Tramlines Festival: Co-founder James O'Hara on Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Michael Palin and Sheffield Wednesday

Businessman James O’Hara, who was born in Wincobank, Sheffield, is co-founder of the Tramlines Festival. He has just been made an Honorary Doctor of Letters at Sheffield University. James and his wife Amy live in the heart of the city.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Going to a Sheffield Wednesday match with my dad, Kevin, when I was about four years old. I don’t think that I was in the slightest bit concerned with what was happening on the pitch, I was far more interested in the hot dog at half-time and swinging on the bars on the terraces, the old-fashioned one that used to be between the rows on the stands, before all the safety regulations came in.

What’s your favourite part of the county?

James O'Hara, c-founder of Tramlines Festival in SheffieldJames O'Hara, c-founder of Tramlines Festival in Sheffield
James O'Hara, c-founder of Tramlines Festival in Sheffield

Norfolk Park, in the centre of Sheffield. A remarkable space which used to be, I believe, the deer park of its owner, the Duke of Norfolk. We live very close to it, because my wife Amy has to do a lot of commuting to London, and it is so convenient for the station, and also because it’s a great space to take our Romanian rescue dog, Scruffy, for a long walk. Have I mentioned the views? Just amazing, right over the city. I can even see all the way to Hillsborough from our home. The park is a huge green lung, in the middle of all those buildings.

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

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It would have to include a long dog walk, anywhere at all, as long as it has a great pub at the end of it, and preferably a bar that serves Pale Rider. Cask ale is a passion of mine.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

The winding roads from Edale Valley leading up towards Mam Tor, Derbyshire.The winding roads from Edale Valley leading up towards Mam Tor, Derbyshire.
The winding roads from Edale Valley leading up towards Mam Tor, Derbyshire.

Up and over to Edale, up Mam Tor, across to Hope, and then the train ride back.

Which Yorkshire sportsperson would you like to take for lunch?

Jessica Ennis-Hill, a true role model, a legend. Down to earth, and she just glows with determination. A lovely, lovely lady in every way.

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

Sir Michael Palin. I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit, and I honestly believe that the inspiration for all that were Palin’s travel programmes, when I was a youngster.

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

My dad has retired to live in Whitby – he started out as a steelworker, and, through sheer hard work and study, ended up as a respected metallurgist. When we go up to see him, one of the places to visit is always Falling Foss, that beautiful waterfall, which has the bonus of a great café nearby.

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If you could own, or have access to, one thing in Yorkshire for a single day, what would it be?

The “backstage” storage area of Sheffield’s museum services, where you’ll find everything that isn’t currently on display to the public, and there are millions of items. I do love paintings, and the ones that they have by John Hoyland (he was born in the city and studied first at our School of Art) are stunning. He was one of the country’s leading abstract painters, and ended up as Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy Schools. To have a “private viewing” of Hoyland’s work would be such a privilege.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

Grit, determination, openness, hardiness, and a pride in the place. And the friendliness as well.

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

With all their many ups, and their equally as many downs, it has to be dear old (Sheffield) Wednesday. They’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and they still endure.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

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The Blue Bell, on Fossgate, in York. It’s tiny, wood-panelled, very traditional, well-run and serves great beers. What more could you want?

Do you have a favourite food shop?

It’s not food, it’s wines and beers, and it’s Starmore Boss, on Sharrow Vale Road, in Sheffield. An independent, perfectly run place with an astonishing range of beverages for all tastes. A real find, and a one-off.

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

In the arts and entertainment and hospitality world, we are second to none, brilliant at what we do, and creative in so many fields, whether it be film, art, theatre, dance, music, culture in general. And brewing, obviously. But we have been badly let down by a chronic lack of investment, and the patronising phrase that I loathe is “levelling up”. Absolute rubbish. If you are north of Watford, there’s been no levelling up at all.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

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Helen Sharman. Anyone who can be born in Grenoside, be one of the first women into space, spend time on the Mir space station and, in her other career, be one of the inventors of the chocolate on a Mars ice cream bar, gets my vote every day.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

To an infinite degree. I’ve loved being part of things that have ranged from helping to save the wonderful Kelham Brewery, and opening up a redundant gents lavatory in the centre of Sheffield, and making it into a go-to cocktail bar.

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

Henry Moore and alongside him, Barbara Hepworth, both visionary sculptors and creators. The gallery names for Dame Barbara is one of my favourite places, it does show off an artist’s work to the very best advantage.

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

Fagan’s pub on Broad Lane in Sheffield. It looked like the end when the previous landlords retired after nearly 40 years, but it’s now alive again – music, great food and beers, and it welcomes people from all walks of life. It’s great to see students from all over the world coming in and seeing what a proper English pub looks, sounds and tastes like.

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