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by Staff reporter
30 September 2021
Getting To Know You: Neil Gray

Getting To Know You: Neil Gray

What’s your earliest memory?

I was helping my dad make breakfast in the morning, and he put the kettle up on the cooker thinking it was out of my reach and I managed to pull it down on top of myself. I scalded my arms and my chest. I remember getting thrown into the frozen cold bath and the doctor coming in to check on me. I had to have skin grafts later to repair the damage. That’s probably my earliest memory. 

No wonder. That’s something that’s going to stay with you. 

My earliest political memory is probably Roseanna Cunningham winning the Perth by-election. That sense of feeling wow, she’s a strong woman, she’s clearly principled and determined to make a difference for Scotland. 

What were you like at school?

I was quite quiet. I enjoyed primary school. I enjoyed the subjects and learning and I had a thirst to learn in school.

At secondary school, I was really big into sport and that shaped everything I was doing for a long time. I would travel most weekends to compete at athletics. 

I wouldn’t say I was, you know, the popular kid that kind of floated between friend groups. I enjoyed school and I think the school environment definitely helped. 

I grew up in Orkney. It was a very close community. It was a smaller primary school, I was one of four in my class. I suppose that’s probably where my interest in political activism comes from because throughout my time in primary school, my dad was part of a campaign to stop it being closed. He won it and now we’ve got a brand new school sitting in Burray. I think that community activism and standing up for your local community stuck with me. 

Are you still doing much in the way of athletics? 

I’m more of a pavement plodder now. I dislocated my knee when I was 21. I did a really good job dislocating it too. I took just about every ligament out of my knee so that was another couple of operations to fix that. 

But it’s serendipity because that allowed me to spend more time doing what I probably should have been doing at university which was knuckling down and getting the job done. And I managed to get a good dissertation, came out with a good degree and that set me up for my career, I suppose.

We’re only on the first few questions and that’s two major injuries...

Yeah, there’s probably a theme there. My wife would say I’m accident prone. I don’t know if it’s my competitiveness or if I’m genuinely just really clumsy and get myself into silly situations that cause me pain.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

Lorraine Kelly, Andy Murray, Billy Connolly, Margo McDonald and Barack Obama. Though given work and family commitments of late, a dinner date with my wife would be great.

What’s your greatest fear?

I’m not too partial to spiders. I mean I deal with them in the house. I evict them from the premises, but I’ve developed a bit of a fear. 

I can’t believe where I am and what I’ve got. I suppose I’ve probably got a constant fear of being found out as well. That Imposter Syndrome situation. I’m always working hard to try to make sure that I’m proving myself. Don’t want to let people down. Probably got a fear of that as well.

What’s the worst thing that anyone’s ever said to you?

I’ve been really fortunate on my political journey. I’ve had some abuse but I wouldn’t say that I’ve had my fair share compared to some of my colleagues.

What’s your most treasured possession?

Probably my athletic medals. Yeah, I would say there’s some that I wouldn’t have expected too, that I had to work really hard to achieve. Not necessarily the 400m medals or the 200m medals or the ones that I was doing regularly, but things like the ultramarathon that I ran in 2013. There’s a lot of memories there. You know the hard work and graft and pain that went with that. 

What do you dislike about your appearance?

My hairline has receded significantly over recent years. I don’t know if that’s a correlation with my job or my expanding family. 

I’m not terribly precious. You have to accept who you are and be comfortable in your own skin. I’m quite happy to be who I am.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Peanut butter straight from the jar. When it’s in the house, it’s not in the house for long. When I get the munchies at 9pm, I get a big kilo jar of Skippy peanut butter and a big spoon. I eat it like Bridget Jones eats ice cream.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

When I was elected to Westminster, Jim Sillars said, “don’t let the place suck you in”. That stayed with me my whole time there. 

He told me to make sure I was grounded, and that I had something to always refer back to. He said Westminster would “put you up on a pedestal and make you feel that you’re something that you’re not”. I think was the best advice and got me through my time there.

What skill should every person have?

Listening. 

What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?

Top film will be Shawshank Redemption. Love that. TV programme would be a toss up between Fawlty Towers, Yes Minister and Line of Duty. It’s has been an absolute mainstay in our house over the last year.

What was your best holiday ever?

When my wife and I first went on holiday together when we were about 20, and we went to a two star hotel in Hammamet in Tunisia. There was no air conditioning, there was a wee pool, but not much else. The breakfast consisted of literally bread and some cheese and meat, but it was my first proper foreign holiday. 

When I was growing up, we didn’t really have the money to go on foreign holidays. My family were great at taking us on holiday around Scotland and different parts of UK and I have lovely memories, but we’ve always looked back on that holiday in Tunisia as special. 

What was the last book you read?

The Crossman diaries. The condensed diaries of Richard Crossman who was a Labour cabinet minister under Harold Wilson.  •

Read the most recent article written by Staff reporter - Life Stories: Fiona Hyslop

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