Getting to Know You - Jeremy Balfour MSP
Conservative list MSP for Lothian, Jeremy Balfour sits down for a chat with Holyrood’s Jenni Davidson
What’s your earliest memory?
I think my earliest memory I’d go back to was when I was in nursery here in Edinburgh, in Blackhall, and there was still a place where you could buy milk just quite close to the nursery and once a term, you were allowed to be the person who went with the teacher to pick up the milk to take back for morning.
So that was a job that you wanted to do?
That was the job of everything you did in nursery. That was the one that everybody wanted to do. And it was so popular, you only got to do it once a term.
What were you like at school?
I was probably more sociable than academic, so I really enjoyed the music, art, sport and had to really put up with the English, the maths and all the other subjects that followed it. But undoubtedly, my favourite time was playtime, playing football, talking to my friends. For me, school, for quite a lot of the time, was a social activity and academia was an extra add-on that had to take place.
Who would be your dream dinner date?
I think if I could have two or three, I would quite like the Apostle Paul, just to find out what it was really like back in first-century Rome, I think to have somebody like Augustine, who was a great reformer, and then Winston Churchill would be an interesting three people, because I think they would all be quite opinionated, but come from quite different views on how things were and how they saw the world at their time.
What’s your greatest fear?
I can’t say I’ve got any great fear of animals or heights or anything like that, but I think the fear of being misunderstood, particularly when you make yourself vulnerable to people.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My family are really precious to me: my wife, children, my parents. Family, to me, is really important. Of all the things in the world, they, to me, are the most precious things.
What do you dislike about your appearance?
Well, my wife doesn’t like my nose.
Oh, really? And she tells you?
And she tells me all the time. She thinks it’s too big. I think having my disability and having just one arm growing up and being different, one has to come to terms with that, but I wouldn’t say it’s something that now keeps me up at night. But I think growing up, that issue around my disability and what I looked like and clothes maybe not fitting as well because you’ve only got one arm, definitely was something that, ideally, I wouldn’t have had.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Two. I love mince pies. And so as soon as the shops start selling mince pies in November, I have to confess I have a mince pie every night with my tea before I go to bed. And as soon as we get past that, I move from mince pies to Creme Eggs. And then I pine through the summer, waiting for Christmas to come again.
You don’t stockpile them?
I do stockpile mince pies, in my freezer.
If you could go back in time, where would you go, or when?
As someone who has a Christian faith, I think to go back to a time when Jesus was actually here on Earth. To experience the smells and the sounds and the people, and what happened that’s not recorded within the Gospels, would just be immensely interesting historically, and also for me to see exactly how accurate the Gospels are in their portrayal of who Jesus is and was.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
I think the best piece of advice my father ever gave me was: ‘Don’t take no as your final answer’. And I think, again, just around my disability, I was fortunate I had a very articulate, probably slightly pushy, mother and father. Often people would say, ‘Jeremy can’t do that because of his disability’, and sometimes we’d have to accept that, but often they would challenge that and say, ‘Well, he might not be able to do it just like that, but how about accommodating this or that?’
What skill should every person have?
I think listening. As politicians, we are driven by wanting our voice heard and by wanting to be able to speak out on things, and I think often we don’t, or I don’t, always listen: listen to my opponents, listen to my constituents and listen to good advice. So I think listen better and then take that on board.
What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?
When I was about seven or eight, I had a scoliosis operation, which is where they put a metal rod into your back to keep it straight, because my spine was going squeaky. I remember waking up after that operation just feeling absolutely…pain. And I think for me, that was perhaps the greatest physical pain I’ve had, if not emotional pain. The other, emotional, pain, and the one that I’ve talked a wee bit about in the chamber, is when we lost our first daughter, who was stillborn. Just even reflecting on that, that emotional pain, I would say, was even harder to deal with than any physical pain.
What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?
Oh, West Wing. I’ve watched it on several occasions all the way through. Clearly, it’s not reality, but if ever I wanted to be on a TV programme, it would be West Wing.
You’d appear in it? Have you got an ideal role?
I’d like to be Josh.
Which one’s Josh again? Is he the comms guy?
He’s the one that works for Leo, so he’s the number two, the one that does the sort of policy work, does the lobbying of everybody, all that kind of thing.
So you’d see yourself in the background?
Background, kind of manipulating people to get to your own way!
What was your best holiday ever?
We went last summer, me and my twin girls, to Euro Disney. I love Euro Disney anyway, but the extra excitement of them being able to experience it as well was definitely one of the highlights of my holidays ever.
What was the last book you read?
Fiona Hislop. Is it Fiona? Ian Hislop’s wife. You know Ian Hislop who does Have I Got News For You? Let me just check. You read a book and you just don’t know who the author is. Victoria Hislop, sorry. I’m reading through Victoria Hislop’s book. I just love them because they’re set in a real time history and the way that she draws out characters is quite impressive.
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