Unparliamentary Language: Andrew Bowie
Marie Le Conte speaks to Parliamentarians to find out more about the human side of politics. This week, Conservative MP Andrew Bowie on being a ‘cool geek’, growing up as a Tory in Scotland and the most embarrassing moment of his life
What were you like at school?
I was pretty much a geek at school. I mean, which ordinary 13-year-old sits up all night to watch the 2000 US presidential election? That demonstrates the level of geekiness I was at a school. I was a cooler geek, but I was still very much a geek. I remember running home from school on a Wednesday lunchtime to watch PMQs and watch Blair v. Hague, and then Howard v. Blair.
That is so sad.
I did it all the way through secondary school. I used to skive off to watch it.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Not involved in any way in politics ironically, given how much I was obsessed with it. As a kid, I wanted to sail ships, go to sea in some way; my granddad was in the Navy, and I wanted to do the same as he did. And I was very lucky that for just over three years, I did just that. So that's really what I want to do, I was obsessed – I used to love going on a ferry on holiday, whether it was to the Western Isles or to France, I would always spend the entire trip hanging over the edge looking over.
What's a stupid thing you did when you were younger?
Well, the most embarrassing thing I did when I was younger was probably when I was about 10 years old, in Switzerland, jumping off a really high diving board at an outdoor pool and not really completing the dive. I did a massive belly flop on the water, the sound of which reverberated around. You could hear everybody go "ooooof". And in the impact my trunks fell off. It was possibly the most embarrassing moment of my life so far. Since then I've gone out of my way to try and do nothing embarrassing at all.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
That's a tricky one, because I've been surrounded by really clever, well-meaning people for a very, very long time, but probably the best piece of advice I was ever given was by my favourite teacher at school. It was to simply be true to yourself and stay true to what you actually believe in. I know it's quite predictable and trite, but I think it was genuinely one of the best pieces of advice you could give anybody.
What's the worst piece of advice you've ever been given?
The worst piece of advice I've ever been given was when I was advised by Ruth Davidson to consider running in the general election with the immortal words "Don't worry Andrew, there won't be one for at least two or three years". And this was said three months before Theresa May stood outside Downing Street and called the snap election.
What's the best present you have ever received?
I mean, the most useful present I've ever received is the suit carrier that my wife got me for my last birthday. I have to travel up and down on the plane all the time, and it saves my suits from getting crumpled up. [pause] That's an incredibly boring answer. Okay. The best present I ever received was the first Aberdeen football club shirt I remember being bought. This won't mean anything to most readers of The House, but it was the Northsound radio shirt with the blue and the red, it was a great shirt and it was when I was just getting into football and I was really young, and I was so excited to get it.
What's the worst present you've ever been given?
I've been given some rotten ties over the years. Everybody thinks I need ties but they sometimes pick the most boring and rotten ones. So yeah, that's probably the worst present I've ever been given. I'm really lucky; most people just give me money because it's much easier. No, wait...the worst present I was ever given, was given me to me last year by one of the 2017 intake as part of the Secret Santa that we did. And it was a book of biographies of the 56 SNP MP that got elected in 2015. That is the worst present I've ever been given, and yet one of the funniest.
If you had a time machine for one round trip, where and when would you go?
I'd love to go and see the signing of the armistice between the northern states and the Confederacy, at the end of the American civil war. It's a period of time that really fascinates me and just being able to see in person Ulysses S. Grant or Robert E. Lee, General Custer, signing an armistice, something that really set the tone of public debate from that point for America and therefore the wider world for maybe the next century or more.
What's something that annoys you in other people?
Lack of self-awareness.
You're in the right place!
You said that…
What's your most annoying habit?
My most annoying trait, I would say, is my constant whistling when I'm walking somewhere. I don't even notice I'm doing it. I just start whistling and it's usually some rotten military march or you know Gilbert and Sullivan operetta tune, just something ridiculous. I got told off when I was in the Navy all the time, because on ships, the only people allowed to whistle are the chefs and that's to make sure they're not spitting in the food. I used to wander around the corridors whistling and got told off for it. It's a habit that stuck, unfortunately.
Have you ever been fired from a job?
Well, not fired. But I sadly had to leave the Navy because I failed the navigation exam. That's why I ended up at university. It's all ended up working out quite well, but I didn't leave the Navy out of choice. I should have stuck in harder and passed the navigation exam. But hey, fell into politics and ended up here.
What's something your colleagues don't know about you?
A lot of them don't know that I play the violin and was once the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.
That's really cool!
Well, I don't know about cool…
I mean, the bar is quite low in terms of, you know, cool stuff around here. Have you ever broken the law?
I mean, when I was very young and silly, I probably drove faster than I should have on certain roads, when I was showing off to friends when I was younger, but I'm talking like when I was 17, 18.
What's on your bucket list?
Heaps! I mean, I never get a chance to do anything interesting anymore because I'm stuck in this building the whole time. I'd love to do a road trip across the States, I'd love to trek across Europe, I'd love to see more of the world. I've seen a lot of the world but I'd like to see more of it. Bizarrely, even though I'm honestly terrified to do it, a part of me would love to bungee jump off the Forth Road bridge and I don't know why I want to do that. Ever since I saw somebody on Blue Peter when I was really young I've wanted to do that, that's still on the list.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
I'm not going to brag, but probably somebody like Zac Efron. We look very alike, I have been mistaken for him before.
Yep, I can see that.
Oh yeah, frequently. If it was an older me, then maybe Brad Pitt, but certainly Zac Efron at the age I'm at.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don't care as much about being liked, do what you actually think is right. Becoming a Conservative in Scotland was very difficult in the age I was growing up in, the 90s and early 2000s. I don't know why I worried so much about what other people thought; I believed in it and it was my political philosophy. So yeah, don't worry as much about what other people think if you're doing what you think is right. And I think that's a good motto for everybody, especially everybody involved in public service and in politics.
Andrew Bowie is Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine