Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Q&A
15 May 2017

Rory Stewart Q&A: “I’ve always wanted a full-size, fully functioning Batmobile“

The MP and former diplomat talks ancient kingdoms, Italian painters and watching The Wire.

By Rory Stewart

What’s your earliest memory?

Trying to shuffle on skis when I was three or four, behind my father down the thin snow of a flat London street.

Who is your hero?

My father, who spent three hours playing with me every morning before school: he specialised in fencing in the park and later, when we moved to Malaysia, in building rafts in the jungle. And Indiana Jones. I am still in awe of archaeologists.

What was the last book you read that made you envy the writer?

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis – for his learning, the precision of his grammar and his historical imagination. I find it impossible to imagine ever being able to think with such subtlety and care.

Which politician, past or present, do you look up to?

I admire the speeches of John Lawrence, who returned to parliament from India and whose pragmatism, decades in the field, knowledge and eloquence enabled him to demolish the foreign policy of the day.

What would be your Mastermind special subject?

I’m terrible at general knowledge but, if I were forced, I’d choose the vanished Middleland of Britain – the kingdoms of Cumbria and Northumbria, which were crushed out of existence by the new states of England and Scotland. Or anything on the history of the English-Scottish border.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?

Macedonia in 334BC – Aristotle, horses and an opportunity to canter towards Afghanistan.

What TV show could you not live without?

The Wire, as a portrait of human nature and practical politics. And, come to think of it, as entertainment.

Who would paint your portrait?

When I was 18, I would have gone for Pompeo Batoni, the Italian swagger painter. Now I’d go for Paul Benney. He painted a picture of my father aged 92, which I loved and my father didn’t like, on the grounds that it made him “look like an old man”.

What’s your theme tune?

“The Barren Rocks of Aden”, the first tune I learned on the bagpipes, linking the Middle East to the rocks of the Highlands.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

To set up a vocational training programme in carpentry when I was working in Iraq. I did it reluctantly, feeling that it was the last thing anyone needed with bullets flying around. But I found it was the only programme that genuinely caught the imagination of the local community.

What’s currently bugging you?

Rewilding. Rural broadband. The impossibility of fitting two prams in the hall.

What single thing would make your life better?

I have always wanted a full-size, fully functioning Batmobile. And I’d also like more time to play with my two-year-old.

When were you happiest?

Running a charity in Afghanistan in 2007: living in Kabul, building an organisation, being around Afghans and working with extraordinary volunteers.

Are we all doomed?

Not doomed, perhaps, but fate does iron wedges drive and always crowds itself betwixt. 

“Occupational Hazards”, based on Rory Stewart’s memoir, is at the Hampstead Theatre, London NW3, until 3 June. hampsteadtheatre.com

This article appears in the 10 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why the Tories keep winning