used Is This The Way To Amarillo in his TV show, Phoenix Nights. This led to the re-release of the song and gave Christie his first number-one single. He was born in Conisbrough.

I was in Conanby, on the top of the crags near Conisborough. I remember watching bombers going overhead. I wouldn’t have known whether they had been delivering them or were going back, whether they were Germans or ours. There were lots of them.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

I like North Yorkshire. And there’s nowhere quite like Ilkley. It’s a very pretty place. I appeared on Emmerdale once and that was filmed at a hotel in Ilkley. I lived in Yorkshire all my life until about 1980.

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What’s your idea of a perfect day, or perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

It depends on the weather and I like golf, so possibly a weekend of golf with my mates. I’ve played a lot of the nice courses around Leeds.  We always have a meal after before heading back home. I enjoy my golf but I enjoy home better.

Do you have a favourite walk or view?

Where I was born, we lived on top of the crags in a mining area. Down the crags was Denaby where I went to school, and not far away we had a really nice wood. It has now been built on. When I was young, I would go walking through the woods and pretend I was panning for gold.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

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It’s got to be Fred Trueman. He was a bit of a character. I met him when I was playing golf at the Les Dawson Classic in Lytham, and Fred had a team. I found him both a very funny and blunt man.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

Brian Blessed, a lovely man. He talks in a very soft and gentle voice when he’s in company. He’s a bit like me because when I sing, I’m loud, but when I talk, I’m soft. When he goes into his routine, he could knock a wall down.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

Humour. It’s definitely different from Lancashire, although it’s a thin line at times. Yorkshire people are more dour than Lancastrians, which is probably why Lancashire has produced more actual comics. Our humour is very much a put-down style.

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If you had to name your yorkshire ‘hidden gem’ what would it be?

Conisbrough Castle. It has been brought back to what it would have been like years ago. It’s well worth a visit.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what?

When I was a young boy, my dad used to take me to watch Doncaster Rovers, so that was my team in those days. Rovers’ ground was six miles away and they played in the old Second Division when Harry Gregg was the goalie and Charlie Williams was centre-half. They had a great Number 9, tipped to be the next England centre forward, called Alec Jeffries. He broke his leg and it finished his career at just 17. I check Rovers’ results even now. The other two I always check on are Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. I used to live near Hillsborough then moved to the other side of the city, and so followed both.

What do you think about Yorkshire’s cultural life?

Musically, Sheffield has produced far more innovative and trend-setting singers and bands than any city I know – Joe Cocker, Jarvis Cocker, Human League, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, Heaven 17, Def Leppard, Richard Hawley, Paul Carrack. Everyone goes on about Liverpool but for music culture Sheffield has to be up there.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

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My favourite pub in Yorkshire was in Sheffield where I lived – the Nottingham House. It was right in the student area and was a real-ale pub. The landlord was my mate and it served the best pint of Tetley’s in the area. It attracted lots of famous people. I saw Seb Coe sitting in there one time. It used to have small rooms and became so popular because of beer that they bought houses and shops next door and extended it. I enjoyed it when it was a little pub.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

I had several when I lived in Sheffield. I used to make curries and I used to visit this little Asian supermarket once a week. They used to sell all the ingredients to make your own curry. Another was Pollards, in the centre of Sheffield, that made freshly-ground coffee. I couldn’t walk by it without enjoying the smell of the coffee beans.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

All I can tell you is that it’s no good putting a sat nav on to get around Leeds because it doesn’t work. I used to know my way around Leeds but not now.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

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Michael Parkinson, because he’s always been true to his Yorkshire roots. He’s always been proud of the county.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Absolutely. I cut my teeth on the working men’s clubs circuit and if you can entertain a miners’ welfare and get them on your side, then it’s a good grounding. They had worked hard all week down the pits and they wanted to be entertained. It was my job to make sure they enjoyed themselves. My family were all miners, apart from dad, who was an accountant for the National Coal Board. I grew up around miners and with their attitudes.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/cd performer.

Alan Ayckbourn and Alan Bennett from the literary world; my good pal, Ashley Jackson, the watercolour artist; and the singers, Ronnie Hilton and David Whitfield.

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If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

Haworth. Go and have a look at the Brontës’ place, and the Dales. 

Tony Christie begins a UK tour in April. Details