Unparliamentary language: Ian Murray MP
Serena Cowdy meets the humans behind the politicians... and the only thing they’re not allowed to talk about is politics.
This week, shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray on Fawlty Towers, his fear of ghosts – and why he only owns one teaspoon
What’s your very first childhood memory?
We were on holiday in Scarborough. I went on a kids’ roundabout – and I wet myself. That was probably when I was about… 17. No no, I must have been about two or three. I was obsessed with buses when I was a kid, and this one was in a double-decker bus, and I went in there and just got a bit too excited by it all.
Tell me about a hobby or talent of yours
Well, I’ve been trying for 30 years to play the piano. I’ve got as far as being able to play Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Which is quite niche. Particularly if it’s summer. Basically I’m a master on the piano – once a year.
Were you good at music at school?
No. The story is, I was in fifth year at school, and I was offered a conditional place at university, but I needed five Highers. I was doing Music as one of them – drums and keyboard – but it was an unmitigated disaster. Basically I was never going to pass the drums. So I had to think of something else to go with the keyboard.
Well this is the thing. The teacher said to me – “look, you’ve got a conditional offer but you’re never going to pass. How are we going to sort this… can you sing?” So I ended up singing my way to university.
What did you sing?
Well, I just got handed these three songs. I did Just the way you are, by Billy Joel, I just called to say I love you, by Stevie Wonder, and the third one… I never talk about the third one.
Well, you’re going to talk about it now… was it a woman’s song?
…. It was, yes. Think of the worst song you can imagine me singing. The absolute worst.
[pause] It was Bette Midler: The wind beneath my wings. Horrendous. But I passed!
What was your first car?
A 15 year-old Mini Metro. It was silver with a burnt orange interior. I loved that car. But the thing was, the headlights used to go out if you drove faster than 45 miles per hour. That was a nightmare on country roads.
The wing mirror fell off it… the boot was held down with string… it was just a shambles. It cost me something like £400. Oh yes, and I couldn’t work the manual choke.
What’s a manual choke?
Exactly. I used to try to pull the choke out and flood the engine every single time, because I had no idea what a manual choke actually did.
What’s your favourite TV series?
When I was growing up, the local video shop was just round the corner. And every time I was sent to get a video I always came back with a Fawlty Towers trilogy. I was obsessed with Fawlty Towers. At primary school we used to do Christmas shows, and I always used to do a sketch from Fawlty Towers.
Excellent! Can you do The Walk?
Not in public. But between you and me… probably.
Are you a good cook?
Yeah, I can turn my hand to it. Actually I used to own a pub, a bistro and a hotel – and I would get thrown into the kitchen whenever our chefs walked out. Which was regularly.
Chefs are very volatile, you know? And I’ve a theory they’re more volatile the soberer they are. Sobriety makes them mad. In fact, I think there should be a study done – by the Department of Health – on the impact of extreme stress and creativity on their madness.
Anyway because of that I used to get thrust into the kitchen quite a bit. My signature dish is coffee-encrusted pork fillet.
What would go into your Room 101?
Valentine’s Day is one. The worst day of the year for me is Valentine’s Day. It’s horrendous. You get these couples sitting across from each other with nothing to say, they’re there because they have to be, and they’re hating it. Hannah and I try and go out once a week. We don’t need to wait until Valentine’s Day.
What’s the best present someone’s ever given you?
Hmm. The thing is, I tend not to exchange presents with people. I mean, exchanging Christmas tat with each other just for the sake of having a present – that for me is an abomination of decency! “Please have this bit of tat that you don’t want in exchange for a bit of tat that I don’t want.” Just terrible. And wedding lists! Wedding lists – they can go into Room 101 too.
If I do get someone a gift I try to make it something humorous or meaningful.
You don’t seem very interested in material things
I suppose that’s right. In fact I’m so unmaterialistic I only own one teaspoon. Two flats, one teaspoon. Why have 75 teaspoons? Although sometimes it’s not ideal. I want a cup of tea and I spend 25 minutes looking for the teaspoon.
Is there any object in your life that does mean a lot to you?
I have an official Jim Henson Muppet that I bought when I was in New York a few years back. It’s pretty unique. I was a huge fan of the muppets when I was growing up. I still am. So it’s a super thing to have.
Have you ever stolen anything?
Actually, I once stole a set of towels from the Hilton Hotel in London, when I was about 15. I smuggled them out in my case. They were fantastic towels.
Tell me about a really big personal challenge you’ve faced
When we were running our own businesses, and they weren’t doing brilliantly well, it was trying to make sure you were paying staff. We ended up paying staff on personal credit cards. You knew that they were relying on the cash to pay their mortgages and rent and things, so it was really stressful. You don’t really understand what it’s like to run a business until you’re faced with a dozen staff depending on you.
Are you more inclined to believe in ghosts, or to believe in god?
I’m frightened of both!
And finally – do you have any unusual or quirky habits?
Do you know, I never finish a pint. So if we’d had six pints, pint six would be full in front of me, and pints five, four, three, two and one would all have a little bit left at the bottom. An equal quantity in each. I suppose that means I’ve spent money on hundreds of pints I’ve never drunk…