Nick Clegg Q&A: “I loved the idea of living like Stig of the Dump”

The Liberal Democrat politician and former deputy prime minister talks Emmanuel Macron, Prince and Brexit.

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What’s your earliest memory?
The turquoise colour of my mum’s dressing gown. At least I assume it was a dressing gown; it was almost exactly 50 years ago.

Who is your hero?
Emmanuel Macron, for saving us from an unimaginably bad fate in Europe. My childhood hero was Stig of the Dump. I got it into my head that I wanted to live not quite like a latter-day caveman, but I loved the idea of living outside – in a dump.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan is the only book I have found so uncomfortable to read that I had to put it down. It made me think hard about the nature of violence and human suffering – but also human generosity.

What politician, past or present, do you look up to?
Jo Grimond has always loomed large in my own perception of British Liberalism. He seems a sort of Romantic figure, who kept British Liberalism alive through some pretty fallow years. And he did so with great dignity and great intellectual panache.

What would be your Mastermind special subject?
The music, life and times of Prince. He promoted such an original and subversive character in modern music. I saw him in concert when he was last in London and he didn’t appear to have aged at all in the quarter-century since I’d last seen him. So it came as an even bigger shock that someone so ageless should suddenly die.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?
The 1950s: after great catastrophe, societies have the ability to think in a way that isn’t the case in normal times. Europe’s leaders now wouldn’t have the breadth of vision to do what the founding fathers (and they were largely fathers, I’m afraid) of European integration did in the 1950s. At the moment it’s just a generation of pygmies compared to the big dreamers then.

What’s your theme tune?
“The Battle”, from the film Gladiator. In an election campaign you have to clip on your armour, pick up your weapons, and deal with the slings and arrows hurled in your direction.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My mum always taught me to treat everybody, no matter how low they are in the pecking order, kindly and with respect. I no doubt fail to do that in Westminster all the time, but I try.

What single thing would make your life better?
No Brexit. I regard the Brexit vote as a grotesque act of generational theft, telling youngsters they can’t have the future that they themselves have said they want. What mature democracy does that?

If you weren’t a politician what would you be?
David Attenborough. Even if I could make his tea while he explores the world’s natural wonders, that would be something.

When were you happiest?
I’m probably at my happiest in the summer when, with the three boys, Miriam and I go up to the mountains in the north of Spain. You can jump into river pools, with golden eagles wheeling overhead and fish almost within arm’s length.

Are we all doomed?
It depends on what we do on 8 June. I now worry about the future in a way that I’ve never worried before. Some pretty ugly currents have been awakened in politics and we’ve got to relearn the virtues of moderation.

Nick Clegg’s “Politics: Between the Extremes” is published in paperback by Vintage

Nick Clegg is leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Sheffield Hallam. Clegg initially trained as a journalist before working as a development and trade expert in the EU. He was elected as MEP for the East Midlands in 1999, stood down in 2004, lectured at Sheffield and Cambridge universities, and was elected to the UK parliament in 2005.