Unparliamentary Language: Bambos Charalambous
Marie Le Conte sits down with MPs and peers to find out more about the human side of politics. This week, Labour MP Bambos Charalambous on karaoke, going viral for flossing and being addicted to his phone
What were you like at school?
I loved school! I loved the classes, played rugby, was reasonably popular. In fact I’m still in touch with a couple of teachers and I’m going to try to get them to come to Parliament. I absolutely loved school.
What’s your earliest childhood memory?
When I was about two or three years old, mum and dad were living in Hornsey just off the top of Tottenham Lane and there was lots of hills and I remember the hills, so just probably holding my mum’s hand looking at these hills that seemed like mountains.
What’s a mistake you made when you were younger?
I was probably trying to do too much, which I still haven’t learned from. So I ended up flunking my O-Levels and A-Levels because I was taking too many things. I was playing sports, I was in school productions...
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was at school, for reasons I still can’t really understand because I was rubbish in physics, I wanted to be a civil engineer, but then I got right into the school magazine so I was interested in journalism as well. I enjoyed writing.
What’s the best present you’ve been given?
That’s a tough one...I mean, when I was 11, my mum and dad bought me a tracksuit because I was really into sports. You couldn’t get me out of it; I would have worn it forever. But I think Christmas and giving presents is about the giving, so I’m quite easy to please.
What’s the best present you’ve ever given, then?
I guess it was a contribution. One of my friends loved writing, so a few of us all clubbed together and we got him to go on this amazing writing course. It was a week long and it was residential and he really, really enjoyed that.
What’s something you’ve done once that you’ll never do again?
Going on a rollercoaster. I do not see the point of rollercoasters or fairground rides at all. Just not my thing.
What’s a habit that really annoys you in others?
People who you’re engaged in conversation with and who are constantly staring at their phone. The phone addiction thing is really irritating when you speak to someone and you want their undivided attention.
What’s your most annoying habit?
Probably the same thing? I do it as well. I need to wean myself off my phone.
When you’re feeling stressed or angry, what’s one thing that’s guaranteed to cheer you up?
I love comedy, so watching some comedy sketches or thinking about something that’s really funny will always snap me out of it.
Do you have any go-to ones?
I watch a lot of Monty Python stuff, I love the surrealness of it, it’s always guaranteed to get me laughing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Just don’t give up. Stay focused, don’t give up. I tried four times to become an MP and only got elected the fourth time, but before then I came close to thinking “well, maybe this isn’t for me”, but I spoke to friends and they said I should just keep going, and I’m pleased they did.
...And what’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Why do you want to get into politics? You’ll never make a living out of it”. I was told that politics was just a hobby, and I should focus about more adult things.
If you had a time machine and were allowed one trip, when and where would you go?
Probably around the 14th or 15th century, the age of discovery. People were discovering things, there were great artworks, there were a lot of things being developed. So I think around that time would have been interesting, and I would go somewhere around Europe, so probably Italy or Spain, just looking at what was going on there, the arts, the culture.
Have you ever been fired from a job?
I have, yes.
I failed my probation period and didn’t get on with my boss particularly well; she was a genius and I still had a lot to learn in the area. She had exceptionally high standards and I wasn’t quite ready. It was pretty sad.
What something your colleagues don’t know about you?
When I was a student, I hitchhiked from Liverpool to Paris.
How long did it take?
It took about 20 hours.
It’s actually quite quick!
Yeah, it wasn’t too bad because we had the crossing paid for so from Liverpool to France was about ten hours, then it got harder as we had to get a lift from a trucker and try to catch their attention.
What’s your party trick?
Well I do like karaoke so yes, I do often go and sing very badly when there’s a karaoke.
What’s your go-to song?
It’s Copacabana by Barry Manilow.
Strong choice! Do you ever change the words and replace them with your name?
[laughs] I tend not to but some people like to do it for me.
If you could meet one famous person, who would it be?
Hmm...Probably the general secretary of the United Nations, just to understand how they make decisions about what’s going on in the world and how they use the diplomacy and skills to do that, I think it would be very interesting to find out what they do and how they do it.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?
The most recent embarrassing thing I’ve done was that I did the floss dance with some school kids and I didn’t do it terribly well, and I posted it on Twitter. I went viral. So that was a little bit embarrassing. Emily Thornberry said I was a truly terrible dancer.
I know! I was doing my best, and those kids were really good.
Have you ever broken the law?
...Probably? I remember a time when I was a student and some friends and I liberated an empty beer keg in the centre of town to go for a walk with us. So yes, that was probably illegal.
Do you have anything on your bucket list?
Yes, I’d like to travel a lot more, visit some places I’ve never been to.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
I have no idea! I can’t think of anybody who would be unfortunate enough to look like me to play me in a film. I’ll leave that to central casting.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t worry, it will be okay in the end.