Five Minutes With........

Genuine interviews & amazing answers!

On this exciting new page, I'll be bringing you exclusive interviews with some very well-known people. From celebrities to best-selling authors, you'll be able to see what we chatted about in our five minute conversation.

The questions are picked completely at random from my pot and I have no idea what or how the interviewee will respond. 

I've worked long & hard to bring my readers a guest list to be proud of, so please enjoy and keep popping back to see who's next in the hot seat! 

 

Ramsey Campbell - Horror Writer

1. Do you find reading books in the genre of horror a bit like a busman's holiday or do you enjoy them? If so, who are your favourite authors?

I only wish I had time to read more in my field - indeed, more books in general, since the feast is so immense. I love horror in all the arts, and I started writing in order to repay some of the pleasure it has given me. I'll leave aside the classics from Poe to Aickman, though I wouldn't be without them, and name just a few contemporaries - Steve King, Reggie Oliver, Lynda Rucker, Adam Nevill, Thana Niveau, John Llewellyn Probert, Nina Allan, Gary McMahon, Frances Hardinge (marketed as young adult fantasy but with a real sense of uncanny terror), Andrew Michael Hurley, Peter Ackroyd - and now I feel unhappy to have left so many fine writers out. Here's a solution - I endorse very many of the selections in my old friend Steve Jones's anthology 'Best New Horror', and I'll direct people to digest those books.

 

2. What three dishes would make up your ideal dinner & why? 

Rather an ethnic mix, but I think Szechuan hot and sour soup followed by my wife's lamb dopiaza or her saag gosht, and for dessert a good tiramisu. They represent three favourite cuisines.

 

3. Do you think that you'll ever retire from writing or is it something that you feel you will continue into the foreseeable future?

I've no plans to retire while I can still hold a pen and then rewrite on the computer, believe me, I've far too many tales to tell and other things to write. I grow frustrated when I'm not working on a piece, whether a first draft or a rewrite or even composing something I plan to write. Even in terms of the foreseeable future I have a new novel (Somebody's Tale) in view once I finish rewriting 'The Wise Friend', and a book on the 'Three Stooges', not to mention an essay on the comforts of paranoia in fiction. I'm edgy if I don't know what the next book will be while I'm writing the current one, and for some weeks recently I nearly didn't, but I'm better now.

 

4. Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Very much the morning. I'm generally roused before six by the pressure of ideas, although when I'm working on a first draft I routinely feel less than up to the task and bereft of inspiration, only to be wakened further by ideas that might be worth writing after all. I always compose at least the first sentence of a session before sitting down to write. My desk looks out on the dawn, however that moves during the period between solstices, and I have a view towards Liverpool, though the real treat is the enormous changing sky through the trinity of windows. I'll write throughout the morning and generally turn to a different task - proofreading or non-fiction - in the afternoon. My reward is a film on Blu-ray before dinner. Today it may well be Preminger's 'Laura.'

 

5. If you were to write a bucket list, what would be your five top things to do? 

I dream of seeing the original director's cut of 'The Magnificent Amberson's' before Robert Wise got his clumsy hands on the film. I'd love to visit India and the Great Wall of China, having delighted in Japan and Singapore and South Korea, not least Jeju Island. Years ago I missed Debussy's 'Pelleas et Melisand', that most mysterious of operas, in Manchester, and still yearn for a chance to see it on stage. I'd like to forget all about Hitchcock's 'Psycho' so that I could experience it afresh (alas, even when I first saw it I'd read Bob Bloch's novel) - I suppose the next best thing is to see it with a youngster who knows nothing about it. And I'd like to write a single tale that would scale the heights of the best of Blackwood and Machen and Lovecraft, but I can only keep trying. 

Photo courtesy of Tony Knox

Kendo Nagasaki - Professional Wrestler

1. Could you tell us about any injuries that you have suffered in your career? 

Although there is a lot of showmanship in wrestling we all suffer from injuries. In all my years of wrestling I have suffered a fractured skull, severed cervical vertibrae, broken ribs on five occasions & long-term injuries which include hip and knee.

 

2. What are the last five items you bought with your credit/debit card?

The last five items were all books, which were 'Ukiyo-e The Art of Japanese Woodblock Prints', 'The Twelve Caesars', 'The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill', 'A Pictorial History of Wrestling' and 'The Car Book - The Definitive Visual History.' 

I don't really use credit/debit cards much.

 

3. How did your professional name of 'Kendo Nagasaki' come about? 

In 1964 professional wrestling was generally very bland, except for a handful who had strong images such as Billy Two Rivers, Ricki Starr, The Outlaw and of course Count Bartelli. 'Kendo Nagasaki' came about through the teaching of Kenshiro Abbe & studying Marshall Arts under him, which include Judo, Kendo and Aikido. 

 

4. If you were to sing in the shower, what would you sing? 

It would probably be 'Memories' which I heard on the radio a good few years ago on our way back from a wrestling show which was sung by Barbra Streisand, the reason why is because I am into nostalgia, I love all old songs. 

 

5. Tell us the reason for deciding to remove your mask live on television.

We had taken the decision to faze down the wrestling and retire at that time, and we felt that the loyal fans who followed us deserved to see the man behind the mask. We then decided to go into the musiv business, we built our own recording studio in the basement of our house, we also managed a band called 'The Cuddly Toys' and a solo artist called Laura Pallas. There is a more in-depth explanation in the book 'Kendo Nagasaki - The Man Behind the Mask.' 

