Gyles Brandreth: ‘I discovered the source of who I am’

The author and broadcaster opens up about the memoir he never thought he'd write on the latest episode of the Penguin Podcast.

Gyles Brandreth, leaning on a table with his head resting in his hands, seen against a backdrop of colourful paper windmills.
Writer, entertainer and former MP Gyles Brandreth

Author, broadcaster, former MP and entertainer Gyles Brandreth published his first book 50 years ago. Since then, he’s written 26 more, on subjects ranging from lexicography to the Queen and Prince Philip. What he never expected to write, however, was a memoir of the first years of his life – but the pandemic encouraged him to think differently.

Speaking to Nihal Arthanayake on the Penguin Podcast, Brandreth said he had no desire to “delve deeply into [himself]”, but the onset of lockdown last year – and the blanket cancellation of his own touring show as well as one with Dame Judi Dench in the West End – sparked an idea of writing his own story.

‘What I discovered writing this book was the source of who I am’

His wife, Brandreth says, was initially sceptical, but when the pair started talking about his earliest memories it became apparent that Brandreth’s life was too extraordinary not to be written about. “I told her that my first memory was probably watching the coronation on television, standing close to the screen and my sisters telling me to get out of the way,” he explained. “Oh, that’s marvellous!” his wife replied, “First paragraph and we’ve got you and the Queen nose to nose.”

But Brandreth insists that the memoir wasn’t going to be about name-dropping, but an attempt to work out “why you are who you are”. Odd Boy Out, he says, “is a book that is relevant, I hope, to anyone. Who's made you the person you are? What formed you? And what I discovered writing this book was the source of who I am... I am formed by my heritage, by my parent's expectation of me and by my childhood.”

Listen to Gyles Brandreth on the Penguin Podcast

He goes on to explain that “what I've discovered at the end of this book is that the life I've lived from the age of 21 is really the life I grew up into before the age of 21, so it's a childhood memoir... It’s ended up being a letter of thanks, and in some ways apology, to my parents, and to my father in particular.”

Brandreth’s conversation on the Penguin Podcast was as wide-reaching as his career, touching on the ancestor who invented a Victorian hair-loss remedy, his enormous teddy bear collection and his appreciation of the British stiff upper-lip.

Listen to the full conversation, and subscribe for future episodes, here.

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