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Interview with Neil Oliver

by Emily Healey-Lynham

Neil Oliver is a British television presenter, archaeologist, conservationist and author. He is best known as a presenter of several BBC historical and archaeological documentary series, including A History of Scotland, Vikings and Coast.

Neil is heading on the road with his new show: The Story of The British Isles in 100 Places coming to Tunbridge Wells’ Assembly Hall on 11th October 2018. We got to find out how Neil selected the 100 places and what he likes to do with his free time.What inspired you to go on tour with your compelling show, “The Story of The British Isles in 100 Places”?

I want my understanding of the place, and my love of the place, to reach as wide an audience as possible. Hopefully lots of folk will read the book, but the tour is another way of spreading the word. Strange to say, in a world where more and more stuff is available on a screen of some sort, there’s also an obvious appetite for the live event. I am happy to oblige!

How did you go about selecting those 100 Places?

To be honest, they suggested themselves. I could have written the list on the back of an envelope in a couple of minutes. I have visited so much of these islands, seen so many places, that I’d begun to realise I was on the best history tour ever. Some places resonate strongly and stay with you after you visit them. Those places I’ve found most unforgettable make up the 100. The story of these islands began telling itself to me, via the huge variety of places I was having the privilege of seeing. Hopefully folk who come to the show will agree that I have a unique perspective on the British Isles – one that’s taken nearly 20 years to develop. Each of the 100 places reveals something about a key moment in our shared history – from the first inhabitants nearly a million years ago, through the trouble, strife and triumph in between, and up to the present day.

Do you have a favourite?

I do, yes – but I’m not telling you.Are you looking forward to performing live?

I am 50 per cent excited and 50 per cent scared out of my wits. I’ve done some public speaking in my time, but not 39 nights in a row. That said, there truly is nothing quite like the sensation of getting that instant feedback from real live people in a real live place. When people watch a TV show, or read a book, I’m not there with them to see if they like it or not. In front of an audience, I’ll be left in no doubt …

What can people expect from the live show?

The central hypothesis of the book – that this is a wonderful, extraordinary place. Just about everything imaginable has happened here at one time or another – good, bad and downright ugly – during all the millennia that have passed since humans first found these islands. It’s basically my love letter to the British Isles.

What’s been a funny moment for you on stage? Any mishaps you want to share?

I’ve managed alright so far – but anything could happen in the next five weeks.Was there one thing when you were growing up that influenced your passion for history?

Many, many things. For one, I was lucky enough to have some excellent, inspiring teachers – both at primary and secondary school. A good teacher makes all the difference in the world.

What is the most rewarding thing about your work?

Education. I’ve learned more in the years I’ve spent making tv and writing books than at any other time in my life – University included. It’s been a privilege to see all these places and to meet and spend time with people who could tell me about them and share their enthusiasm.

What do you like to do in your free time when not on tour or TV?

Sit in my garden and watch the grass grow – seriously. I’m away such a lot that I really appreciate time at home. I like to do the school run, chat to my wife, walk the dog and have a nosey round the shops. It’s very glamorous!

What advice would you give to someone who would like to get into the industry?

If you’re lucky enough to find the subject you love, and you love it so much you can’t help telling everyone all about it, then the industry might find you.

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