Unparliamentary Language: Hannah Bardell

Posted On: 
18th April 2019

Marie Le Conte speaks to Parliamentarians to find out more about the human side of politics. This week, the SNP’s Hannah Bardell on skateboarding, shaving her head and fluffing her lines at her swearing in

SNP MP for Livingston Hannah Bardell
Credit: 
Parliament UK

What were you like at school?

I was – this is a good Scottish phrase – I was probably best described as a bit of a radge. I liked to party and was famous for having parties when my mum was away, much to her delight. I worked really hard, so I always got pretty good grades, and was probably a little bit of a teacher's pet but I could be quite cheeky. I was one of those who had a core group of friends but I had lots of different friendship groups, and I had a great time at school and loved it. It was before the age of social media, maybe that's got something to do with that. I had a great old time at school, and probably too much fun.

What's your earliest memory?

We were leaving our flat in Edinburgh that we’d lived in for about a year and going back to Livingston, and my mum had a Loch Ness keyring. I was standing in the living room and I was saying "when are we going home?" I only would have been about two and a half, three, so it's a very, very early memory. I recently told it to my mum and she was like "how on earth do you remember that? You were so young!"

What mistakes did you make when you were younger?

I sometimes think that not coming out sooner was was one of my big mistakes. I don't have many regrets in life, but that was one of them. Although I now say to myself that if I had come out earlier I wouldn't have met my partner, so I wouldn't wish that any differently. But I was 32 when I came out and so in some ways I feel like I missed out on that journey a little bit. I was running for election when I when I was coming out, and so it was a pretty crazy time to be trying to deal with your sexuality as well. It made my teenage years just a bit more confusing and fraught but, then whose isn't?

What's the best present you've ever been given?

My girlfriend gave me a photo book for my birthday. It was all our memories, homemade, with comments and little vignettes; it's on my bedside table in London, and I just I occasionally go and look at it. She will absolutely kill me because she does not like to be seen as a sop at all, but she's actually very thoughtful kind person, and it was just something that was really, really personal.

What's the worst present you have ever been given?

Oh, I think probably a dressing gown by an ex-boyfriend. The relationship was definitely on its last legs, but I didn't want to face up to that. And you know, I was looking forward to getting something really nice, and the funny thing is, I've still got the bloody dressing gown and I still wear it. It's actually quite a useful thing, but at the time I was utterly appalled and absolutely raging.

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

That's a tough one. All I can think of is eating tripe. I just did it once accidentally, you know, it was in the middle of some fancy dinner with a tasting menu, and I felt so sick it put me off the rest of the meal. And it was just like, I will never do that again. I'm sure it's probably very good for you and full of nutrition, but no.

What's a habit that annoys you in others?

Chewing, the sound of somebody else chewing. It's terrible. My mum does it sometimes and it's not her fault, but there's something about that that gives me the heebie jeebies for some reason. I've been at dinners and I've been sat next to somebody who is a really loud chewer and just makes me want to cringe.

What's your worst habit?  

Most definitely finishing other people's sentences. I do it out of empathy, I think, and because I love conversation, and I love talking to people. I do quite frequently to my girlfriend and she gets really pissed off and she's like "well, if you let me finish my sentence, you'll know what I'm going to say". I don't even really realise I do it and it must be very irritating so I try really hard not to do it.

When you're feeling stressed or angry, what's guaranteed to cheer you up?

The PC answer is sports. I took up surfing, so obviously not the most accessible sport a few years ago, but it's amazing for stress reduction, and it's a singular experience. You cannot think of anything else because if you do you can drown basically. And skateboarding.

Have you ever skateboarded into Parliament?

Well my skateboard is in Scotland but I've been thinking about getting one down here, although I've got a really bad graze on my ankle and it's really painful because I fell off. I don't know how that would look, but who cares? I did feel a bit old school at the skate park at 35. But, again, it's a very singular experience, you have to concentrate on what you're doing, and it's really good for balance. I also play football. We set up the women's parliamentary football team about a year ago and without fail, every Tuesday morning we're there, and it's a mix of MPs, MPs' staff, journalists, people who work in the third sector and we just we have such a good laugh. There's folks on the team who I couldn't be further away from but it's a really great way to just blow off some steam and banish the bad Brexit vibes.

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

My mum is usually very good at being pragmatic, and one of the biggest pieces of advice she gave me early on was, go study something you're interested in, do something you care about, and there's not one path. I went from media to working for a politician to working for a foreign government to working in the oil industry. Then I got elected, and I will probably do more different things, I won't necessarily be here or in politics forever. I think having that view of, you know, you don't have to pick something and just stick to it just for the sake of it, you will have lots of different jobs and there's not necessarily a wrong path. I think that's just a really important mantra, particularly the moment when an election could come at any time, and we could all be out of here. Opportunities come at different times from different places, and in the most unexpected ways, and you need to be open to that.

If you had a time machine, when and where would you go?

I would go back to when my grandpa and my grandma were still alive. I would record on video and audio their life stories and their family stories because although we have quite good records of their lives, they just led such fascinating and interesting lives, especially my gran, and I just wish I could go back to the early 2000s and record that.

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

A lot of people don't know that I used to have a shaved head for about four years. From seven till I was about 11 I swam competitively and it was before the days of good chlorine shampoo, and I had long blonde thick hair which just got matted and I wouldn't brush it and my mum couldn't get a brush through it, so one day we went to the hairdressers and I was just like "just shave off!", I was a bit of a tomboy, and the hairdresser was horrified and looked to my mum and my mum just shrugged and said "fine, whatever she wants" and I loved it. It was low maintenance and really handy.  

Would you shave your head again?

I would!

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

When I got elected I had a complete disaster at my swearing in. I didn't say Queen before Elizabeth because I tripped over my words, I was really nervous. My mum had been ill after the election and didn't make it down, which is really sad. I just got emotional, and didn't even realise I'd done it and neither did the clerks, until some journalist picked up the phone to me and said "was that intentional?", was I trying to sort of be subversive? And I was like no, absolutely not. I then had to go see the clerk, and she was like, oh, we probably have to do again but we'll do it in a side room. I was like absolutely not, I don't want people thinking that there's something funny going on. So she said well, nip back into the chamber, you can do it again. So I go back into the chamber, and then people were like, "why have you had to do it all again, what happened?" And obviously, this journalist tweeted about it and I then had to explain what happened and I wrote ‘look, instead of saying Queen Elisabeth, I said Elisabeth’, but I spelled it wrong, with an s because my mum is called Elisabeth and spells is with an s. So it was just one of those massive fuck ups compounded by another massive fuck up. And I'd just been elected.

And finally, what advice would you give to your younger self?

It sounds very contrived, but don't be scared to be yourself. And don't be scared to speak out on things. Don't try and be somebody you're not.

Hannah Bardell is SNP MP for Livingston