'I love deserts. I did charity bike rides in the Sinai and Negev, and it was magical'

What is your first holiday memory?

What is your first holiday memory?

Going to Cardiff to stay with my Auntie Becky. They didn't have children, so her house was "do not touch" territory: bits of crystal and figurines. My mother was always terrified that we'd break something.

What's been your best holiday?

The best was the Millennium Eve holiday I took with my mother. We went to French Polynesia and joined a cruise ship. It had a mainly French crew, and at noon on New Year's Eve (midnight in France), we heard the champagne corks popping below decks. We were docked in the bay of Hiva Oa, where Gauguin lived and is buried. Simply magic.

Are you a frequent traveller?

In practice I am, because we have a house in France and we go across whenever we can. It's in the Loire, and I've had it for 14 years now.

What's your favourite place in the British Isles?

It's rapidly becoming Liverpool again. I was born and brought up there, and I left when the place was really, metaphorically, being reduced to ashes. Now there's a vibrancy about it. Everyone's excited about the European City of Culture stint in 2008.

What have you learnt from your travels?

That I love deserts. I did a charity bike ride in the Sinai and Negev deserts, and it was a magical experience. I like the sense of deserts being completely unspoilt and containing some of the secrets of civilisation - the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians. I stood on the walls of Jericho, which were built 8,000 years ago. It's extraordinary, thinking how people lived, fought, died and made progress.

Are you an independent traveller?

Yes, but we go with groups for charity events. We're doing a bike ride in Poland in September for the Marie Curie charity, riding from Krakow to MarieCurie's birthplace in Warsaw. There are details at www.polishbikeride.co.uk, and places are available.

Are you beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Culture vulture. History fascinates me - the whispers in the air, the old feuds, the old loves. There's something magical about standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and looking up as the sun goes down. I told myself: "If I close my eyes and then open them again, I shall see Moses raging at the worshippers of the golden calf." It was extremely creepy.

How do you travel - organised tours and package holidays, or do-it-yourself?

It varies. I've got to think about what to do for our wedding anniversary weekend, and I'll research it on the internet: I think that www.expedia.co.uk is brilliant. They're fast and reliable and there's a lot of information.

What do you read on holiday?

Big novels or big biographies. The Pickwick Papers was a great one. I read bits out to the other passengers. Dickens is always good fun because he's such good company.

Is it better to travel than to arrive?

Oh, no. I hate travelling. Sitting in the coffee bar at Heathrow Terminal 1, queues everywhere, police officers with machine guns - it's fairly clean, but the ladies' loo left something to be desired. This is the equivalent of Grand Central station on a bad day.

What's the worst thing that's happened to you on holiday?

We had to escape from a coup in Bangladesh in 1990. I'm sure that if the High Commissioner had realised there were problems, he wouldn't have invited a bunch of British parliamentarians. During an audience with the president, he passed us a note saying: "There's one jet on the runway and when it leaves they're going to close the airport." At the airport, we did the British memsahib bit and elbowed our way to the front, where we were told there were no seats left. But we got in first class.

What's the most over-rated place you've been?

Anywhere with beaches. I get burned, I get bored, I get sand in everything. That's why cruise ships are preferable. There's a nice, clean pool with no crabs in it.

And the most under-rated?

Lots of places in Britain. South Derbyshire, where I used to be the MP: the Great Trent Valley, with Repton, which was the capital of the kingdom of Mercia, and Melbourne. I once said to them: "We ought to develop tourism." They said: "We don't need it."

Where would be your trip of a lifetime?

My husband grew up in Lagos, in Nigeria, and we'd like to go and have a look at where he was a little boy. The other dream is to follow the path of Alexander the Great to the Hindu Kush, through places like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Fermented ewe's milk in a tent in the Mongolian outback. Why not!

The world ends tomorrow - where do you regret never having been?

Africa, I think. I've been to Egypt and South Africa, but we have tried to get to Kenya twice and not made it. I'd love to go to Botswana, to the territory of the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Where are you going next?

Belfast, to drum up support for our Marie Curie bike ride. The money people raise is postcoded for their local hospice, and we need more from there.

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