Literary Festival Opens With Theresa May and Ross Kemp

Theresa May opened the 17th Henley Literary Festival with a sold out event on Saturday morning at the Baillie Gifford Marquee at Phyllis Court.

Interviewed by political journalist Simon Walters, he first asked Theresa why she hadn’t written a traditional political memoir which many other former Prime Ministers have saying, “it settles a few scores with their old enemies and tells everyone that you were right and they were wrong.” Theresa replied, “I’m not a great reader of traditional political memoirs, they either attempt to do what you say and/or they are not as interesting sometimes they could be.  The reason I wrote this book, after I stepped down at Number 10 was it suddenly dawned on me that the issues I dealt with both in the Home Office and as Prime Minster this theme was coming through; the abuse of power.”

The book covers Brexit, Grenfell and Hillsborough disasters, parties at Number 10, Windrush immigration and Rotherham slavery scandals. Theresa admitted many mistakes she had made in her Prime Minster role including not got going to meet the Grenfell survivors, not taking part in TV election debates in 2019 and the change in social care policy. Theresa said, “You need to reflect on what you might have done wrong and if you don’t you can’t learn for the future.  There were reasons why I did what I did. In my heart of hearts I know I will always be remembered for my failure to get Brexit through.”  She blamed Sir John Bercow for “scuppering the Brexit deal.”    She still believes that her Brexit deal was better than Boris’ and Rishi’s.

Talking about growing up, Theresa’s Mum wanted her to be a nun!  Simon exclaimed, “There would have been no kitten heels and no leather trousers!”

Theresa believes that because of the cult of celebrity status, MPs are “all about them and not what they are doing or who they are serving.”  She believes that MPs are there to serve their constituents, saying “it is a position of power but it is a position of service – you are there to serve.”

Simon joked about being mentioned in the book saying, “I got one more mention than Liz Truss!”  Theresa replied, “That’s because you’ve been around longer!”

The highlight of the talk was when Theresa was describing her visit to the Whitehouse with Donald Trump.  On describing the press photo call, when she was caught holding hands with Donald, she said, “We came around the corner and he warned me there was slight slope and he said take care, the next thing I knew he had grabbed my hand!” Simon said, “I read somewhere that he has tiny little hands.” Theresa replied, “I don’t remember as I was so shocked.”

At the end of the talk Simon asked Theresa a series of questions where she had to choose between 2 things.  Some of her choices were, Geoff Boycott over Ben Stokes, Strictly over Bake Off as she’d like to lose weight, Maidenhead over Henley as it is her constituency but she loves to shop in Henley at her favourite shop Fluidity which she was going to visit after her talk.

Audience members then got the chance to ask questions.  One was would Theresa scrap HS2?  Theresa replied, “No.  We have to think about why HS2 was designed in the first place because there was a lack of capacity on the west coast main line.  The issue is the proposals at the moment will affect my constituents. If it stops at Old Oak Common it will make the journey into London longer and there will be disruption over the period of it being built at Old Oak Common from here.  I’m arguing that it shouldn’t stop at Old Oak Common and they need to take it into Euston.”

Ross Kemp – Take Nothing for Granted

Promoting his 13th book and being interviewed by Dame Katherine Grainger who asked him first why he hadn’t been to the Henley Literary Festival before.  Ross replied, “I don’t know, but it feels grand and I think I’m going to come again.”

Describing the extreme documentaries where Ross has travelled the world meeting criminals responsible for drug dealing, human trafficking, murder and rape.  Ross started recounting different guns and situations saying, “You get to know your guns!” He’s worst fear has been when he’s met gangsters wearing ponchos, commenting “you need to see people’s fingers!”

How does Ross cope with difficult and traumatic things he’s seen? Ross replied, “After the Afghan tours I used to come home and drink for 3 days. Now I come home to my four kids, my wife and dog who centre me.  We also do TRIM (Trauma in Risk Management) now where I get the crew to sit around and talk after filming or the next morning.”  His worst story was his description of a body chop shop in Columbia with the gangster ‘Dave’ who does believe in God but tells Ross he doesn’t think he’ll go to heaven! (no spoilers here).

Recalling why he decided to leave Eastenders after 9 years in 1999, he described when he had “cathartic moment” and realised that saying other people’s lines wasn’t enough on a horse in Dubai.

He went on to talk about Dame Barbara Windsor who was a huge support to him when he started Eastenders and then became a very good friend who he “adored”.  He told the audience it took him 5 days to write her Eulogy.  A very touching story followed, “On the fifth day I was getting the pens I keep on top of the dresser out of the reach of the kids, and found a piece of card on the top which said ‘To my darling Ross, love Barbara’.  It was a really weird moment and I thought are up there looking down.  I put the card back up there.”

Like many, Ross was constantly striving to be happy and have tangible things.  Realising you can’t have all the things you want to or achieve everything.  Ross said, “I wear M&S jeans now.  They are much more comfy than Armani!  I know I’m not going to win a grand prix.  I know who I am – you’re alright, you’ll do.  I’ve found contentment.  I’m going to carrying on making documentaries, having the audience next to me on a journey together, as long as I can do it.”

Photo credit: Scarlet Page

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