 

You can find out more about Kendo here:

https://kendonagasaki.org

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDE2AA6b43U

 

Kostas Krommydas - Actor & Author

1. You're currently filming 'The Durrells' for the BBC, tell us about it.

I'm very excited to be a part of such a great production. Everything is so professional! It's a wonderful feeling to know you are a part of a series that is so loved around the world. 

 

2. Which comes most naturally to you, acting or writing?

I'm an actor first and foremost. Still, I have written seven books in the last ten years and I spend a lot of my time writing and going on book tours, in Greece and around the world. Now, I feel more like an author than ever before because my books are on the bestseller lists in Greece and on Amazon. They are doing very well, so naturally I'm very happy about it. 

 

3. If you need time to recharge & relax, where do you go and why? 

I'm very lucky because I live in Greece and the weather is so wonderful, there's always a lot of things you can do. I like to travel, play tennis and go to the movies. I spend a lot of my free time with my family. 

 

4. What is the oldest piece of clothing that you have in your wardrobe & what is its significance?

A black pair of trousers I bought many years ago, which are now frayed and worn. I still keep them in my closet as a reminder of many wonderful journeys and times I've had wearing them! 

 

5. Do you have any exciting news to share with us?

I finish filming 'The Durrells' shortly, and then I will focus more on my next book, which will be coming out in May. The translation of my fourth book in English will be published just before Christmas and will also be available on Amazon, so I'm very excited about that too! 

 

You can find Kostas' books at: http://author.to/KostasKrommydas

Also check out his website (click down on each tab for English) www.kostaskrommydas.gr

Twitter @KostasKrommydas

Photo courtesy of Bella West

Jay Rayner - Restaurant Critic & Journalist

1. What is your biggest extravagance?

My baby grand piano is an extravagant object, but I play it almost every day and gig as a musician so I think that one's just a bit ostentatious. In truth I think it's my London black cab habit. I do use piblic transport an awful lot but once I'm in the centre of London I just can't help myself. 

 

2. If you could find out the truth about one myth or mystery, what would you like to know? 

I'm afraid it's rather banal. I really would like to clear up the whole JFK assassination thing. It's such an extra-ordinary event, yet wreathed in such a fog of claim, counter-claim and utter cobblers. 

 

3. Namr five contestants that you would like to see on 'Celerity Masterchef' for entertainment value. 

It's easy to name who I'd like to see for entertainment value. The problem is it has acute personal implications. I think everyone would like to see all of us critics - that's William Sitwell, Grace Dent, Tracey Macleod, Charles Campion and myself - go head to head in the Masterchef kitchen. I'm just not sure I'd actually like to do it. (Charles would win, by the way.)

 

4. What do you keep under your bed?

The spare mattress for when my youngest has a mate over to stay. That, and any number of books I got half way through reading and chucked on the floor in disgust or boredom or both. 

 

5. In your line of work, you obviously have to taste a lot of food. How do you keep trim & do you have a fitness regime? 

I love this question because it presupposes that I am, in some way, trim, for which I thank you. But I do have to work very hard not just because of the job but also because of a classic genetic tendency. I try to avoid the carbs, not because there's some science to it, but because it does tend to reduce calorie intake. And I'm in the gym four or five times a week, doing 30 to 40 minutes of high intensity cardiovascular. I wear a head-band and look appalling. 

 

A new collection of Jay Rayner's most negative reviews, 'Wasted Calories and Ruined Nights: A Journey Deeper into Dining Hell', has just been published by Guardian Faber priced £5.

Jay performs live regularly, both with his jaxx quartet and in one man shows. All of those events are listed here: http://www.jayrayner.co.uk/live-shows/

 

Cecelia Ahern - Novelist

1. Are your characters any reflection on people you know or have met in real life? 

The quick answer is no. The longer answer is that I'm inspired by experience, observation and imagination, and so I observe and listen which means often phrases, expressions, stories and real life situations can help make up the elements of a fictional character. I have never taken a real person and placed them exactly as they are in a book: my characters are made up of millions of fragments of all people. 

 

2. If you could spend an hour chatting to any A-list celebrity, who would it be & why? 

Right now I'm addicted to 'Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee' and I find Jerry Seinfeld such an interesting intriguing person. I love his insights into the world and people. I like his observations and conversations with others, he seems easy but has a very keen and observant eye, I like how he discusses the psychology of comedians, and so it would be interesting to talk with him. 

I also adore Kate McKinnon, I think she's a master of comedy and would love to be in the same room as her. 

 

3. What kind of books do you read? And who are your favourite five authors? 

I read all kinds of contemporary fictional books - I'm not really drawn to non-fiction and I don't get excited about historical fiction, though of course there are exceptions. I like to read crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, literary fiction, commercial fiction, poetry, and particularly translated works of books from all around the world. 

It's impossible to list five favourite authors as I discover new books by authors all the time but my regular go-to crime/thriller authors are Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Tana French, Gillian Flynn. I adore Rupi Kaur. I love Aimee Bender's surreal stories. Everybody else I discover as I go along. I'm always discovering new authors. 

 

4. Where is your writing room/study and what is it like? 

My office is a ten minute walk from my home in Dublin. It is my quiet zone, my escape, the place where I can let my mind wander without disruption. It is functional as an office so has all the regular office things but it most importantly has a relaxed feel to it. It's not a corporate environment: I can light my favourite candles, can look at my art, and feel like it's a room in my home that encourages creative flow. 

