My Yorkshire: Les Packham

Les Packham, 63, was born in Keighley and served for many years in the police, before becoming a much-respected and collected painter in watercolours and oils.

He arranges the art exhibition for the Great Yorkshire Show and is also a writer. He lives in Wakefield, and was awarded an MBE for his services to road safety.

What's your first Yorkshire memory?

Walking along the canal bank at Bingley, hand in hand with my grandfather, and going to see Laurel and Hardy who were appearing at the Bradford Alhambra, when I was not much more than a toddler. It was their farewell stage tour of the UK.

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

As a painter, I've got to say all of it. You can get inspiration anywhere. From the great sweep of The Dales, to the North York Moors, to Staithes, right into the industrial areas. Beauty and interest aren't confined to one particular place. Lesley Garrett told me she just loved the sight of the cooling towers at Ferrybridge. They have their own beauty in their own way. I know what she means.

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

Getting on my motorbike (I own a BMW F800S) on a sunny spring morning and going up to the North York Moors and then taking a circuitous route back by way of Hawes, perhaps stopping somewhere for a nice afternoon tea.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

There are so many that you'd have to find more space to print them. But if I'm only allowed one, I'll go for Upper Wharfedale, and Scar House. The ridge is magnificent.

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

Because of my interests in motorbikes and motorbiking, it would have to be James Toseland, the World Superbike Champion, who comes from Sheffield. I've never met him, but I'd love to –he's said to be a really nice guy, and we could talk bikes all the way through the meal, probably boring anyone else at the table completely stiff in the process. I hear James is a talented musician, as well.

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

Well, she's not from Yorkshire (although she was carried on stage at the Grand in Doncaster by her parents when she was a little lass) but can I choose Julie Andrews? And the reason is that when I went to the Palace to pick up my gong a few years ago, Miss Andrews was getting hers – as a Dame. And my guests were my late father and my mother. Dad always loved Dame Julie, and they were introduced and she was so kind and charming to him. It made his day.

If you had to name your Yorkshire "hidden gem", what would it be?

There are two – one is The Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra –amateur players of amazing talent, who appear at Huddersfield Town Hall about four times a year, as well as other concerts.

Time was when every community had an outfit like theirs. And Bluecoats Wood Nurseries, near Harrogate, which is linked with the Horticap Charity – they give work and encouragement to people with learning difficulties, and they do an amazing job.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

The ability – if it were necessary – for us to be completely self-sufficient. Wood, wool, coal, iron, fishing and farming. We could go for independence tomorrow if we wanted. And, I have to say this, a certain amount of "Yorkshire guile".

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

No, I'm afraid that football and rugby do nothing at all for me – but I have good links with the motorcycling fraternity. Families like the Jefferies and the Rankins.

What about Yorkshire's cultural life?

I'm a great admirer of the little theatre companies in the smaller towns, the amateurs that keep drama alive. Same with the local brass bands, where they still soldier on. As an artist, I'm always so happy to see new galleries open, and to revisit ones I love. I can't wait to see the new Hepworth in Wakefield – I'll be one of the first over the step when it opens.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

My own dining room. My father-in-law was a professional chef, and I was very spoiled at his table. But my wife Judith – we've been married for 41 years now – has inherited his skills, and so has my daughter Shelley. And Shelley's own daughter Holly, who is 11, looks as if she's got a talent for cooking, too – so why on earth stray away from home?

Do you have a favourite food shop?

Jody Douglas's fish van, which comes round our way every Thursday afternoon, with the fresh fish from Grimsby. He cannot be beaten.

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

Let's say that it has "moved with the times", and that means that I like some things I see, and I dislike others. Not so much progress, as "going with the flow".

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

Graham Watson, MBE, who used to own much of the land in Wharfedale, and who left the lot to the National Trust in an extraordinary act of unparalleled generosity. He was managing director of Lister's Mill, collected art, played the piano beautifully, and died at the age of 95, having given up riding his motorbike only the year before.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

I'm a Yorkshire artist. Of course. For every second of every day. Come to think of it, painting is just like riding a motorbike – you have to have observation – and control.

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

Striding the Dales, by Halliwell Sutcliffe, who was a wonderful writer, and really brought out the romance of the area. The illustrations to the book are by a marvellous artist called Arthur Reginald Smith, and they are beautiful. Smith died in his 60s, in rather mysterious circumstances – he drowned in the River Wharfe, at Bolton Abbey, and his easel and painting tools were found on the nearby bank.

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

Haworth. I was born in nearby Keighley, and there's nothing like walking into the village, with all its historical associations, and then out on to the moors above and around. The landscape changes every moment – clouds, light, all weather conditions. I remember being up there on a freezing cold January day, searching for two missing girls when I was serving in the police. The mist was so thick that you couldn't see the bloke next to you. Frightening – but somehow exhilarating. Thank God, the lasses were found safe and well.