IoS Father's Day special: My father, my hero
As families around the country celebrate Father's Day, Britain's politicians, authors and TV personalities offer tributes to their dads, and recall the influence they had on them. Paul Bignell conducts the interviews
Sunday 21 June 2009
Michael Bond, 83, author, on his father Norman 'Norrie' Bond, who died in 1982 aged 83
"People ask me if I'm like Paddington Bear, but Paddington Bear is very much like my father. My father was terribly polite and always wore a hat. We went to the Isle of Wight for our holidays and he wore his hat in the sea in case he met somebody. He was in the civil service and he was a strict reader of the small print. During the Second World War he was in the Home Guard. He worked at the Post Office telephone exchange. The girl who worked in same small room as him was trying to get in the building. He said: "Halt! Who goes there? I want to see your identification card." He wouldn't let her in until she had her card. She had to go back to her house, which was two miles away, to get it. My father said, 'It was strange. She didn't speak to me for several weeks afterwards.' He was an extremely nice man. The most precious thing you can give a child is your time. We used to play cricket together. He did the bowling and I did the batting.
"The First World War in the trenches was so difficult; he never talked about it much but it left its mark on him. I was lucky. We weren't well off, but my parents sent me to a fee-paying school. I'm not sure I really appreciated it. I regret I was not able to thank them for it. They were both nice people with a good sense of values."
Nick Clegg, 42, politician, on Nick Snr, 73, a former banker
"As a boy my father once won a tennis competition with one of his legs in plaster. He may be in his 70s now but he's still got a mean forehand. My two brothers, my sister and I are still waiting to outpace him on the tennis court. My father is half-Russian, which may explain his love of romantic music, a good drink and family. He has nine grandchildren and enjoys his new role as a benign patriarch to a growing brood. We are a close family and I speak to him several times a week. He always has strong views about what's going on in politics – views he often shares with me in rather long, but happily received, telephone messages."
Dawn Airey, 48, television executive, on Clifford, a former engineer
"My dad was, and is, a bit of a hero. He was always the cool dad, because my parents were very young when they had me. He was a structural and civil engineer and I remember his battered drawing board. I loved going into his practice. He was a super-cool dad. He wore white flares and had long sideburns. He always showed us how to be practical. If we wanted a bike, we had to learn how to put it together. He was always fiddling with things. He was obsessed with stamps. He had a terrible sweet tooth so we liked going with dad for chocolates when we weren't supposed to. When I was a teenager and I wanted Wrangler jeans with flares, mum said no, but dad said yes. He's just great fun; as he's got older, he's got younger. He's good company. As I've grown older, I appreciate him more. Particularly over the past couple of years, professionally he has been a good source of support and clarity. As a child, he was the dad I was in awe of; as an adult I crave his company. He turned 70 recently and I sent him to Hong Kong for his birthday."
Peter Tatchell, 57, human rights campaigner, on Gordon, 83, a former engineering worker
"During childhood, my father Gordon was a stranger. An engineering worker, he did factory night-shifts. While I played, he slept. My mother says he was distant: I was the result of a marriage he regretted. I don't have a single memory of Gordon before the age of five. My parents divorced when I was four. Mother and I went to live with her parents. I remember him visiting a year later. He said he would return soon, but never did. I did not see Gordon again until I was 18, when I took the initiative to visit him. In 1971, I relocated from Australia to Britain. We see each other only once every five years when I return to Melbourne for family visits; although we (me more than him) phone and write every month. I don't feel angry or resentful. My parents had an acrimonious divorce, so I understand why contact with Gordon was difficult. Far from being harmed, my father's absence may have helped. It made me man of the house: confident, independent and resourceful. Although we get on OK, we don't have much in common. But I love him. He helped make me what I am."
Jean-Christophe Novelli, 48, chef, on Jean Snr, 67
"My father is the most amazing chap on earth. But he can't cook to save his life. Can't even cook an omelette – he hates it. But everything else he does is perfect; he is a very kind man. He did every single job he could to make a living for our family. He was only 19 when I was born and soon after he was sent into the army. A few years later he became ill with pleurisy and was sent into quarantine and not allowed to see anybody. He was only 21 when this happened. I will never forget the day when he bought me a knife for the kitchen when I was training to be a chef. He was skint and yet he still bought me this knife. I also remember when my sister was kidnapped for a few days by a chap who lived only 50 yards from where we lived. My dad went in search of her and found her in a garage. This man apparently was so frightened that my father was looking for him, that he ran away and nobody ever heard from him again. He really is an amazing man."