 

5. At what age did you start writing & how long did it take you to be able to consider it a full-time career?

I started writing diaries at the age of ten years old and wrote them every day. It developed to song writing, poems, and at 14 years old I attempted my first book. I studied a degree in Journalism & Media Communications in college with the goal to work in Film & TV production, so it wasn't until I graduated at the age of 21 and I wrote my first novel 'P.S. I Love You', that I considered becoming a novelist. Up until then it had been my passion and hobby, but not an obvious career choice. Glad I took the chance. 

 

Check out Cecelia's website here:  https://www.cecelia-ahern.com/

Photo courtesy of Matthew Thompson

George Foreman - Boxing Legend & King of the Grill

1. You've had an amazing career, do you have any regrets? 

Having had nearly 30 years as a boxer, and then 20 years devoted to sales, I find the one regret I have is 'time lost without good manners.' Religion taught me respect and kindness for my fellow man. 

 

2. What are your fondest childhood memories?

At about 4 years (on my birthday) Mom bought me a new tricycle. To this day I can visualize that bike and the little basket on front. But most of all, I can remember the joy I felt. That day stays with me. 

 

3. Have you ever felt conflicted about being a pastor & boxing? 

When I made my mind up to box again, it was to 'for me' to turn back on what I had said about the sport, 'I can never hit anyone again' and sermons filled with this. But teaching young people later to box, I'd stop them daily as though they though terror was a must, and say 'Never a shot in anger, never throw a punch in anger'. In return I learn a new way to box. It ended my conflict with boxing, I never threw a punch in anger.

 

4. If your life story were to be made into a musical, which five songs would best describe you through the years?

1. Somewhere Over The Rainbow

2. America the Beautiful

3. All You Need Is Love

4. What A Wonderful World

5. He's Got the World in His Hand

 

5. Share an incident with us where you've acted without thinking. 

Once, what I thought was my 'pet lion' tried to attack my oldest brother, I'd never seen the animal act in this way. I was so afraid for my brother, I tried to attract the lion. I have never figured that one out, I acted without thinking to save him. 

Follow on Twitter: @GeorgeForeman

Photo courtesy of John Mannell

Reverend Kate Bottley - Priest, Journalist & Media Presenter

1. Where would you choose to go for a three-day break?

I guess it's a cliche but I've never been to New York. I'll pretend it's for the galleries and the culture but mostly it'd be for the food, a real New York Bagel would be amazing. 

 

2. Which celebrity do you think would make a good Prime Minister and why? 

My Dad has always said that anyone who wants to be Prime Minister probably shouldn't be, so I'd be looking for a quiet hero, someone with wisdom and gravitas but still in touch with reality, Judi Dench, Dawn French or Ian MacKellan. 

 

3. How did you meet your husband?

I first saw Graham at school, when my friend told me he was the vicar's son, I decided it was time to start going to church.

 

4. What is the oldest photograph in your family album? Tell us about it.

A photograph of my Nanan when she was 21 years old. She was born in 1914 and died aged 101, she couldn't read and write and never went to school. She was about 4 feet 11 inches tall and kept love birds and budgies. She used to give me 20p pocket money for 'spice' (Sheffield word for sweets) right up until I was in my 30's. 

 

5. Name five things that you always have in your kitchen cupboard.

Noodles, chilli sauce, bread flour and yeast (can that count as one?), mushy peas, porridge oats. 

Helen Lederer - Actress, Writer & Comedienne

Follow Helen on Twitter: @helenlederer

1. Name three things that are guaranteed to lift your mood.

1) Cheesecake with poppy seeds on top and a hint of vodka in the mix. The two together is a piquant mix of comfort and heaven.

2) Laughing uncontrollably at a misunderstanding which makes someone either fall over or go very red in the face, to me this is the stuff of life affirming realities and farce.

3) Being given a compliment that somehow I am able to accept because mostly I can't, which is quite rejecting for the compliment giver. 

2. Who has had the most influence on your career choices? 

My late father - because I always wanted to please him, and because he had very good ideas and humour, and because he died before I started being a stand-up - I hope he might be a bit pleased. The other influence is me - I can only blame myself. 

3. What's your worst cooking disaster?

Some raw salmon starter thing that tasted disgusting. I had to ditch in a hurry and replace with a half grapefruit and a cherry. 

4. What was the last book that you started but couldn't finish and why? 

'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway'. Had to stop because I was too scared. Lovely to have a handbook though. No need to read it all. Titles are sometimes enough.

5. What's in the boot of your car right this minute?

Bin liner. Coat hanger. Tennis racket. Carrier bag, empty. (True). 

Helen will be appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe from 3rd - 26th August

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/helen-lederer-i-might-as-well-say-it

You can also find Helen's new book here:

https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/helen-lederer/losing-it

 

Levi Roots - Musician, Chef & Entrepreneur

Image: Tony Pick Photography

1. If you could drive across America, who would you take as your passenger & why? 

I would take my 5-year-old son Christopher. He is such great company, constantly making me laugh, he's bright as a button too. He could soak up the atmosphere and we could discover the wonders of the U.S. together. Do all the touristy things. It would be a blast. 

