Chester’s former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth was in mischievous mood during a fleeting visit to the city where he appeared to poke fun at just about everyone, including himself.
Gyles suggested meeting up because he is promoting a revised edition of his Westminster diaries, Breaking the Code, about his time as an MP and his insider’s view of the whips’ office.
Now updated, it includes the 10 years after he was booted out by the electorate in 1997 which saw him return to the world of journalism, acting and entertainment.
It’s always difficult to know when Gyles is being serious and when he is joking around because he delivers many lines with an earnest tone but with a glint in his eye.
Asked over breakfast at Chester’s Queen Hotel whether he knew his Conservative successor, city MP Stephen Mosley, he replied: “Is he the agent? Oh, he’s the new MP. I thought the new MP was related to the Timpson family?”
The previous evening Gyles had been guest speaker at a power generation conference in the hotel and hands me a brochure similar to one of those obscure trade publications featured on Have I Got News for You on which he is a regular panellist.
He quickly highlights the fact that a wedding had also been taking place at the hotel, an approved venue, allowable thanks to his private members’ bill which became the 1994 Marriage Act – an achievement that fills him with pride.
In an apparent swipe at his immediate successor, Labour’s Christine Russell, who beat him in the 1997 election, he said with a grin: “I’m sure every member of parliament for the city of Chester would like to have a piece of legislation after their name – I’m not sure what my successor’s legislation is.”
Gyles admits that for him becoming an MP was “the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition”.
Taking the mickey out of himself, he said: “I joined the chamber of the House of Commons because I like the sound of my own voice and I was very active in the chamber, which I think you should be as a member of parliament.”
He added: “A lot of MPs who have come up through the local council route find it very difficult to adjust to, because their focus has always been their local council and they continue, in a way, to operate as though they are councillors, focusing on local issues, whereas, actually, you have been elected to represent where you come from in parliament.”
But Gyles found the experience of being an MP quite frustrating, so much so that when he appeared on BBC’s Room 101 he put the electorate into the box.
He originally rose to prominence because of those colourful jumpers on the TV-AM breakfast show 30 years ago. And he seems almost relieved to be a free spirit again within the world of entertainment.
When I meet him he has just received a text asking if he will appear that lunchtime on the Daily Politics to talk about David Cameron’s gaffe in which he was apparently overheard saying the Queen “purred” on hearing Scots had voted against independence. Revealing his chameleon like character, his afternoon appointment is a speech writing session for, guess who? One David Cameron, of course, at number 10 Downing Street, for the PM’s big speech at his party conference next week.
These days Gyles is probably best known for his slots on the One Show, Countdown and Radio 4’s Just a Minute.
“The One Show I love because it’s actually quite intelligent. I’m sent as a reporter to some really interesting places – to cover all sorts of stories often with a history or heritage or arts base, so I love that,” said Gyles, who is fan of presenters Alex Jones and Matt Baker.
“What I love about both Alex and Matt is they are as nice as they seem to be but they are also very bright.”
A prolific writer, Gyles’ other book Novelty Knits is out for Christmas, featuring 35 of those ‘fun’ jumpers that became his trade-mark, with celebrities like Joanna Lumley and Hugh Bonneville modelling them. And last year he wrote The 7 Secrets of Happiness, a project he worked on with the late Dr Anthony Clare, the eminent popular radio psychiatrist.
“This is a book that shows you how to be happy. This is a book that doesn’t just enhance your life, it extends your life because happy people live seven-and-a-half to 10 years longer than unhappy people.”
Has he got it cracked himself?
“I think I am (happy) and why shouldn’t I be? I’m so blessed. I’ve got everything. I’ve got a wife who is still speaking to me after 45 years, I have three children, obviously they have a financial interest in me, I have six grandchildren, everything you could possibly want. I have even been the member of parliament for the city of Chester, who could ask for anything more.”Former Chester MP Gyles Brandreth says he was abused in his updated book