Alan Whicker: My Life In Travel

'The motel showed The King and I every night at 2am outside my room'

Interview by Sophie Lam

First holiday memory?

Going to the Isle of Man by sea with my mother. I remember spending the voyage chasing a very attractive girl around the poop deck. She was rather tantalising and we both had a great time. I think I was going on seven.

Best holiday?

I don't take holidays as such. If I am filming I tend to stay on afterwards. I have enjoyed most of the places where I've filmed. Venice is an all-time favourite; I lived there for a year after the war. I also like Mauritius very much and Bali has been a favourite for many years.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Ullswater in the Lake District, despite the traffic. I remember staying at a hotel there as a child and getting up before dawn, climbing into a boat and rowing onto the lake by myself. I sat and drank in the beauty of the dawn - I was greatly touched by the scene. I'm very susceptible to beauty.

What have you learnt from your travels?

You must react immediately to your first impressions, because they soon become normality. When you drive in Sri Lanka and pass an elephant on the road for the first time you think "wow", but after a few days it becomes perfectly normal.

Ideal travelling companion?

Someone of the opposite sex who can do the packing. In my case it's Valerie, who has travelled with me for 35 years, thank goodness.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I couldn't begin to think of sitting on a beach. I travel with a point, there's always an end result and I never laze around. I drive about to see what's there; I like to be stimulated.

Greatest travel luxury?

Crisp, white linen sheets and a soft down pillow. Sadly, I don't get them too often.

Holiday reading?

I'm a compulsive reader; I normally read for research if I'm filming. I'm a great newspaper reader. Correcting the Whicker's War proofs kept me busy, it was a smashing read!

Where has seduced you?

So many places, particularly Venice. When we arrived, we were young and grateful to be alive to enjoy the magic and beauty of the place.

I always return with delight, particularly out of season when the hordes have left and you can hear your own footsteps. It hasn't changed much - it's just got wetter unfortunately.

Better to travel or arrive?

Both are wonderful. I quite enjoy flying although I never sleep on planes, which is rather annoying. The place you're going to should provide enormous pleasure, too.

Worst travel experience?

It's always a bit unnerving when your plane loses an engine, which happened a few times during the war on the C119 transports. I spent one journey pushing shells out of the back of the plane, which was due to crash, which wasn't much fun. I'd rather sit back and have a glass of champagne.

Worst holiday?

I've been in a few dreadful places while filming, but they weren't holidays. It would be my fault if I had a bad holiday.

Worst hotel?

A motel in Winton where I stayed while

filming one of my Australian series. I discovered on the first night that the screen of the town's open-air cinema was against the outside wall of my bedroom. The temperature was scorching and only cooled down at about 2am, so that's when they'd show the film. It was the only entertainment for miles around, so it was packed and every night they'd show The King and I. I'd try to get to sleep with a deafening "Shall we Dance, bom bom bom" ringing in my ears.

Best hotel?

Most Far Eastern hotels have brilliant service now, such as The Oriental in Bangkok, the Mandarin and Peninsula in Hong Kong, Le Saint Géran in Mauritius and the Four Seasons in Bali. Hotels are very good these days.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

The cliff walk along the north coast of Jersey is wonderful. The flora and fauna change with the seasons, with carpets of primroses in the spring. You can see kestrels and cormorants and you used to see puffins, but sadly we seem to be running out of those.

Best meal abroad?

I don't go in for exotic meals. I do like good old Harry's Bar in Venice. The food is very simple but delicious, and they do the best chocolate cake in the world. The ambience is fun and unpretentious, but I'm afraid it's aggressively expensive these days.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Unpack, and look around and find out where everything is. I also have the airline timetables so that I can beat a fast retreat if necessary.

Dream trip?

I have always wanted to go around the tip of South America. You can get on a boat at Buenos Aires and sail past the Chilean fjords and get off at Santiago. It takes a good 10 days.

Favourite city?

Apart from Venice, it's Florence and Hong Kong. Even London can be nice these days.

Where next?

To Bath, Taunton, Yorkshire and Scotland on my book tour, and then to Hong Kong and Mauritius.

'Whicker's War' is published by HarperCollins, price £18.99

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