2. Please share something with us that not many people know about you. 

I have just written the music for a wonderful play that I am helping sponsor called SANKARA. It is about the life of Thomas Sankara who was president of Burkina Faso during the 80's. A very interesting story. Although music has been an integral part of my life, this is my first time to write music for a play. I am hoping that this will eventually lead to writing the score for SANKARA the musical. 

3. Is the intrusion into your personal space worth the celebrity status?

I have been very blessed in my life. I have been given an opportunity that many people only get to dream about. People are always stopping me and giving me words of encouragement, they sing me the Reggae Reggae sauce song. How can I complain about being in the public eye when the public have always shown me such kindness. 

4. What would we find stuck on the outside of your fridge?

There is not a lot on the outside of my fridge, you will find the latest dinosaur picture drawn by Christopher. He is dinosaur mad. 

5. In your opinion, what will finally break the internet?

I'm not entirely sure the internet will ever break. In the last twenty years, it has become part of our daily routines. No more ploughing through encyclopaedias for the answers, you can have it at your fingertips in moments with the help of Google. I do find it sad though that people are seeming to have lost the art of communication. We live in a very fast paced world these days. 

Catch up with Levi's news at:

www.caribbeansmokehouse.com 

www.leviroots.com

 

Suzi Quatro - Rock Singer, Songwriter & Bass Guitarist

Photo courtesy of Lynda Buchanan

1. Where in the world is your happy place? 

Two places. One, the house I grew up in, in Grosse Pointe Woods, and my home in England since 1980. The house in Grosse Point is my heart & soul, I even considered buying it a few years back when I had the chance. It is the place where my life was perfect, but you can't get that back. My home in England, which was finished being built in 1590, is the house I always knew I would live in. It's an Elizabethan Manor House set in the countryside, peaceful and beautiful. I shall end my days in this home. 

2. How long does it take you to get ready for a concert/show? 

At least one and a half hours...setting up the dressing room, exactly as I like it, which means setting the little bit of make-up I use out on the table, with a comb and towel, hanging up my stage clothes, putting a wine glass in the fridge for my one glass of white wine after the show, then doing my vocal warm-up exercises, putting myself in the mood. Finally I get changed and I become Suzi Quatro. X

3. Do you collect anything? 

Sunglasses. I have over 750 pairs, mostly Ray Ban ranging from the 1930s up to the present day. I never wear the old ones, too valuable. It's fun to come down each day and pick a pair that matches my ensemble. And all my memorabilia....I have an ego room with everything in it on the third floor, from jumpsuits, bass guitars, CDs, videos, pictures, scrapbooks, tour booklets, stage passes, awards, everything from my career. It's my favourite room in the house. 

4. If you could solve just one mystery, what would it be? 

Who really shot John F. Kennedy. This has been a raging debate since it happened. I grew up ensconsed in debates over 'who did it'. I remember the teacher announcing in my music class that there would be no class and that we would sit there quietly & then the announcement came over the PA system. Will never forget that moment. 

5. What is the strangest thing that you've ever received from a fan? 

From a strange one, a letter written in her own blood. ...awful. She had emotional problems & decided that the only way to get my attention was to do something crazy. She once found her way to one of my homes, and proceeded to march in front of the house until I called the authorities. Poor girl, had a problem with reality. 

 

Suzi Quatro will be playing at the Jelling Music Festival in Denmark on Saturday 26th May. Find more tour dates at www.suziquatro.com or follow Suzi on Twitter @Suzi_Quatro

 

Johnny Ball - Television Presenter & Mathematician

www.johnnyball.co.uk

1. Tell us about your school days. 

I was born in Bristol in 1938 and loved Kingswood Primary School where I was always top or close to it and especially in Maths. Our teacher would give us eight year olds a sheet of 100 sums and say, “Do 10 and I’ll be happy.” While listening to BBC Radio I would rattle off all 100. I passed my Eleven Plus exam, but at the same time, my parents moved back to Bolton where they had come from. Luckily I found them and moved as well.

Before TV, an accent from 200 miles away was a foreign language and I didn’t seem to gel with the teachers. I won a maths and a chess prize in that first year in 2B. I then went via 3C, to 4D, lower 5E and finally 5E as they didn’t have a 5F. I left with 2 O’Levels but in Maths it appeared I had got 100%. I then said I want to be a writer. My teacher said, “You’ve just failed Eng Lang and Eng Lit, No Chance." I left at 16 and from then on had no trouble at all. 

 

2. What's your latest project? 

I published “Wonders Beyond Numbers” - a brief history of all things Mathematical” in October last through Bloomsbury. It sold to Russia, China and Japan instantly as my previous books also sell around the world. Number 1 Best Seller in Physical Maths, it has some ten 5 star reviews on Amazon. It took 4 years to write and is both a history of mathematics and also a summation of my career in promoting mathematics and science to anyone who will listen.

It is meant to be read by anyone - irrespective of their Maths love or ability. The Real Maths is often corralled in blocks to be tackle as you would a newspaper puzzle, while you can read the text without too much trouble with the maths. The tougher stuff is in the “Wow Factor Maths Index”, so called because the maths is usually more amazing than complex. Thales was the first Mathematician known by name, yet he saw that the Earth was round. He showed that if your eyes are say 6 ft (2 metres) above the water line at the seaside, the horizon is 3 miles away. To see twice as far, your need your eyes 4 times as high, to see 3 times as far, your eyes must be 9 times as high. This maths involves squares of numbers and is required to measure around curves.

