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Travel show host Michael Portillo R. C.
Travel show host and former politician Michael Portillo: 'I wouldn't know where to start choosing between my two careers'
Interview

Travel show host and former politician Michael Portillo: 'I wouldn't know where to start choosing between my two careers'

Already known in Spain for his rail travel programme and his colourful jackets, his show Portillo's Andalucia (broadcast last year on Channel 5 in the UK) is now being shown in Spanish on the channel ¡Buenviaje!

Rosa Palo

Seville

Tuesday, 23 April 2024

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The life of this Londoner, son of a Scotswoman and a Spanish exile (his father, Luis Gabriel Portillo, was deputy minister of justice during the Republican era), is divided into two periods: in the first Michael Portillo was a minister in Thatcher's Cabinet and then in John Major's; in the second he transformed into a great travel programme presenter.

"But there is a very obvious connection between both lives: the politician wants to communicate and convince the voter of his vision of the world, and the presenter of a travel documentary also wants to convince people of his way of seeing things," he says in almost perfect Spanish. Already known in Spain for his rail travel programme and his colourful jackets, his show Portillo's Andalucia (broadcast last year on Channel 5 in the UK) is now being shown in Spanish on the channel ¡Buenviaje!

-In Spain you have got used to the traditional Sunday aperitif.

-On Sunday mornings I have a programme on TV from eleven to one, and when I finish I rush off to have lunch with my friends, who vary from week to week, but I always arrive at one forty and have a glass of champagne.

- In Portillo's Andalucia you have made pottery, you have tasted the best Andalusian cuisine, you have seen a flamenco quartet ... you are a real pleasure-seeker.

-Hahahahahaha. Well, yes, guilty. But unfortunately I'm very bad at almost everything practical: I can't sing, I can't dance, I can't cook, I'm terrible at pottery, but that's part of the charm of the programme, I think that I'm so useless that the viewer expects the worst, and usually the worst is what comes out.

-You have had two lives, one as a politician and the other as a travel show host. Have you gone from black and white to colour?

-No. I have enjoyed them both very much, I wouldn't know how to choose between them. Political life was much more stressful than my current life, but perhaps it also had more value because I was Defence Secretary at a very interesting time when the Soviet Union had passed into history and the countries east of the divide were beginning to enjoy freedom for the first time in many decades. It was a very important time, and we felt we had a relevant role to play. I can't say the same about my career in the media, but I really enjoy doing these programmes.

-Your father suffered exile. Is your passion for Spain a way of compensating him for that suffering?

-I think so. But I don't know if I would explain it like that: when my father couldn't go back to Spain, I came when I was two years old with my mother because she wanted us to get to know our second country and our family. I had nine aunts and uncles and thirty first cousins, and my mother got the idea into all of us that we were part of Spain, that we had to get to know it and our family, and that really stuck with me. But my father had a passion for Britain, especially for its democracy, which was what was missing in Spain. And so he brought home to me the idea of the importance of democracy, and that he could endure his suffering, however painful that was, because he lived in a democratic country and that was a great comfort to him. Now that Spain is a great democracy, I have continued to come here. I don't know if it is compensation for what my father suffered, but it is certainly because both my parents gave me a passion and affection for Spain.

Truth comes from debating

-Your father was a Republican, your mother was in the Labour Party, and you turn out Tory. There must have been some heated discussions over the dinner table.

-No, because my father loved us getting involved in democratic politics. I was free to speak my mind, and he was free to speak his in England. The important thing for him was debate, because truth comes out of debate, lies come out of dictatorship. He was very idealistic, he thought that all problems could be solved by debate. Of course, it's not like that, but that was his idea. So no, the discussions were not heated, they were stimulating.

-I am surprised that you are a Brexit supporter, being such a cosmopolitan, cultured and well-travelled man.

-Thank you for the compliment, but it makes perfect sense.

-Really?

-For me, the political values of each state are very different, so it is absurd to think that all Europeans can be governed within a European United States. For example, when we vote in European parliamentary elections, the British understand nothing about Spain, or Hungary, or Finland, and everyone votes on nationalist or national issues. The idea of being able to govern all Europeans from Brussels makes me extremely anxious because there is no possibility of those elected being accountable to the voters and, when that happens, what follows are laws and rules that do not have the backing of the public. That's what happened in Britain: people were fed up with being handed laws from Brussels that hadn't gone through our parliament, and if people were against those laws, they couldn't do anything about it. I think that, sooner or later, that ends badly.

-When you retire, will you stay here in your house in Carmona or will you continue to travel from one place to another?

-I love the life I have and I can't think of changing it.

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