Gyles Brandreth: ‘My wife has a skip company on speed dial for when I die’

Gyles Brandreth
Gyles Brandreth, 76, is best known for appearing on shows such as This Morning, Countdown and Celebrity Gogglebox
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Gyles Brandreth, 76, worked in theatre, television and publishing before becoming MP for the City of Chester and a lord commissioner of the Treasury in John Major’s government in the 1990s.

He is perhaps best known for his appearances on This Morning, The One Show, QI, Countdown and Celebrity Gogglebox, and as a long-running panellist on Radio 4’s Just A Minute. His podcasts include Rosebud, where famous guests share their first memories, and Something Rhymes With Purple, in which he and Susie Dent share their love of words. He is also a prolific writer.

He grew up in a series of rented London mansion flats in and around South Kensington. For the past 38 years, he and his wife Michele, with whom he has three children, have lived in Barnes, south-west London.

What attracted you to your current home?

I love my house. I love it most of all because it’s a Victorian house, and in my head I’m still living in Victorian times. In fact, I’ve written seven novels set in the Victorian era. And I wrote them all in this house.

Gyles Brandreth
'It's a Victorian house and in my head I'm still living in Victorian times'

The property was built in 1881 and it’s interesting to me how much of Victorian England is still there to be visited and touched. I post my letters in a small red post box built into the wall not 20 yards from my front door. It has been there since Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Why Barnes?

It’s an old village with a fascinating heritage that I find very attractive. About 100 yards from where I live is a house that once belonged to Henry Fielding, the wonderful 18th century author who wrote Tom Jones. George Frideric Handel, when he first came to London, lived in a house that stood where my house stands now, overlooking Barn Elms, a stretch of ground that runs along the south bank of the Thames. Samuel Pepys writes about visiting Barn Elms in his diary. He enjoyed meeting the girls who plied their trade there.

When did you move to your home?

My wife spotted and chose the house. This was in 1986 and it was a major wrench for me because I’d never lived south of the river. I thought it was the end of the world. In fact, I paid a vast amount of money to keep a phone number that gave the impression I was still north of the river. Instead of saying I lived in Barnes, I’d say, “I live halfway to Southampton.”

Gyles Brandreth's home clutter
'In my wife's view, there is too much clutter'

Was your house very different when you bought it?

It was painted Harrods green and owned by a real character called Peter Marsh, a famous advertising man. He was formerly an actor and had been married to Pat Phoenix of Coronation Street fame.

He interviewed us. It wasn’t a matter of you buying the house from him. If he considered you eligible, he would sell the house to you. The house reflected him. In every room there was an intercom system so he could speak from his study to any other room in the house.

There were also security cameras so he could see at what time the newspaper was delivered every morning. The security systems are still there, but we got rid of the industrial-scale safes. You could step into the space, they were so huge. It’s where he kept his gold-plated china.

What’s your style?

In my wife’s view, there is too much clutter. She has declared that the moment I die, she has the local skip company on rapid dial and everything will go.

Where do you store your famous jumpers?

They are in the basement, now known as the jumper room. There are racks and racks down there with hundreds of jumpers on them. Every day, before I go into This Morning, I check what the news of the day is and choose an appropriately themed jumper.

Gyles Brandreth and his jumper collection
'I'm pleased to say my jumpers can now be classified as museum quality'

Last year, Petersfield Museum and Art Gallery in Hampshire held an exhibition of my jumpers, so I’m pleased to say they can now be classified as museum quality.

What else do you house in the basement?

I’ve been keeping a diary since 1959. All the material that goes with the diaries – letters, postcards, photographs and scrapbooks – is piled high in my memoir boxes. In relation to my political diaries, recording my time as an MP, I also have notes from politicians of that era.

Gyles Brandreth with his memory boxes
'All the material that goes with my diaries is piled high in my memoir boxes'

In the long run, I am looking for a proper home for them. Rather amusingly, a friend introduced me to somebody who specialises in selling archives to universities and museums. He came round, looked at them, and said, “Well, you may be in luck. There is some interest nowadays in minor figures from popular culture.” My wife did laugh at that.

Where do you write?

My study. Well, it used to be my study; it’s now the “Gogglebox room”. I have appeared on every series of Celebrity Gogglebox with well-known friends ranging from Sheila Hancock, Maureen Lipman and Joanna Lumley to Carol Vorderman and Susie Dent. There’s no crew with us when we film. They set up the cameras and operate them remotely.

Gyles Brandreth in his study
'It used to be my study; it's now the Gogglebox room'

What do you store in the Gogglebox room?

It’s currently home to my many books and Judi Dench’s teddy bear. I do a stage show with Judi celebrating her amazing career. We’re doing it again this year. She’s the most wonderful, remarkable person.

Judy Dench's teddy bear
'Judy Dench thought it would be nice for her teddy bear to return to Yorkshire'

I have a teddy bear collection that Michele and I built up over the years and it now lives in Newby Hall, near Ripon in Yorkshire. Judi comes from York, so she thought it would be nice for her teddy bear to return to Yorkshire. It’s in the Gogglebox room, on its way to Newby Hall.

I love my study because I’m the only person, when my life comes to an end, who’ll wish they’d spent more time in the office.

A new edition of Breaking the Code: Westminster Diaries by Gyles Brandreth is out on May 16 in paperback (Biteback Publishing, £14.99)

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