Getting to know you: Paul Sweeney MP
The Labour MP for Glasgow North East talks architecture and board games with Jenni Davidson
Paul Sweeney MP at the old Stobhill Hospital
What’s your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is probably my wee brother being born. My wee brother’s two years younger than me and I’ve a vivid memory of being on the roof of the maternity ward watching the ambulances at Stobhill and then went down and I was asked what name I wanted to call my wee brother and I picked his name.
What were you like at school?
Probably a bit of geek. I went through the whole of secondary school without getting a punishment exercise once, but then in the last year had a disagreement with one of my teachers over having to come in even though I had free periods in the morning and I ended up on a conduct sheet.
Who would be your dream dinner date?
I’m a big Glasgow architecture geek, so maybe Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I’d be really interested to get his take on whether he thinks the art school should be rebuilt or not, because there’s been a big controversy in Glasgow about that just now.
What’s your greatest fear?
I don’t know, dying alone?
That’s really sad.
I suppose I meet quite a lot of people who are very lonely and I always think it’s really sad. It’s probably a fear I’ve got.
What’s the worst thing that anyone’s ever said to you?
I get a lot of horrible things said all the time. You have to develop a very thick skin. I didn’t expect to win the election last year. I think I was 16:1 at the bookies on polling day. I hadn’t ever realistically expected to win it, so I hadn’t mentally prepared myself in many ways for being in the public gaze. A lot of the vitriol you get, it’s quite tribal and it can be a bit overwhelming initially.
What’s your most treasured possession?
Probably my degree scroll. I was the first person in my family to go to university and I had to work really hard. My family weren’t wealthy enough to support me at university, so I had to work all through it and it was a real challenge at times to do it and I was really proud that I got a first class degree in the end. I think that’s probably my most prized possession. I’ve got it on my wall.
What do you dislike about your appearance?
Everyone in the office thinks I’m paranoid I’m going to go bald. I keep getting reassured by my barber I’m not, though, so it’s alright. Oh, and loads of people criticised my glasses. Before I used to have these rimless glasses that made me look like some sort of East German Stasi agent from the 1980s. So I was strongly advised by several people when I got elected to get new glasses. I finally invested. There are mixed opinions though. They kind of make me look more Harry Potter-esque.
That’s less threatening than a Stasi agent.
Stewart McDonald, who’s the MP for Glasgow South, claims that I’ve tried to steal his style with the glasses and the beard. I don’t know if I’m plagiarising his look.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
I like to play dance music at night when I’m doing work on my computer. I’ve got a bit of a guilty pleasure for 90s and 80s dance music. [He then asks his staff – a voice says Catan]. Oh, Catan. I’m a bit of a Catan addict as well. The board game Catan. To the point where I took Danielle [Rowley MP] on an expedition across London to find it. We visited Hamleys and the big Waterstones on Oxford Street trying to find Catan so we could start a little Catan club. We spent like two hours trying to find it and we’ve not played it once in London yet.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I’d love to go back to the time just before the First World War when Glasgow was at its absolute golden era, when it was the most complete Victorian city anywhere in the world. I’d love to go back and see what it looked like before all the post-war demolition happened.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever had I think is identify what your passion is in life and know who you want to be and do, but understand what the sacrifices are to achieve it. It was a guy I met when I was working in the shipyards who was a coach and it really did crystalise in my mind. When I go and visit schools, I always try and say that to the kids. Don’t let your peer group or anyone else talk you away from what you inside feel you’re really passionate about.
What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?
I was really ill when I was a kid. I missed about two years of school, once when I was ten and another when I was about 14. I had really, really persistent headaches and it was a problem with build-up of pressure in my brain so I used to go into hospital and get lumbar punctures and they were excruciatingly painful. And as a ten-year-old it was fairly traumatic. To this day I have a terrible fear of needles.
What’s your to film or TV programme of all time?
I’m a big Martin Scorsese and Daniel Day Lewis fan, so I would probably say The Departed or The Name of the Father. I’m also a massive Still Game fan to the point where I’ve pretty much memorised all the scripts. A couple of my pals are massive fans as well. We actually created our own quiz. It was incredibly in-depth. It was like what colour are Isa’s curtains in the third episode of the second series or something like that. It was that level of detail.
Would that be your Mastermind topic?
Yeah, that would be my Mastermind topic. We did a quiz one time at the Box pub in Sauchiehall Street and the cast of Still Game all came along to it and we beat them.
What was your best holiday ever?
When I went out to visit my pal in China. My mate was teaching with the British Council in a city called Qingdao, which is where the beer comes from. It was originally actually a German colony, a city state like Hong Kong, before the First World War, so that’s where the German brewing tradition came from. It was a total cultural change and a sense of bombardment. It was the most radically different place I’ve ever visited.
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