Tony Hawks & Lord Alfred Dubs: 'When I first met him, Alf had drunk a lot of Moldovan wine and was dancing like a man half his age'

The Lord and the comedian met in Moldova at a British embassy reception

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Lord Alfred Dubs, 83

Having escaped Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport as a young boy, Dubs (right in picture) has had a distinguished career in British politics, winning his first seat as a Labour MP in 1979. Following his 1994 peerage, he has served as chair of the Labour Party in the House of Lords. He currently chairs three All-Party Parliamentary Groups. He lives in London and the Lake District

We met in Moldova through a mutual friend at a reception at the British embassy. I was on a visit there as chair for the All-Party Group for Moldova. There was some dancing and I was entering into the spirit of it. A modest guy in temperament, Tony was easy to engage with.

He told me about a centre he'd set up, which impressed me: any outsider can go to a country and support a project – but not many people actually set a place up. So the next day we went to the Tony Hawks Centre, for children who are severely disabled, and I found it moving. There's no such provision elsewhere, as it's such a poor country.

After that we stayed friendly: we'd meet up in the UK to chat about his work, and mine, about my background, and about Moldova.

I've read his book, Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, and I've seen the film: the proceeds help his centre there. He told me how it all started with a pub bet with a friend, over whether he could track down the Moldovan football team and beat them all at tennis. The loser would have to stand naked outside a pub in Balham High Road and sing the Moldovan national anthem. It's a pub I know quite well, as I used to go there after our Labour Party meetings. The book gives all sorts of details about Moldova, and it's engrossing, with some delightfully funny moments.

I live in the Lake District, where the Words on the Water book festival takes place. The organisers write to me every year to ask if I want to chair it. I usually decline, but I saw Tony was on the list one year, and I was happy to introduce him; it was fun to interview him and tell a few anecdotes.

We've met a few more times in Moldova. The second time was at an event held by the British ambassador, and Tony had to make a speech. Everyone had a translator and Tony thought it would be funny to feed her lines about himself. So, to a room packed full of ambassadors, his translator began with: "I'd like to say that Tony is the sexiest man I have ever translated for. He is charming." She was just doing her job. It was a slightly British joke, and we all collapsed laughing, but some of the Moldovans didn't get it.

Going to film premieres is not my scene, but I went along when his Moldova film had its UK premiere in Leicester Square. I wasn't very well prepared: I'd assumed it was as informal as the one I'd gone to in Moldova. So I turned up at this black-tie event without a tie, and I felt like the hick from the country.

Tony Hawks, 55

A comedian and author, Hawks first tasted fame as frontman of satirical 1980s pop band Morris Minor and the Majors. Now a bestselling author, his books include 'One Hit Wonderland' and 'Playing the Moldovans at Tennis', which was adapted into a film. He lives in Devon with his wife and their baby son

Alf is a very open person and doesn't strike you as a typical politician. When I meet politicians I sometimes feel that, while charming, they're putting on a show. But Alf has conviction.

We met eight years ago at an event run by the British ambassador in Moldova. I go over every year to visit my care centre, which I opened 10 years ago: I'd put half the royalties of Playing the Moldovans at Tennis towards opening a centre for kids with cerebral palsy.

Alf was there as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Moldova. He'd drunk a lot of Moldovan wine and was dancing like a man half his age. We got talking and I told him about the care centre. The next day he went along to see it. One of the mothers of the children with cerebral palsy broke down when he picked up her child and held him in his arms. She said that in 10 years not one Moldovan politician had visited the centre. Politicians there don't gain any brownie points being seen in these places – and now a UK politician was showing interest.

After that he wanted to talk more, so he took me for tea at the House of Lords. I enjoyed being there: I kept seeing all these faces – Geoffrey Howe, Lord Puttnam – and I'd think, right, that's where they are now!

Alf's a great storyteller with a fascinating life: he was one of the children who came over with the Kindertransport. Some don't like to talk about that period but he's quite proud of his origins. To come from those beginnings and end up in the Lords is incredible.

We've been invited to stay with him and his wife at their house in the Lake District, but I have yet to find the time to take them up on the offer – though he's introduced me at the Words on the Water literary festival nearby, in Keswick. He'd never seen me perform before, and it went well. I think he was impressed!

I think we've lost our way in politics because too many people are doing it for the wrong reasons and thinking, if I do this, it will lead to this role and I'll get this amount of money. But Alf is one of the few remaining politicians who believe in something other than just a career path. He still went out and did the campaigning and doorstepping for the General Election – it's what he does. He's an 83-year-old advert for how to stay young and fit, and have lots of things to be passionate about. When I see him, I feel inspired to never stop wanting to be involved – and keep going till I drop dead.

Tony Hawks's latest book, 'Once Upon a Time in the West… Country' (£12.99, Hodder & Stoughton), detailing his move to Devon, is out now