But the Book contains many interesting things that don’t involve maths. Pythagoras may not even have actually lived! Rene Descartes lost his head, but only after he was dead. Columbus thought he had found the Indies sailing West but he was actually half a world away from where he thought he was. Isaac Newton, known as Britain’s greatest ever Genius, discovered Gravity and the way the Universe works, by reading just two books! Surely any one of us could read two books. So anyone might be capable of becoming a genius – even you.

 

3. Do you have any interesting hobbies? 

I am a happy man with a saw in my hand and love the smell of sawdust. I designed and doubled the size of my house. I fitted my office at 1/3rd the price of Sunday supplement providers. I have designed and built three Gazebo’s - a five legged one, a three legged one and half a six sided one that fits half way around a huge Blue Spruce Tree. I also built my grandchildren a tropical style house on stilts with a veranda and Front saloon type door, a back door with drawbridge steps and a trap door and escape hatch.

 

4. How did you first get into a career in television? 

I was a professional comedian from 1964 to 1976 and was very successful in clubs and cabaret venues, but never made it on TV - until I was asked to do Playschool. I wanted to refuse but after trying it, loved the integrity of the programmes they produced. So I stayed for 16 years. I began writing comedy for Les Dawson’s shows, for Playaway and Star Turn and wrote for Magnus Pyke and others. When they asked what I would do for my own series, I said Maths and Think of a Number was born. In all I wrote 20 series of factual information shows, wining many awards. I then left TV to work for many corporate companies helping with their educational packages, and I wrote five Educational Stage Musicals which played to huge audiences over 10 years. My show in the Millennium Dome in 2000, sold out for the entire year. Today I am trying to convince people that “Wonders Beyond Numbers” would make a whole pile of Adult programmes on Maths and Science. The audiences who see my Maths Book presentation seem to agree with me. Wish me luck.

 

5. Tea or coffee, and how many cups do you drink each day? 

I hardly ever drink coffee. I like tea in the morning and about 4 times a day, but also Bovril especially before going to bed. But I also drink, if I remember, copious amounts of Tap Water - not bottle or fizzy or adulterated in any way. People seem to forget that the Water Companies have much more stringent rules on the water they produce than those who sell it in bottles with fancy names. We hardly ever buy a plastic bottle -as we could see the problems from the very beginning. The bottled water industry is a modern disgrace and plastic waste is far more dangerous than climate change. Sorry, but there it is. Thanks for reading my thoughts.

Johnny's latest book can be found at:

www.amazon.co.uk/Wonders-Beyond-Numbers-History-Mathematical 

 

Santa Montefiore - Best-Selling Novelist

Follow Santa on Twitter @SantaMontefiore

1. What is your preferred breakfast?

I start with hot lemon & water. I always make a juice, typically avocado, kale, spinach, apple & pineapple, with Elle MacPherson's Super Elexir powder, which I'm hoping will endow me with eternal youth! Then I'll make a gluten-free muesli from Yeotown - adding all sorts of seeds & berries, which I buy from my local Whole Foods Market. I'm very healthy in the morning - it's usually downhill from about 3pm!

2. When you were a little girl, what was the career that you dreamed of?

I never dreamed of a career. My dreams were about rabbits and hedgehogs, which I then wrote as stories - very much along the lines of the books I was reading, like Winnie-the-Pooh and Little Grey Rabbit.  I wanted to be a singer/songwriter as I played the piano & composed songs. But I didn't yearn for a job of any kind. I didn't consider writing, work - or singing for that matter.

3. Tell us something that you're very proud to have achieved. 

The obvious is having children. It's a cliche but I'm proud to have brought two lovely children into the world. I'm proud of the 18 novels I have written and the 2 children's books I've written with my husband. I've worked hard over the last twenty years and I'm really proud of it. 

4. How old were you when you began your current career & how did it happen?

I was 31 when my first novel was published. I sent my manuscript out to agents, three rejected me and the fourth accepted me. She then sent it to publishers and Hodder & Stoughton won the day. I left my job at Ralph Lauren and became a full-time writer. I've never looked back. I'm nearly 48 now & I've written a book every year for almost 19 years. I sometimes step back and wonder how on earth I got here! It's gone so fast!

5. Can you dance and, if so, which style do you like the most?

I can dance. I'm musical so I can pick up dances quite easily. I love Rock & Roll, Reeling is fun - I learned the Tango in Buenos Aires (although I've forgotten it now) and I can waltz. If I could learn to do any dance really well, I'd relearn the Tango. It's stunning!

Santa's latest book 'The Temptation of Gracie' will be published by Simon & Schuster in July. 'The Last Secret of the Deverills' is out now in hardback & will be published in paperback in April. 

 

Alan Titchmarsh - Gardening Presenter & Novelist

The Nation's Favourite Gardener

1. What are your Christmas duties around the home?

Making sure that everyone is happy, keeping glasses topped up and looking after a) the Christmas tree, b) the Christmas house plants c) generally fetching & carrying. I have a wife who is a wonderful cook & so I am happy to act as 'Lord High Everything Else.'

2. Do you have a favourite sport or team that you support?

My wife supports Southampton (our nearest football team) and I have found it politic to fall in line, though when they do badly I often threaten to switch my allegiance to Bournemouth which is not that much farther away.

3. If you were going to play a pantomime character, who would it be and why?

Abanazar in Aladdin - a chance to be a nasty piece of work and sneer & snarl. What fun!

