My Secret Life: Tim Waterstone, businessman and author, 71

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The Independent Online

My parents were ... nice people. My father worked for the same Glasgow tea company for something like 54 years. My mother was an affectionate, pleasant woman. Neither was interested in any sort of life of the mind, and there was hardly a book in the house, but they clearly adored each other, admirably so, and that gave the whole family a sense of security and completeness.

The house/flat I grew up in ... was a rather cramped, 1930s detached house in Crowborough, Sussex. Ugly, unpretentious, nice big garden, fields at the end of it in which I used to go rabbiting.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... a professional cricketer – until I realised I was hopelessly unskilled. Then I wanted to write children's books (I never did).

If I could change one thing about myself ... I would re-run some of the years of my earlyish adulthood. Too much time spent on a life where I was not being truly myself, or living comfortably within my own skin.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... mowing lawns. I love making stripes.

At night I dream of ... my wife, Rosie, to what I imagine is an extraordinary degree. I have not the slightest intention of asking a psychiatrist whether this is obsessive and/or unhealthy.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... A bald, undistinguished-looking man of 71. Frankly, I don't often look.

I wish I'd never worn ... a very large percentage of the clothes that I have. I have zero idea of how to dress to my advantage. So I have now settled on a daily uniform of blue shirts and black everything else, which Rosie seems to think just about passes muster.

My favourite item of clothing ... see above. The blue and black uniform.

I drive/ride ... a Mercedes s320. I have had it for almost 13 years and love it.

My house is ... a most pleasant early-Victorian terraced house in a quiet street in Holland Park. Lovely garden, books everywhere, absolute bliss.

My favourite building ... is the Great Court of Trinity College Cambridge.

My favourite work of art ... changes according to mood. One of the Bellini Madonnas perhaps.

A book that changed me ... Tolstoy's 'War and Peace'. I read it aged 16 or 17, after a typical, adolescent wallow in Dostoevsky. I was thunderstruck by Tolstoy's descriptive gifts of course, but – more than that – by his sheer narrative stamina, sustained by a unique sense of humanity. From 'War and Peace', I went on to 'Anna Karenina'. As a launch pad into a life of reading I don't think you can beat that.

Movie heaven ... 'Airplane!' The funniest movie ever made.

My greatest regret ... Small things perhaps, none that I can discuss in public, all of them around familial relationships that I have blown for one reason or another.

The person who really makes me laugh ... is my oldest son and child, Richard. I only have to see him and I start laughing. He, too, when he sees me. It must irritate the others beyond distraction.

My five-year plan ... I don't have one. I simply want to stay happy, as I am now. All the ingredients for that are within me.

My life in six words ... Exhausting emotionally, but ultimately very happy.

A life in brief

Tim Waterstone was born in Glasgow on 30 May, 1939, and read English at Cambridge. He worked for WH Smith for several years before founding, in 1982, the bookselling chain, Waterstones. In 1998, he became the founder chairman of the HMV Media Group, which he then left in 2001. Waterstone lives in London with his wife, the novelist Rosie Alison. He has also written four books; his latest, In For a Penny, In For a Pound, was published in September by Corvus