Me and my caravan: The joys of a mobile holiday home

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is off on holiday to France with husband Leo in her beloved caravan, with bodyguards to the rear and a press pack giving chase. She is often pilloried for her choice of holiday, but many of us have been there. By Terry Kirby and Louise Jack
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The Independent Online

Patsy Palmer, Actress

My family have always had caravans, and now it's something I love to do with my own three kids. When I was really little my mum and dad used to go hop-picking in Kent, and we'd stay in a caravan there. Then later, my mum and I got into it - I got her a fixed caravan in Sheerness for Mother's Day years ago. She loves it there, she has peace and quiet and it doesn't cost the earth.

I've also been away in a motor-home down to Cornwall, and I recently went to West Wittering in one. I do like my luxuries, and if it was just for myself, I would pick a five-star hotel and a sun-lounger over a caravan, but the reason I carry on doing it is that the children absolutely love it. If you get a good campsite, then it's just heaven for them. They get a bit of freedom, there are often great activities laid on for them, and it's great for them to mix with and get to know other kids. They can take their bikes and the campsites are pretty safe security-wise. In the evening we'll either cook in the caravan or have a barbecue outside.

The other benefit of having a touring caravan is that you can get to visit some really lovely places. It's just a question of booking into a campsite and you're there.

My business partner, Charlotte Cutler, and I have even put a caravan into use for our tanning products company, Palmer Cutler. We saw the new Airstream caravan and thought it was so beautiful we bought one, and now we go round the country to festivals in our "Tanvan" and people can come in and have a tan done.

Joan Smith, Writer

I'm very anti-caravan, I'm afraid, on the basis of one brief caravan holiday with a boyfriend during the 1970s, when I was about 20. The boyfriend persuaded me to join him and his parents in this caravan they had rented on the Scottish side of the border with England. It was high summer, but of course the rain was lashing down, and it was high on some hillside. It was, I think, Sunday when we got there, and the pubs were closed, because that was still the custom in Scotland, so it wasn't much fun. I'm one of those people who think the phrase "en-suite bathroom" one of the finest in the English language, so it was all rather a shock.

The next morning, I was up early and was wandering round in a daze in the nude trying to make a cup of tea, and suddenly bumped into the boyfriend's mother. She exclaimed "a nymph!" and scuttled away.

I didn't really realise until then how incredibly small and cramped caravans were. You had to cook and eat in this tiny space and of course all the cooking smells would linger.

After a couple of days, I made my excuses and left.

Wayne Hemingway, Designer

As a family, we take two types of holidays; one is the cultural holiday and the other is to get away from things. And we have discovered that a caravan is a great way of doing that. I'm a convert. But we would never dream of staying on one of those proper caravan owner sites, that is not the kind of caravanning I would want to do.

A caravan is an excellent way of getting to some of the many wild and interesting places around Britain, where there are beaches at least as good as those in Australia, many of which are only accessible if you give a farmer £20 or something to park in his field right next to the shoreline. These are the kind of places that don't have hotels and you can't really camp if it is a windy spot. We hired a towing van last year and took it right up to the north of Scotland. In places like that you can park right next to the most beautiful beaches. We didn't have any problems with traffic, mainly because the roads up there are very quiet and we only travelled at the crack of dawn. Three years ago, we towed this cool little retro thing, called The Pod, which folds out into a sleeping unit. We wanted to find out if it worked as well as it looked, so we took it into the Marais region of western France - which is like the Everglades in Florida- and it was fine. We slept in the Pod, but the kids had to sleep in tents, which they weren't happy about. As a designer, I'm very interested in the design of caravans and I was recently a judge in the design competition for the caravan of the future, which was run by the Caravan Club. But the problem is that as soon as you improve the design, the price goes up, which tends to put off many people, because caravanning is not a posh pastime.

Vicki Conran, Writer

During the summer we had caravans in the windows of the Conran Shop. The idea was to have a fun window design to make the garden furniture look a bit jolly, I think. I saw it and thought it was a perfect ready-made Wendy house; I've always thought that I must get one, perhaps paint up a garden shed. Then I thought this little bubbly caravan painted in such a funny colour was very sweet. I bought it from the shop and it is now permanently installed in our garden. It doesn't move anywhere - I'm not sure it's actually roadworthy. Sir Terence and I have got quite a lot of little grandchildren and it has been a great success; they adore it. As soon as they get here they just run straight for the caravan and practically live in it. It's decked out with paper lanterns and bunting. It's been completely stripped out inside and we fill it with cushions and little tables and chairs and we've even got one of those Cath Kidston floral tents we can pitch outside. As for myself, I've never put one on the back of a car and towed it, they always seem to jack-knife. When I lived in Ireland as a teenager I had friends who had caravans on beaches in the west of Ireland and I stayed in them, as one does, to get away from parents.

Max Clifford, PR guru

It must have been in the 1950s, when I was about 11 or 12. My parents, who didn't have much money, used to send me off with a cousin, called Harold, to stay with Uncle Franco, who was Italian, and his wife, Auntie Gilda, who I think was a Romany of some kind; they weren't relatives, just friends of my parents. They owned a caravan on a site near Hastings, where they would go and stay for weekends and holidays. I was the youngest of four, my older siblings were somewhere else and my parents just wanted to pack me off.

They were a lovely couple and I don't think I appreciated their kindness. As a young boy, it didn't appeal to me at all. The site had a social club, where all the caravanners would gather and talk about caravan stuff. It was like watching paint dry. Then there was Harold, who used wet the bed we were forced to share, which used to get me very angry.

Franco and Gilda had this beautiful little dark-eyed daughter called Jo, and even at that age, I would rather have been spending time with her than with awful Harold. And I'm afraid Franco used to suffer from terrible wind, probably it was all the garlic or something, which wasn't very good in the confined space of the caravan. In the end, after several years of this, when I was about 13, I threatened to run away if I was sent there again, and my parents took sympathy on me.

I'm 63 now and I've never forgotten those times, but I've never been tempted to go near a caravan since. But I think Franco and Gilda's children still go caravanning.