4. Where will you be going on holiday next summer?

We have a house on the Isle of Wight and plan to spend even more time there. We love it - and the people. 

5. Have you ever broken a bone? Tell us what happened. 

I broke my leg in two places tripping over someone in the school playground when I was eight years old. I had a pretty good run then until I was in my late thirties, when I fell out of a tree (my children tell me it was a bush) while I was being filmed in Alice Springs, Australia. I broke my fibula. The irony is that I was being filmed with an Aborigine lady who was teaching me about 'bush cures.' She appeared to be at a loss as to which bush medicine could cure a broken leg. At least it got me to travel home first class with my leg up on a cushion. 

 

Lady Colin Campbell - Royal Biographer & Socialite

Photo courtesy of David Chambers

1. Do you have one personal possesion that you carry everywhere with you?

The only things I always take with me are pictures of my children. I have little snapshots of them at various ages, and enjoy looking at them or showing people how cute they were. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart like my kids. 

2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I am very lucky, because, if I could live anywhere in the world, it would still be at Castle Goring in West Sussex. The castle itself is magical, the setting picturesque. It's very accessible and near to town, five minutes from the supermarket, but also located on a working estate, so when you're in it, looking out, you see bucolic fields full of sheep and wonderful old oak trees. Yet there is a petrol station half a mile away, and a charming pub even closer by.

The architect who designed Castle Goring, John Biaggio Rebecca, really understood light, with the result that even the rooms on the north side are always bright, even on a dull day. This helps to give it a very cheerful atmosphere, a theme which the design of the place itself carries through architecturally. It was built as the ancestral home of the great Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley by his grandparents, Sir Bysshe and Lady Shelley, who can't have agreed on what they wanted, with the result that the north facade is castellated Gothic and the south is Greco-Roman Classical. Yet all the details declaim celebration of life, from the enfilade of three state rooms on the first floor to the Coade stone statues of Pan, Bacchus and Ceres looking down on celebrants on the south lawn.

The place itself is the perfect size - not too big, which would make it difficult to manage, but spacious and gracious and full of the most wonderful plasterwork, which adds such tone to the interior. The castle itself is called the most perfect example of its type by Historic England, but what I love about it isn't only the architectural features but the way it is set in its own park, surrounded by the most beautiful fields and woodland. And, as my city dwelling friends never cease to comment upon, the air is so clear. Possibly this is because we're relatively near the sea, so the ozone that drifts our way may add to the calm and good cheer which seems the place embodies. 

3. What is the most disgusting thing that you've ever eaten?

I would have to say that the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten is the anus I consumed on the eating challenge in 'I'm A Celebrity 2015'. One didn't make a big deal out of it, for it is so tiresome to be hysterical about such petty things, but it's not an experience I'm eager to repeat, let's put it that way. 

4. If you were stranded on a raft in the ocean, who would you most like to be there with you?

I would choose to have my two boys with me, because I love them and am always happy to see them. Also, they are practical, down-to-earth, and strong, and with them, my chances of survival would be increased. Then, if we didn't make it, at least we'd all be together.

5. Please give your top three tips for success. 

1) Never forget that we are eternal beings and that what we do today, won't only affect us tomorrow, but for all eternity. If you're a good and kind and decent person, you've won the largest of life's battles, so even if you lose out in the short term, in the long run, you're still a winner. I'm a firm believer that the most important thing in life is to be a good person: a goal that is readily realisable for each of us.

2) Don't follow the herd. You're not cattle or sheep. Follow your inner compass, and make sure it's set positively. Remember, everything in life has forseen and unforseen consequences. No matter what happens, you always have to deal with the unexpected, so you may as well be courageous. That doesn't mean that you won't have fear (which can be healthy in certain situations) but it does mean you shouldn't opt out of your responsibilities to yourself, to others, and to your God. Don't be a coward. Cowardice is as much a choice as courageousness and, in its own way, is an equally hard (maybe even harder) road to travel. Cowardice also has a downside as well as an upside. But the one thing cowards never enjoy is self-respect. And I don't think a life is worth living without self-respect. 

3) Do transcendental meditation. It is the most wonderful relaxation technique and medical science has begun to realise the tremendous benefits it has to its practitioners in terms of mental, spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. I don't think I could have got through my life if my brother had not introduced me to it over forty years ago. I am sure life would have crushed me entirely. 

Lady Campbell is presently working on a book about, and entitled, 'The Queen's Marriage.'

 

 

Theo Paphitis - Entrepreneur & Dragon's Den Judge

Chairman of the Theo Paphitis Retail Group - Follow on Twitter @theopaphitis

1. If a teacher from your schooldays were to describe you aged 15, what would they say? 

All but a very few would have said my career options were limited, due to lack of intellect. Luckily for me, a couple of teachers thought otherwise and encouraged me to start a school tuck shop. The rest is history. 

2. Would you consider joining 'Bear Grylls' Island', and why? 

You're not going to see me on the dance floor, ice rink or in the jungle anytime soon, and although I admire Bear Grylls, I don't think I'll be setting off on to his island, especially after seeing what they went through last series! 

3. How many pets do you have & what are they? 

I have a beautiful cocker spaniel called Gladys, who is a constant fixture in our London office, and gets spoilt rotten by everyone there. She even has her own pass to get in and out of the doors. She's a cracking dog. 

