Unparliamentary Language: Sam Gyimah

Posted On: 
3rd May 2019

Marie Le Conte speaks to Parliamentarians to find out more about the human side of politics. This week, Sam Gyimah on learning to be himself, his love for Lady Gaga and why he’s glad there were no camera phones in his younger days

Conservative MP for East Surrey Sam Gyimah
Credit: 
UK Parliament

What were you like at school?

Oh, it was such a long time ago. I was always a bit of a spod but I wasn't an anti-social spod. I remember there's a girl who I think liked me and sat next to me in class, and at one point I said ‘it might not be a good idea because you're distracting me from my work’. I regret saying that so much.

That's awful!

Looking back, it was a dumb thing to do.

What mistakes did you make when you were younger?

Oh, too many! Too many mistakes to name one. Rejected a very attractive woman who came to sit next to me? The truth is, if you focus on mistakes, you never move forward.

Mistakes, you learn from them, good or bad, and you move on. That's my attitude.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Oh, I went through so many different things. But there was a period when I thought I wanted to be a spy. Because I started reading these Ken Follett books and I thought they were really cool. But then actually for the longest period I wanted to be a barrister and I think there is part of me...I'm still a frustrated barrister deep inside. It's not just the fancy dress, I like arguments; not just arguing but put together an argument and understanding the case.

What's the best present you've ever been given? You cannot say your children because several people have attempted that and it's a cop out.

Tell you what, the best present recently, not ever, was I got tickets to go and see Hamilton the musical. Have you been yet? Yes. I absolutely loved it. I'm not into musicals very much, and this was quite early on, and I didn't really know the story. So I just went and it was mind-blowingly amazing. I liked the story. I've even read the book, which the musical is based on. I played the soundtrack so many times in the car. And I remember that my daughter...you know there's this bit where they sing "what time is it? showtime!" And then from the baby car seat I just heard her say "Showtiiiime!". The whole family is into the Hamilton soundtrack.

What's one thing you've done once and would never do again?

I wore an afro wig to the Notting Hill carnival, a big afro wig, got lots of attention but it was just too hot.

What's something that annoys you in others?

People who don't reply to text messages, that really annoys me, especially on WhatsApp because you know they've read it.

What's your most annoying habit?

I'm not always prompt. This has been a problem for a while, long before getting this job.

If you're feeling stressed and angry, what's one thing guaranteed to cheer you up?

Comedy! I love comedy. I used to watch Trevor Noah before he became famous, Chris Rock, Michael McIntyre...

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

The best piece of advice is never try to be someone else. You've got to be you. When I was young, whenever I said that someone had something I didn't have or someone was doing something I couldn't do my mother's response was ‘you are you, you're not them’. And I think just knowing that you are you and not someone else and really understanding who you are, it saves you a lot of stress.

If you had a time machine for one trip where and when would you go?

Lots of places – I haven't travelled as much as I would have loved to. [pauses] Was it Ecuador, Paraguay? Let me have a look and check, because I read that one of these has got amazing stats on quality of life. Let me check which one it is…

You don't need a time machine for that – you could just take a plane!

Oh, so you mean going backwards in time?

Yes.

Oh the Renaissance period then, in Italy. I love worlds in which push the boundaries of knowledge without any sort of limitations, those periods of history fascinate me.

What's something about you your colleagues don't know?

That I want to share with them?

Oh no, just with this magazine specifically, no one else.

I love sports. But that's safe. I absolutely love sports. I don't think my colleagues know. I like football, but I'll watch almost any sport  if it's on TV.

Do you have any unusual talents?

I like to think that as an MP, I've got lots of unusual talents that the government has as yet to identify and recognise…

What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?

I mean, this is too much. This is a work magazine! There is a long list. [pause] I'm so glad we didn't have camera phones when I was at university; I wore a nun's outfit to a debate.

And I still can't remember why I arrived at that decision. And there's another time I wore a blonde wig to a party, and a friend of mine looked at me and said, "oh my goodness Michael Heseltine on the negative".

Is there anything on your bucket list?

[pauses] I don't think about these things…

But you've got time now, out of government...?

It doesn't mean I'm thinking of expiring!

If you could meet one famous person, who would it be?

I'd love to meet Lady Gaga. I think she's great. I just saw her film, A Star Is Born. And I think she's superb.

There's a documentary about her on Netflix, you should watch it!

I have watched that too. I think she's an amazing artist. What I like about her is that process of how you can conceive of an art form and create it and then have it work. It's a different brain. I just can't get my head around it, I think she's just magnificent.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

It has to be Idris Elba. He's a bit tall, but that might be helpful.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Chillax more. Let attractive girls sit next to you if you're 14.

Sam Gyimah is Conservative MP for East Surrey