Tell us about yourself:
How old are you?
I am 56. I was born in Gateshead ( you know where the Angel of the North is) and now live in London with my wife, Xuelin who is a British Chinese businesswoman. I have two grown up sons; Matt who lives in the USA, Alex who lives in Brazil, a step-son, Harry who is a student and a grandson, Matthew aged 7 who is just cute with another grandchild on the way.
You are a Conservative Party politician?
Yes, I know we don’t get a good press but I have been involved in politics since 1979 and it’s too late to change now. I also see more closely than others perhaps the work which politicians of all parties do week in week out selflessly seeking to help their constituents and serving their communities so I am proud of our profession which most of us think of as a calling.
I have ticked many of the boxes: I have been an MP, a Minister, a Shadow Minister, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, a Deputy Speaker and a Deputy Chairman of the House of Lords and am now a Government Minister again serving as Minister of State at the Department for International Development–an area which I am passionate about.
When I was young I used to want to ‘be’ something—an MP, a minister etc. but as I get older I realise that the greater responsibility is not ‘to be’ but ‘to do’. This is why I walk.
How come you are able to undertake a walk for 45 days?
The House of Lords rises for its summer recess on 20 July and returns on 5 September. I know it is a long time and that’s why Xuelin and I want put it to good use.
What are your interests away from Parliament?
I love going to the movies, especially sentimental ones (Notting Hill, Sleepless in Seattle and Contact are my all-time favourites, La La Land was my top pic of the past year) and watching football (Newcastle United–back in the Premier League). My favourite sound is birdsong. I love the coastline. I can stare at the night sky for ever trying to figure out the various constellations. I love reading books but only non-fiction which excludes most political biographies (joke-sort of). My favourite food is anything cooked by Xuelin but particualrly crispy duck and Chinese sichuan dishes. At home in the UK my favourite eating place is Nandos. Diet Coke, Starbucks Coffee, cheese & marmite toasties and Argentinian Malbec complete my rigorous healthy living diet.
Do you like walking?
Not really, I just like being useful and like many people when I see and read of war and suffering I feel utterly use-less. I think that some people think I am a kind of outdoors fanatic but really I am more Beer & Grills than Bear Grylls and enjoy putting my feet up indoors and enjoying a movie or a match on the tv with a glass of Malbec and Xuelin of course.
What drives you?
A desire to make a small difference for the better whilst I can. An abhorance of war and violence as a means of resolving disputes. A belief in the law and democratic politics as a means of determining those laws. A belief in diplomacy and the potential of the UN. A belief that all people, cultures and religions are ultimately the same, deserve the same respect and have the same rights and responsibilities. If I was a better politician I might be able to get some of these ideals into policy. If I had the skills of a diplomat I would seek to resolve disputes between nations and peoples. If I was a writer I would expound them in a book. If I was a poet I would express these thoughts in a poem. If I was a musician I would seek to communicate this in song. If I was an artist I would make a painting. I am none of these, so I walk…