4. Name three things that you couldn't live without. 

Apart from my family, which goes without saying, I would go down a very boring route and give Apple a plug and say my Apple watch, my iPhone and my iPad Pro. Owning a lot of businesses means I have to keep my finger on the pulse 24 hours a day, and this tech helps me do that. 

5. I'm coming over for dinner, what will you cook? 

I love food...I eat nothing else. But, I would think of my guests and I suspect Mrs.P would be the chef. I'm not allowed in her kitchen, and she cooks some beautiful food. Perhaps we could have some Mediterranean food; stuffed peppers, tomatoes with some Greek salad, yoghurt and tahini...and lots of it.

P.S. I once burnt water! 

 

Frank Bruno - Former World Boxing Champion

Frank's autobiography 'Let Me Be Frank' is now available from www.frankbruno.co.uk

1. Can you tell us about the highlight of your career? 

Winning the World Championship in 1995. It was a dream from when I was a boy and watched Muhammad Ali win his fights. I said "I want to be World Champion." My brother even put a note on the fridge 'Frank Bruno World Champion Boxer' & we were both young kids. 

2. When going out for dinner would you choose a starter, a pudding, or both, and why? 

I love good healthy food. I would rather have two main courses than a pudding & it depends on what's on offer. I always ask for a salad with my main course & ask for a garlic sauce or garlic on the side. 

3. Do you have an all-time favourite film? 

The Colour Purple. 

4. Put your head out of the window, what can you see? 

Cloudy sky, a few birds flying in groups but a peaceful place. Especially this weekend (Remembrance weekend) I think of how terrible it must have been for the families near cities in the war, seeing all the planes coming over to drop bombs, then also our RAF lads trying to chase them away. 

5. What's the most romantic thing you've ever done? 

I am not a romantic, I am sorry to say. I try to be thoughtful and kind every day & flower shops have always done well out of me!! 

 

Toyah Willcox - Singer & Actress

Approaching her 60th year, Toyah is stunning.

1. What item of clothing in your wardrobe do you wear the most? 

In recent years I have forced myself to stop wearing black. Colour in clothing for me represents health/vitality & connection to others. Also being quite a faddy dresser as I approach my 60th year I swing between wanting to be individual & simply wanting to be stylish. My fave dress presently is a Hobbs knitted blue/yellow/black dress, which is fun/stylish & practical. I never wear heels.....Hell on Earth. 

2. If you could eat at any restaurant or location in the world, where would you go? 

I have never had the time available to book to eat at the 'Fat Duck', Heston Blumenthal's restaurant in Bray. Firstly you have to book a year ahead....I can't do that, my diary is full 364 days of the year & secondly I never know which country I will be in from month to month. One of my most fave eating experiences was in Israel in 1999. I was filming with the BBC & we were walking along a beach near Netanya when we came across a beach hut. It was the home of a wonderfully Bohemian man who cooked us the fish he had caught that day. Afterwards we retired back to the beach & danced in the moonlight for hours, just the crew, myself & the cook! 

3. Do you have a stance on Brexit, for or against, and why? 

I am a remainer who also has the belief we now need to make Brexit work because Europe is never going to forgive us. I travel in Europe twice a month, it is going to be Hell once we leave. Travel will be a pain. Already passport control in France & Spain takes twice as long to clear. Europeans are cross with us & are beginning to use Brexit as a way of justifying their dislike for us. Likewise, when Brexit was voted in, in the UK, people seemed to feel a right to be hostile to incomers. I firmly believe we need to secure our borders. Terrorism is part of the present & future now, but if we were given the chance to vote again I believe we would have a huge majority wishing to remain. 

I believe Britain is great & we can survive, but we need to become agriculturally driven again, we need our shipyards back & we must support the space programme. If Britain can have the first space hub then we are laughing. 

4. Can you pat your head & rub your stomach at the same time? 

Yes, of course. Part of keeping mind & body active & healthy is making sure you can do this. If you can't, practicing is just as good, it is the stimulation that counts. 

5. Tell us about your last dream. 

I wish I could go to sleep. I just don't fall asleep like normal people do. Sleep for me is very stressful because it is assumed everyone can sleep from 10pm till 7am. I only sleep from 7am till 10am....most days I am booked to work these hours. So as for dreaming.....I have no memory of these. 

Paul Sinha - Comedian & I. T. V. 'Chaser'

Paul is currently on tour & details can be found at www.paulsinha.com   &  Twitter: @paulsinha

1. What's your favourite winter comfort food? 

It's a Bengal dish, mastered by both my parents, of boiled egg, potatoes & rice mixed up with life threatening levels of ghee. It doesn't sound like much, but it is utterly divine. 

2. Tell us about your worst holiday. 

Christmas 2011 was spent with the family on an utterly misjudged drive through some of the most dangerous terrain of the Himalayas. The point where one of our vehicle's wheels was hanging off a cliff was the moment I most wanted to be in London binging on turkey & parsnips. 

3. Have you ever cheated at anything? 

I once used the word 'fingered' on stage for no other reason than I knew it would get a laugh. Sometimes writing actual jokes is just too much like hard work. 

4. When you were a teenager, who's pictures did you have on your bedroom wall? 

Sade, Kenny Dalglish, Kate Bush. I have no explanations that make any real sense. 

5. Do you believe in ghosts? 

My attitude towards ghosts is the same as my attitude towards straight male air stewards. I have seen no evidence that they exist, but I wouldn't be that shocked to be proved wrong. 

