Gyles Brandreth on his love affair with Yorkshire and why he can't stop talking
“It was my wife’s idea,” says Brandreth of the show which is currently touring after a stint at Edinburgh fringe.
“It turns out that I’ve not stopped taking since I came out of the womb.
"In fact I came across some boxes the other day that my parents had kept since the 1950s and there there was a letter from my three older sisters from when I was bout ten pleading for my parents to send me to boarding school as I wouldn’t stop talking and they couldn’t stand it any longer. My parents must have agreed as off to boarding school I went.”
After boarding school Brandreth went to Oxford, was President of the Oxford Union and MP for the City of Chester. His career has ranged from being a Whip and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury in John Major’s government to starring in his own award-winning musical revue in London’s West End.
A prolific broadcaster, he has appeared on QI, Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You?, Pointless and is a reporter and presenter for The One Show (BBC 1), as well as Dictionary Corner’s most frequent resident on Countdown (Channel 4).
As a result he has a lot to talk about but don’t worry the show lasts for two hours rather than the record breaking nine hour after dinner speech he reportedly once made.
Gyles Brandreth Can’t Stop Talking sees members of the audience spin a wheel to decide which aspect of his 40 year career they want him to talk about, from his relationship with Royal Family to his love of garish jumpers. And there’s plenty to talk about.
“There are hundreds of stories – political stories, theatre stories, royal stories and I tell them all from memory. It is a great way of keeping those memories alive and it means that every show is different. I’m used to the unexpected and I find it a great deal of fun and I hope the audience does too.”
On stage he has appeared recently in Hamlet and The Importance of Being Earnest. He is the Chancellor of the University of Chester, a columnist for The Oldie and the author of seven Victorian murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde as his detective now published in 22 countries around the world.
His Sunday Times best-sellers include a biography of Elizabeth II, Word Play, The 7 Secrets of Happiness, and, most recently, his autobiography, Odd Boy Out.
The author, broadcaster and former MP, (to name just a few of his many hats) will also be appearing at Ilkley Literature Festival in October as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations when he will be talking (for a change) about his biography of The Queen.
Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait shows a different side to the late Queen, says Brandreth, who has also written a biography of Prince Phillip.
"I first met her on May 2, 1968. She came to my university and I will never forget it.
"Everyone knows that she was driven by duty and sustained by faith, and that she had a passion for her dogs and horses, but she also had a fabulous sense of humour and was also a great mimic which not many people know. She did a great Florence Desmond and George Formby and even Concord landing.”
He also great admiration for the King and Queen Consort (he was invited to the recent Coronation of King Charles). "He has a great sense of humour as well,” he says of King Charles. He ran the Poetry Together which was support by Queen Camilla which saw elderly people aged 70 to 90 in care homes and school children learn poems by heart and then come together to perform them to each other.
“I think Charles will do a good job,” say Brandreth. “He is authentic and I think people can see that. He’s not pretending to be any better than he is and they get on so well.”
It was his love and admiration for the Royal Family that led him to install his vast collection of Teddy Bears at Newby Hall near Ripon, North Yokshire.
"Not many people know but during World War 2 if the Germans had invaded London the Queen and Prince Phillip would have moved up to Yorkshire and stayed at Newby Hall,” explains Brandreth.
"I was sent by the One Show to Newby Hall to make a film about where The Queen and her parents would have gone during World War 2. I thought if it is good enough for the Royal Family it is good enough for my collection of bears. I asked the Compton family if I could bring my collection and they kindly said they would build the Gyles Brandreth Bear House which they did.”
Brandreth started collecting bears after he lost his own teddy bear Growler as a child. Over the years the rich and famous have added bears to his 1000 strong collection including Jim Henson’s Fozzy Bear from the Muppets, Harry Corbett's Sooty, the Paddington Bear who starred in the original 1960s’ TV series and former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s bear.
"All the furniture for the scenes in the Bear House was made by the fabulous Jennyruth Workshop at Ripon including a wedding scene and a Royal scene.”Brandreth’s affection for Yorkshire is in his DNA as his great grandfather was Keeper of the Poor House in Bradford – Brandreth now judges the Curry Awards there.
"I also love Bridlington Spa – in fact for our 50th wedding anniversary I took my wife Michelle to Bridlington. She was very pleased and we have a great time.”
He is a regular at the Ilkley Literature Festival and says he is looking forward to support the event in this its 50th anniversary event.
"I feel like I have been coming to Ilkley forever.”
The 50th anniversary Ilkley Literature Festival takes place from October 6 to October 22
Launched in 1973 by the poet W.H Auden, the north’s oldest literary festival welcomes a host of poets, novelists, biographers, and journalists to the spa town this autumn.
The festival features around 100 events across 17 days.
As well as Gyles Brandreth headline acts include the children’s author, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, TV presenter Clare Balding and Helen Skelton.
Erica Morris, Director of Ilkley Literature Festival, said: “Running Ilkley Literature Festival is a little like inheriting a great estate, passed down by previous generations. It’s a big responsibility, and we’ve had to navigate the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. So, we’re proud to mark half a century, and carry on the vision and ambition that has always characterised this arts charity; we hope 2023 is true to the spirit that has animated the festival since 1973.”
Gyles Brandreth: Can’t Stop Talking!!! tour will be at Harrogate Theatre on September 26.