Jeffrey Archer Q&A: “I still run now, very slowly”

The author and former politician on Edmund Hillary, The West Wing and working for Margaret Thatcher.

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Jeffrey Archer was born in London in 1940. Known for his political career, he was deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. He has also written 36 books and plays, including the “Prison Diaries”, which record the two years he spent in prison for perjury.

What’s your earliest memory?
When I was nine or ten, the circus came to Weston-super-Mare and I bumped my head on a dodgem. I still have the scar 70 years later. 

Who are your heroes?
Sir Edmund Hillary, who conquered Everest when I was a child. I also admire Thomas Jefferson, who I think was a total polymath. 

What book last changed your thinking?
Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity. I didn’t read it until I was over 60. I have now read every single word of his and I think he is the most gifted writer that I’ve ever read. 

Which political figure do you look up to?
Clearly, having worked for 11 years for Margaret Thatcher, and seeing the terrible trouble we’re in at the moment, I wish she was around right now to be prime minister. 

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?
Somerset County Cricket Club. I’ve been a fan since I was five and it’s a lifelong dream that they will one day win the County Championship.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?
I’d like to live in one hundred years’ time, to see what has changed. In a hundred years we’ve gone from the penny-farthing to conquering the moon. What are we going to conquer next?

What TV show could you not live without?
The West Wing. I think it’s the best television series I have ever seen. I’ve watched it three times now. 

Who would paint your portrait?
Brian Morgan, who’s already painted my wife, or Sacha Newley. I love that their work is realistic. They get it; they get you. 

What’s your theme tune?
It’s a tricky one, but probably “Chariots of Fire” because of my love of running. I first heard it in the film, and I’ve loved it ever since. I was a 100m runner myself, at a low level. I still run now, very slowly. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
There’s no substitute for energy, meaning there’s no substitute for hard work. The headmaster of my school said that and I’ve ground away at it. 

What’s currently bugging you?
People saying that we can solve the Brexit problem by 31 October, when I think it’s insoluble and irresponsible to say it can be solved by that time. 

What single thing would make your life better?
It would have been good if our Lord had taken us to 60, and then sent us back to nought. I am not enjoying growing old. 

When were you happiest?
When I’m writing is when I’m most content, though I do love watching cricket. Writing just gets better all the time. I’m a storyteller and that’s very lucky.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?
Prime minister. I think it is the most exciting job. Or captain of the England cricket team – that’s what most Englishmen want to be. 

Are we all doomed?
No! I am not a pessimist. I am an optimist. I want to get things done.

“Nothing Ventured” by Jeffrey Archer is published by Macmillan

This article appears in the 06 September 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The new civil war