Edwina Currie  - Politician, Broadcaster & Writer

Follow on Twitter : @Edwina_Currie

1. Can you share an embarrassing moment? 

When I was government Health Minister, accompanying the Queen as she opened a new ward block at the Royal Winchester Hospital. Somewhere on the third floor, as I was chatting to patients, I realised she'd gone. "She went that way," someone said helpfully. So I ran down the corridor into the lobby, to find HM with a gloved finger on the lift button holding the door open. As I squeaked in gasping apologies, she lifted her finger, the doors closed, and we glided down. She said not a word but her eyes were twinkling...

2. Do you have a current favourite T.V. programme? 

Inspector Montalbano, BBC 4. Set in Sicily in some beautiful locations. We've been there, just to see, and found many other fans doing exactly the same. 

3. What five items do you always keep in your handbag? 

Cash, debit and credit cards, lipstick, tissues, hairbrush. My phone is usually in a pocket somewhere so I can feel it vibrate when on silent. I usually have specs, but you said always, and I've been known to leave home without them. 

4. If you could be anyone from history, who would you like to be and why? 

Queen Elizabeth I had a fascinating life, and she knew Shakespeare well. Must have been a remarkable time to be alive. 

5. Any words of wisdom for a young person considering a career in politics? 

(a) Get the best education you can- aim high not only in your exams, but stuff outside school or college too. Take Saturday jobs, go live and work in another country for a while (you learn nothing as a tourist, but loads as a barista or hotel chambermaid). (b) Read as widely as you can especially auto/biographies of people you regard as rols models - figure out what they thought, their principles and ideas, and how they succeeded. For example, although there were fewer than two dozen women in parliament when I started, and hardly any with young children, I knew that it was possible because Margaret Thatcher had already done it. If they are still around contact them and ask for advice, they may be happy to share. (c) That said, develop your own ideas, the skills to express them, the courage to speak out, and the wisdom to know when to keep quiet. All that takes practice. So (d) join a political party, whichever you feel closest to, and get stuck in. And good luck! 

 

Gary Shail - Actor, Director & Musician

Gary's autobiography 'I Think I'm on the Guest List' is out now.

1. What has been the most fun project you've ever worked on? 

A: Even though I'm slightly known as an actor, I have also worked for many years as a professional musician. In the early 90s & right through the following decade I ran a jingle music writing company in London's Soho. During that time I wrote music for radio & TV commercials selling everything from fish fingers to vodka. Every day was the best fun imaginable. But if I had to pick just one instance, I'd have to say it was for a TV campaign in the Middle East. It was for an insurance company and the film that I had to work on featured a shepherd tending a flock of four sheep. Once the actual music had been recorded & approved by the client, I realised that we still had two more hours on the clock. I left the studio to talk to my partner who said to stall the client somehow as if we finished the session at this point we'd be losing a lot of money. I went back into the studio, ran the film again, and with a completely straight face said that I thought the sheep should be heard over the music. I then spent two hours at a microphone saying 'Baaaaaa, Baaa' in different registers to give each sheep it's own personality. My engineer nearly had a hernia trying not to laugh for two solid hours! That was fun! 

2. If I gave you £1,000 to donate to a charity, where would it go & why? 

A: I'm not big on 'organised charities' so if you gave me £1,000 to donate, then I'd probably give it to a local children's hospice as they are always so underfunded. Sometimes something as little as that amount of money can make such a difference. 

3. What was the last album or CD that you bought? 

A: The last CD I actually bought was the complete Steely Dan Collection. I have all the albums on vinyl, but it's nice to just put this CD in my bag in case someone needs an education on how proper musicians sound! 

4. Have you ever done something really brave? 

A: I think the line between bravery & stupidity is a fine one, to be honest. I once saw a terrified dog stuck in the middle of a busy motorway. Cars were skidding to avoid the poor little thing & people were standing around not knowing what to do. I waited until I thought I'd have a reasonable chance of success & went and got him. The dog looked at me like I was mad! 

5. Do you sing in the shower or bath? 

A: Only in hotels! 

 

 

Peter James  - International Best-Selling Crime Author

Over 18 million copies sold in 37 languages.

1. Can you share what you're working on right now? 

A: I'm working on my 14th Roy Grace novel which will be out in May 2018. I'm also editing a standalone, Absolute Proof, which I have been researching since 1993! It is a thriller set around the question of what would happen if someone credible claimed to have absolute proof of God's existence, and will be published October 4th 2018. 

2. If you had a chance to meet Donald Trump, what would you say to him? 

A: I would ask him if he genuinely did not believe in global warming or whether it was his 'press release' for political purposes. And I would ask him which he considered more important, his being elected or the future of our planet and the human species. 

3. Do you have any fears or phobias? 

A: Yes - I'm very claustrophobic- being shut in a coffin for 30 mins during my research for 'Dead Simple' was one of the worst 30 mins of my life! I'm also, like Roy Grace, scared of heights! 

4. What was the last book that you read? 

A: I've just read Joel Dicker's 'The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair'. Wonderful with so many twists and turns. 

5. If I looked in your fridge, what would I find? 

A: You would find a lot of bottles of white Burgundy and rose wines! Plain Greek yoghurt. Almond milk. Lots of packs of Maltesers and peanut M&Ms. A huge amount of carrots for our alpacas. Grapes and blueberries for the emus. And for us too, as well as tons of apples, for us and the alpacas. And sweetcorn for the hens.