My Secret Life: Terence Conran, designer, 79

My parents were... a constant inspiration, and encouraged our creativity at a time when such a thing was almost unheard of.

The house/flat I grew up in... was in a very beautiful part of the countryside. We left London to escape the Blitz. It was a setting that inspired my very first passions for native wild flowers, butterflies and moths.

When I was a child I wanted to be... a gunsmith, not because I liked shooting things, but because I was fascinated with the craftsmanship. When I saw the length of the apprenticeship, I soon changed my mind and studied textiles instead.

If I could change one thing about myself... it would be to find a cure for my chronic bad back. It's slowing a busy man down.

You wouldn't know it but I am very good at... lighting fires. Not that I'm a pyrotechnic, but give me two pieces of wood, a match and some newspapers and I will get you a roaring fire going in no time.

You may not know it but I'm no good at... schmoozing, even though it is a fairly regular occurrence in my life.

At night I dream of... a mixture of design problems and how best to solve them – sad, but true. On good days I wake with simple and effective solutions, or at least a decent idea of where the answer may lie.

What I see when I look in the mirror... is the same tenacity, belief and passion in my eyes that I had when I was a young designer. With a large dose of wisdom and hindsight thrown in for good measure.

My favourite item of clothing is... my stripy socks. Most people know me for my blue shirts but those are purely for practical reasons; my socks actually make me smile.

I drive... a rather majestic Bentley, the last of the handmade models and a sad reminder that as a country we were once rather useful at making things.

My house is... a large red brick built in 1772. As soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it, primarily because it's Georgian and I love the symmetry and restraint of the period.

My favourite work of art... Eduardo Paolozzi's Head of Invention sculpture outside the Design Museum.

My favourite building... is the wonderful Michelin Building in London, and I make no apologies for nominating it, although I own it along with the Hamlyn family.

My secret crush is... I've grown out of them, but I had a thing for Simone Signoret, one of the stars of French cinema and one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.

Movie heaven...The films of the French comedic actor Jacques Tati: his character M Hulot's humorous battles with technology made serious points about the increasingly complex nature of modern life.

A book that changed me... I read Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh in my twenties. It amused me greatly but also opened my eyes to the disadvantages of social privilege.

The last album I bought/downloaded... I bought The Fairy-Queen by Henry Purcell for my wife, although I didn't download it as I wouldn't know how.

My greatest regret... The manner in which I lost control of my precious baby, Habitat.

The last time I cried... was when my dear friend Robin Day died recently.

What's the point? My generation had a fierce conviction that design could improve the quality of people's lives. If I didn't still believe that so passionately then I really wouldn't see much of a point.

My life in six words... Plain, simple and, I hope, useful.

A life in brief

Terence Conran was born in Kingston upon Thames in 1931 and studied textiles at Central Saint Martins. In 1964, he opened the first Habitat store, which grew into the Storehouse plc, encompassing companies such as Mothercare and Heal's, before he retired as chairman in 1990. He has also opened a number of restaurants, including Boundary and Lutyens, and founded the Design Museum. Conran was knighted in 1983. He lives in Berkshire and Belgravia, London, with his wife, Vicki

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