My Life In Travel: Gyles Brandreth

'I saw the Treasury at Petra completely alone – amazing'

First holiday memory?

Broadstairs in Kent. My father used to go on holiday there and his father too. It was a very traditional place on the Isle of Thanet. I remember donkeys on the sand, Punch and Judy, ice creams in cornets and people taking trays of tea on to the beach. It's where Charles Dickens used to go on holiday and there were lots of Dickens places we used to visit. I keep going back hoping that it will be the same, but it never is.

Best holiday?

I think the best is yet to be. However, I've had very good holidays in South Africa and I also loved Mexico because of the combination of seeing new things and culture, particularly the art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

London; I've lived here all my life. I was brought up in Kensington and Chelsea and then in Baker Street and I've been walking the streets and taking the Underground for more than 50 years. I spend a lot of my time thinking about late Victorian England for the detective stories I write and I like the fact that it's a period that still exists in London. I often take tea in the same spot at the Langham Hotel, where Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle first met.

Holiday reading?

The letters of Oscar Wilde. I am retracing his steps for my murder mysteries and went to all the places he visited in northern Italy at a particular time of his life. However, the letters are very heavy, which is annoying because I like to travel light. Other than that, I read Victorian novels by writers like Thackeray and Anthony Trollope.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Not to look at brochures before I visit somewhere. I went to Petra at Christmas and I literally didn't know what to expect – I thought Petra was the Blue Peter dog! I had never seen a photo of it so it was an incredible surprise. I walked down the ravine reasonably early in the day and saw the Treasury, completely alone. It was amazing.

Ideal travelling companion?

My diary. I've kept one since I was about nine years of age. Sometimes interesting places can just wash over me, but if I know at the end of the day that I have to write it all down then I really focus on what I'm looking at.

Greatest travel luxury?

Why do I go on working all the hours that God sends? Because I have discovered the joy of money – it keeps me in touch with my children and enables me to turn left when I board the plane.

Where has seduced you?

I love Sri Lanka, where I have been several times. The people are physically so beautiful and a joy to see. Sadly for them – but I suppose what was an advantage for me – was that there was nobody else there when I visited.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Essentially I'm a culture vulture. I'm interested in people, culture and civilisation.

Worst travel experience?

Flying on a small plane from Barcelona to Nice, on which I found myself sitting next to a very attractive lady. It was a pretty bumpy lift off – we jerked into the air and although this lady and I had never met before we suddenly held hands through sheer fear. We both smelt smoke and then we saw it coming from under the pilot's door and filling the cabin. The plane dropped suddenly and the cockpit door swung open and there we saw the pilot with a small cheroot in his mouth. There was nothing wrong at all!

Worst holiday?

Turkey was a bit of a disappointment. We were supposed to have a boat that didn't materialise – we ended up on a small motor boat rather than the big catamaran that we'd been expecting. Then there was sea sickness. We were also staying in a hotel that didn't have air conditioning, in the height of summer. It was a bit of a disaster.

Worst hotel?

Somewhere in North Wales. I arrived in August and expected rain, but hailstones were a bit of a surprise. As I pulled up in the car, I could see 'Welcome to the Welsh Riviera' through the windscreen wipers; as I got out of the car, my feet completely disappeared into a puddle. The bed was one where you rolled into the middle and disappeared down a crack. I went to the loo in the night and the door to the bathroom came off in my hand and was so heavy that I fell back onto my bed and I lay trapped on the bed. For the rest of the night, all I could see was a flashing neon light reflecting in the porcelain of the loo.

Best hotel?

I was lucky enough to stay as a guest of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, at the Burj al Arab. I was in the Royal Suite, which had a revolving bed, curtains that open when you command them to and a butler permanently stood outside your door. It was almost comical but fabulous. I was also supplied with a white Rolls Royce that picked me up at the foot of the steps to the plane. At first I thought it was quite vulgar, but after a week I was quite accustomed to it.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

The Malvern Hills – I was walking there recently to mark the anniversary of the birth of Edward Elgar. It was a lovely day: sunny with a light breeze and totally un-crowded.

Best meal abroad?

Reindeer in Iceland; it was rather like venison.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Change rooms. I'm also quite good at walking the streets of the town, finding a coffee shop and writing the first account of the diary.

Dream trip?

I'm lucky to have been to lots of places, usually for work. I don't have a list of places I want to go to and I am not that interested in holidays – I like going to places for a purpose. I am going to visit the birthplace of Henrik Ibsen in Skien, Norway this September.

Favourite city?

London! But then I like New York very much and of course Venice.

Where next?

I'm going to Paris for the centenary of the re-interment of Oscar Wilde. He died in 1900 and was initially buried quite modestly but was was reburied in 1909 in the Père Lachaise cemetery. My next trip is to join other admirers for a little ceremony there.

Gyles Brandreth presents 'Knowitalls', which starts on Monday at 6.30pm, BBC Two

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project