Simon Woodroffe, 55, entrepreneur, on John, who died in 1997
"My father was a military man. He was president of the Indian Cavalry Association – he was very organised and very charming. He did things the brigadier's way. Occasionally the real person popped through – but only occasionally. Sometimes that was nice and sometimes it wasn't. He wasn't able to express himself easily, and as a result I think I went the opposite way and learnt to express myself because he couldn't. So that was a gift, in a sense. I remember once I went out sailing with my father and brother up the River Hamble at the age of 16 or 17. My brother and I were sitting in the back and my father drove the boat into a pile in the middle of the river. There was a moment's pause and he turned round to us and said, 'Now look what you've done!' That was hard to live with. But there were moments of humanity as a young child being taken to play in tanks. I don't think he was very well loved by his mother and I think that didn't help. But I think in his way he loved us very deeply."
Chesney Hawkes, 37, musician, on Len, 63, musician
"My dad Len, or Chip, as most people know him, due to his early skills as a chippy, was the lead singer and bass player in The Tremeloes, who in the 1960s produced 21 international hit singles. Today, he's still rocking out with his long, surprisingly black hair and leather trousers. A pure, unadulterated rock'n'roll spirit, he makes Liam Gallagher look like Mother Teresa. From early on, I remember my parents' mad music friends were often at our house for parties, jam sessions and other crazy social gatherings, playing music, talking about the business, the gigs, the managers, the touring. With this kind of background it was obvious I wasn't going to grow up to be an accountant."
Martin Bell, 70, former MP and anti-sleaze campaigner, on Adrian, who died in 1980, aged 79
"My father led the busiest life of anybody I have ever met. He was a farmer and a writer and he founded the Times crossword in 1930. I remember there was not an issue that he did not have an opinion on. I have extremely affectionate memories of him. He was a good listener. My memories of him differ from my two sisters and their memories. There was a distance between parents and children then. He used to lock himself in his study to write, and my job was to take him a glass of sherry. He was not the modern sort of dad. I wouldn't say he taught me to work hard because I didn't always work hard. He taught me the things that mattered."
Bella Freud, 48, fashion designer, on Lucian, 86, who is still painting
"He was always a glamorous figure in my life. I remember he would appear in an amazing car. He had great style. I was very proud. He seemed really cool and made being different from everybody else seem like an interesting thing and a good thing to be. It made me feel really good being with him. Not having grown up with him, in my teens I felt everything was all right when I was with him.When I started sitting for him, I'd see him working through problems. Painting didn't always come easily. He made it work. I found that very useful. If you don't know how to work through something you never come through the other side. I just got that from watching him."
Greta Scacchi, 49, actress, on Luca Scacchi Gracco, an Italian artist
"My dad was always away gallivanting around the world. He would turn up two or three times a year with armfuls of presents, wonders and delicacies, like Father Christmas, turn our lives upside down for a week and then disappear again for months. As the only girl I adored being his little princess. My heart ached for him and Mum would say, ' You ask him when he's coming back – he doesn't listen to me'. It took me 20 years to realise that he had behaved very badly and then another 20 years to realise that he was incapable of selfless love. But now I look back and understand that what he gave to me far outweighed his limitations as a father; spirit of adventure, disdain for convention, fashion and prejudice and the biggest bags (under my eyes) in showbusiness. I wouldn't change him for the world."
Sir Michael Parkinson, 74, broadcaster, on Jack, a miner who died in 1975
"I remember my father's hands – rough palms like sandpaper, strong fingers, a miner's hands. When, as a child, he took my hand I felt safer than ever before or since. When he lay dying I took his hand seeking that same reassurance and instead felt shameful that my hand was so safe and smooth. I adored him. He was funny, generous, gregarious, loyal and loved his wife and son and grandchildren without reservation and without expecting anything in return. He was the most selfless man I ever met. Just before he died he said to me: 'You have had a good life.' I agreed. 'Met all those famous people. Made a bob or two without breaking sweat.' I nodded. 'Well done,' he said. 'But think on, it's not like playing cricket for Yorkshire is it?' He was also the wisest man I knew."
Jilly Cooper, 72, author, on Bill Sallit, who died in 1982, aged 75
"He was absolutely lovely. He was very shy and hugely clever. He got a first in two years at Cambridge. He had studied classics but switched to engineering. He was one of the youngest brigadiers in the war. Daddy was very glamorous and very attractive. There was a patch in the carpet because of Daddy walking up and down ticking us off about our reports. Our school holidays were bliss. There would be a lovely lull until our reports arrived. He was very upright and had very high standards that my brother and I didn't live up to. He was funny. He used to play the piano and the violin. We used to sing duets together. But we had to play bridge, too. He was a tremendously fast eater. He could finish his meal in just over a minute. My mother and her sister watched him play rugby at Twickenham. My mother put her hands over her sister's eyes so that she wouldn't see his navel. She was horrified. I think I want all men to be like him: clever, handsome and modest."
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