On the line

PUBLISHED: 05:20 23 February 2015

Michael Portillo officially opens the refurbished King's Lynn Station in July 2014. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Michael Portillo officially opens the refurbished King's Lynn Station in July 2014. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

Michael Portillo comes to Norfolk this month to discuss what he terms a “life of two halves” – from politics to railway journeys, as he tells Keiron Pim.

What can we expect in your show at Cromer Pier?

It’s mainly autobiographical, so I talk about parliamentary politics and about documentary-making and railway journeys in particular. It’s got quite a lot of jokes, anecdotes and a bit of pathos, and that lasts for about 50 minutes. Then there’s a second half of about 40 minutes of questions. Notice I say questions, not questions and answers, because I am a former politician . . .

As a former politician do you think it’s true that all political careers end in failure?

I think that entirely depends on your attitude to life. Certainly regret is no part of my CV. I had a wonderful time but I think I had very realistic expectations, that I probably wouldn’t get to the top and even if I did I probably wouldn’t be happy, so my attitude was to enjoy each thing that I did to the full.

What gave you most pride or enjoyment?

Saving the Settle-to-Carlisle railway line. I was the Minister for Transport and British Rail, as it was, had applied to close the line, not unreasonably in the sense that they were under pressure to try to reduce their losses, but it’s a magnificent piece of heritage and I was keen that it should be saved if possible. In April 2014 we celebrated the 25th anniversary. Outside of politics I am very proud of presenting Great British Railway Journeys: I’ve just about lost count but we’ve made something like 170 programmes now.

That programme has established you a second career and taken you nationwide – what are your best memories of your rail travels in Norfolk?

Norfolk turkeys of course, and the wonderful swing bridge at Reedham, and Cromer itself which I think remains a very attractive summer resort. We were in Cromer on an extraordinarily hot day and I remember ice creams at the seaside, and that they were selling dressed crab everywhere. I saw the pier but don’t think I went down it, so I shall look forward to that very much. We’ve also covered King’s Lynn and that is a magnificent town. I did a radio programme in King’s Lynn about the Hanseatic League – in the days long before the railways the places that were along the coast were the places that thrived, and King’s Lynn was a very important town with this terrific connection with Holland, with Denmark, with north Germany.

As we head into a General Election how do you feel looking on partly from the outside?

Absolutely from the outside! I think I look on it like any other member of the public – obviously I may have a few insights. What worries me is that I suspect that we’re going to have a hung parliament and a minority government, and I think we have enjoyed a lot of stability with the Coalition and with all the Labour governments before that going back to 1997, and I suspect that after this election we’re going to have a long period of political instability.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got another television series on BBC2 a couple of weeks before Easter, about documents in the National Archives that once were secret and can now be revealed – everything from King James I’s instructions on how to torture Guy Fawkes to a letter written to the police in 1888 that claimed to be from Jack the Ripper.

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