My Lessons from life: Gyles Brandreth

My Lessons from life: Gyles Brandreth

Ahead of a new one-man show, broadcaster, writer and ex-MP Gyles Brandreth talks about keeping diaries, the secret to happiness and starry encounters.

Sit in the front row of life

At school a teacher once told me to sit in the front row of a theatre, saying you’re only here once so be as close to the actor as you can. Since then I’ve always sat in the front row even in church. In the cinema I can stretch my feet out, there’s no big head in front of me and it’s wonderful.

The magic of theatre is mesmerising

One of my favourite shows I did was with Celia Johnson. On stage she was magic but in her dressing room she was so normal, playing cards or sitting doing The Times crossword. My interest in the world of live theatre first started when my parents took me to see all sorts of famous people including Marlene Dietrich who I once helped get down from the top of a Rolls Royce where she was handing out autographs after the show.

You can do anything you put your mind to

When I lost my seat as an MP my wife said to me ‘you’re free to do anything you want now’. I thought I’d like to be in a musical. I couldn’t decide which, so I put on 100 musicals in 100 minutes at the Edinburgh Fringe in a show called Zipp! That experience made me realise that most people can do most things.

A diary helps you appreciate life

I’ve been writing a diary since 1959. I’ve led a very lucky life in that I’ve met lots of remarkable people from prime ministers to princes, but it’s all over in a flash. However, if you stop at the end of a day and make a brief note about who you met and what it was like it makes you appreciate it more. That way you experience everything three times – when it happens, when you write it down and third when you read it back. It triples the pleasure of life.

Working with family is a joy

Last year I did a production of Hamlet with my son and his wife and it was wonderful. My son and I both love words and Shakespeare; the challenge was as rewarding as it would be to climb Mount Everest together.

Don’t resist change

I’ve done a lot of research into happiness and one of the seven secrets of it that I discovered is the importance of not resisting change. I don’t like change. I like the world as it used to be – but I’m wrong. So I deliberately try to do new things even though I’m a little frightened of them, like my one-man show.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Talk less and listen more. That’s the advice my wife gives to me and everything I know I’ve learned from her as, annoyingly for the past 50 years, she’s proven to be right about everything.

  • Break a Leg! recounting the starry stories of Gyles’ career is at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from August 1-26. For tickets call 0207 609 1800 or visit
  • He was talking to Katharine Wootton