Unparliamentary Language: Tom Tugendhat
Marie Le Conte sits down with MPs and peers to find out more about the human side of politics. This week, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat on the worst present he’s ever been given, being on patrol and arguing in Arabic
What were you like at school?
I wasn't desperately hard working; I used to get out of trouble a lot by smiling and being very friendly. I quite enjoyed it but I've never been back, I’m not one of those people who's ever been back to their school.
What's your earliest childhood memory?
I think it's playing with my grandparents – we're a very close family and my French grandparents used to come over all the time.
What is it like working in Westminster when you grew up in Westminster?
Well, I grew up in Westminster and Kent so I grew up in both, but this is a very, very different world to even 100 meters outside of it. It's pretty foreign. And it's even more foreign when you spent most of the last 15, 20 years in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
What mistakes did you make when you were younger?
Hundreds, I'm sure.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a soldier. I absolutely loved soldiering. It was fantastic. I mean, it was simply the best job I could ever have. It was completely wonderful and I still miss the fact that I will never go on patrol again. Patrolling is wonderful; it's the most extraordinary, zen-like experience where the entire world is focused on your mission, and there’s four or 10 or 50 of you trying to do the same thing, and working incredibly closely as a team.
You don't think about the mortgage, there's no thoughts about the electricity bill or, you know, whatever you think about. The entire system is geared towards making sure that you can continue with the mission. It's great. I miss it.
Did you ever consider staying in the army for longer?
I did, but I got too senior to do that, so it was time to go.
On a completely different note, what’s the best present you've ever given or received – and the worst?
So the worst present I was ever given was by a friend of mine in Yemen, who just before I was leaving, wanted to give me a going away present, and very kindly gave me an anti-aircraft shell. A live one. At which I pointed out that I was not going to take it on the airplane I was flying home in.
And the best…?
[pause] Well, my kids are fantastic.
That’s a bit of a cop-out.
It’s a complete cop-out. Actually, I'll tell you what the best present is: I recently gave my son a tent. At the moment we're only on day camping, so we go and sit in the tent and we make things, but very soon we will be organising a trip. He's nearly five, it's his birthday this month, so he's getting a sleeping bag and we’ll go camping.
What's a habit that really annoys you in others?
Not taking decisions.
What's the most annoying habit you have?
Oh, god, I'm sure I've got thousands. The thing that I do the most and that annoys me about myself is being late.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
The worst one?
It's all about you.
If you had a time machine, where and when would you go?
Well given that I studied it, I would go to the early days of the Prophet Muhammad and I would like to see what Mecca was like as the Prophet arrived, or rather returned.
Have you ever been fired from a job?
No I haven't, actually.
What’s something your colleagues don't know about you?
Hm. Well they alI know I change nappies. Even John Humphrys knows it. Hm...I like cooking. My absolute favourite dish in the world, last meal type thing, is fish fingers with rice and peas. Lots of butter on the rice, lots of black pepper on the peas. Nice American long grain rice, fresh peas and the cheapest fish fingers you can find. It’s literally the best meal in the world. Apart from that, I've just got this Persian cookery book, and I'm getting quite good at making Persian kofte. I do like making really stodgy food; good solid food like shepherd's pie.
If you could meet one famous person, who would it be?
Malala [Yousafzai] I'd like to meet her. I think the way that she's dealing with being a victim of radicalised terrorism and turning it into a huge strength and a liberating movement not just for women but women in particular social and cultural circumstances, in this case remote areas of Pakistan, Islamic communities who are not always ready for respect and liberty and equality, it’s inspirational.
What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?
I think I'll skip that one.
Have you ever broken the law?
I haven't been caught, so the answer is definitely no.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
Who would I like to play me or who would play me? Because it would probably end up being somebody like Hugh Bonneville. Who would like it to be? Hmm. I don't know. It doesn't really matter. I don't think I don't think there's any great danger of it happening.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Which language do you think in?
Depends which language I’m speaking in.
What's your favourite language to argue in?
Arabic! Arabic is a very good language for all. It's unbelievably expressive and manages a tonal range that few other languages achieve.
What’s the next language you’d like to learn?
I’d like to learn German. Actually, my advice to my younger self wouldn’t be “work harder”, it would be “learn more languages”.
Tom Tugendhat is Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling