Working within our brief for Voyages-sncf.com, Magellan often organizes a range of public events for their UK audience and by far the most popular was the recent evening with Michael Portillo, supported by The Independent and the Evening Standard and held at the Caledonian Club with co-host the ski resort, Avoriaz. Michael is one of the most charming and erudite of guests and our enthusiastic audience came from far and wide to meet him and walk away with his latest book: Great Continental Railway Journeys, just released.
Here’s a snapshot of his interview with Sophie Lam, Travel Editor of The Independent, iPaper and the Evening Standard:
Favourite UK journey – West coast of UK – the West Highland Line which is accessible from London for the weekend – all by train.
Favourite overseas journey – The Maharajah Express in India
Best train company – SNCF – France is best and Spain comes second – much improved.
Worst for timekeeping – German railways
Best rolling stock – Swiss trains
Best thing about train travel – The social aspect. Always share your bottle of wine with your fellow travellers and talk!
Improvements to modern rail carriages – Bring back facing seats and restaurant cars as so civilised
Favourite episode – The first programme was the most poignant for him: Spain, in the footsteps of his father and meeting his uncles etc – very moving.
Do you meet fellow travellers carrying a Bradshaw? – Michael meets more rail users with Bradshaws than without. The Bradshaws guide topped the Amazon book chart when his programme was first shown.
Would you encourage re-nationalization of the railways? – Michael felt that privatization was a good thing and his proof is in the number of passengers now travelling by train – an enormous increase since his day. He does feel that the UK is about 30 years behind the mainland Europe on progress with the railways primarily due to the protests for rail initiatives such as the HS2 project. He feels the government is not ruthless enough to see change through and the momentum is lost, leaving us further and further behind. He is particularly pleased about the reinstatement of the Borders rail link which is not for financial gain but has been done as a lifeline to the local community. Even though he is a Tory, he feels there is still a place for social funding in the right place for the railways.
Any rail initiatives you would encourage? – He doesn’t think we make the best of what we have. Why don’t we, for example, have a Panorama glass sightseeing train on the Lake District line – like the Swiss do?
Worst journey – when he was filming in the UK and got on at Ford Railway Station one Sunday morning around 7 am. The Open Prison was having a day out so 300 men – prisoners and guards – were on the train with him. Michael’s team filmed and then got off – except the train moved off before Michael could also do so! Off he therefore went with the inmates but he won’t divulge what happened on the journey!
What’s on the cards re upcoming programmes – Three new series coming up – Great Continental (already playing), Great British – 20 episodes for a month in January then America in February.
Which historic American guide book is he using for his US series?: He will not divulge the name of the guide in case it sells out!
Would he ever return to politics? No – Michael would not want to go back into politics although there are some intellectuals still around (Osborne). For him, they do not have the gravitas of the chaps of his time.
Would you ever do a TV programme about Bradshaw? Unlikely as there’s not so much more to say about Bradshaw as so much has been included in programmes thus far. There is not enough for a stand alone programme.
How much involvement do you have in the programmes and how long does it take? Michael says he is really just the presenter. The team films in big chunks. He does not make any decisions and only rolls in, films and does what he is told. The researchers do all the work and he learns up about the places. He stresses he is not a historian – but has a history degree and is very interested in the subject. Hence when he went to the States, he found the Washington, Philadelphia part very moving – how people still believed in the Declaration of Independence and that America could still deliver equality even though it has not done so to date. To give you an idea of how much footage is required – a four day shoot in Europe boils down to around 1/2 hour of television.
Amanda Monroe (VSC), Michael, me, Virginie Dupe (Avoriaz) Mariella Salerno (VSC) and Stephane Lerendu (Avoriaz)
A final note – Michael has been to his Pimlico tailor’s to source more vibrant outfits for his American series. Expect different coloured jackets, shirts and ties – even red and orange is on the cards for 2016 it seems! You have been warned …
Contributor: Gillian Green with photographs courtesy of Voyages-sncf.com.
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