What’s your first Yorkshire memory? Scowling at a press photographer, who snapped me holding my mother’s hand as we walked in Scarborough. I was three years old. He must have been one of the original paparazzi, and was roaming the town looking for human interest stories for his newspaper. I still have the photograph which did indeed appear in the local newspaper. Apart from the scowl, I am wearing a pretty snazzy beret.
What’s your favourite part of the county – and why? North Yorkshire, where I live. Wonderful countryside, fresh air, spectacular views, something different around every corner. It’s a privilege to be here.
What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire? The sun would be shining, that’s for sure. I would be walking, or “tramping” across the moors, with my dogs. I would certainly like to spend part of the time at Flamborough, and at the North Landing to remind myself of the power and mystery and drama of the cliffs, the tides, the puffins and the caves. Delicious fresh fish and chips from Whitby would wind up my perfect day.
Do you have a favourite walk – or view? The surprise view at Gillamoor. It is only when you’ve driven through the little village of stone-built houses that you realise that you are right on the edge of the high moors.
Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch? Jane Tomlinson, for her indomitable fighting spirit, her courage, her determination to keep going, and her legacy. She kept going solely to help others, and her spirit lives on in all those amazing charity runs.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner? Well, it’s going to be a riotous one, because I’d like to assemble, around a rather large table, Dame Diana Rigg, Claire King, Julian Sands, Peter O’Toole and – of course – the wonderful Brian Blessed. That guest list will keep the talk flowing until the very small hours, and probably beyond.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be? It’s the Georgian building hidden halfway up Chancery Lane in Malton, once the offices of the lawyer Charles Smithson. This is now widely regarded as the inspiration for Scrooge’s counting house, in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Apparently Dickens first visited Malton because his brother Alfred lived in the town, and he fell in love with the place, and its people, and made many friends.
If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be? The Middleham Jewel. For those who don’t know, it is a medieval pendant, diamond in shape and with a huge sapphire in the centre. The speculation is that it belonged to a woman – some say maybe even the mother of the much-maligned Richard III.
Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub? I do have a soft spot for much-loved The Talbot, in Malton, where there are cheering log fires in wintertime, and lovely staff all year round. And it’s where Miriam Margoyles, Lucinda Hawksley and I will gather later this month to chat with an audience about the genius of Charles Dickens, as part of the annual Dickensian Festival.
Do you have a favourite food shop? An impossible question, because there are so many. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to good food in Yorkshire. But if I’m going to pin it down, it’s going to be Ryeburn in Helmsley, and their vanilla ice cream. Award-winning, and justly so.
How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it? Developers have been given carte blanche to wreck so much of the county. The beauty of the vernacular obliterated by greed. There is no design guide for our towns and villages, so that – for example – the ancient market town of Malton has been ruined by new build which pays not the slightest attention to green space or historical provenance.
If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be? The immoral threat of fracking.
Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire? My grandfather, who was born in the 1860s, and who overcame great personal tragedy yet he taught himself to read and write and to play the organ, and he became a Wesleyan preacher of some note. He was a journalist and had a truly compelling way of recounting the lives of Yorkshire families in the Dales. He was still cycling away around the area when he was in his 90s.
Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer? Without question this is the very rare early edition of A Christmas Carol, signed by the author, and given to Elizabeth Smithson with love and in sympathy. Elizabeth was the wife of Charles Smithson of Malton, and he had died very suddenly. Dickens and Smithson were great friends, and poor Elizabeth was pregnant with their second daughter when the death happened. Charles Dickens came to the funeral, and inscribed the book to the grieving widow. It is now on display at the Talbot, in Malton, and very carefully guarded.
If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be? Kirkdale, near Kirkbymoorside, which was once the very centre of a large parish. In the middle stands the ancient church of St. Gregory’s Minster, which was built by the Saxons just before the Norman Conquest. It has a square tower, and a beautifully carved sundial about the main door, with an ancient English inscription. There’s also the famous and intriguing Kirkdale cave, much-loved by archaeologists.
The Dickens Festival, Malton, December 16 to 18. More information and how to book tickets at maltondickensianfestival.com