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Getting to know you: Stephen Gethins

Image credit: the office of Stephen Gethins

Getting to know you: Stephen Gethins

What’s your earliest memory? I distinctly remember my dad putting me to bed and telling me, “you’re going to be three tomorrow”. My second earliest memory is from the next day, because my mum had made the most amazing train cake, with a three on it. It wasn’t only a train, it had little carriages on it, with snacks. Not only do I remember the night before but I remember the day too, because it was a pretty awesome cake. A really quality cake.

What were you like at school? I was relatively studious.

Were you confident? Probably less so, at that stage. I enjoyed playing football but I also went to the local theatre for drama group, which probably sounds really nerdy, but it was brilliant, I really enjoyed it. It was the same youth theatre that Ewan McGregor went to, in Perth, and I’m lucky, a lot of the people I met there are still really good friends. And I had a really amazing headteacher at primary school, Brian Toner, who used to do these school plays. He was a fantastic teacher and he instilled a bit more confidence in us all at a young age.

What’s your greatest fear? Do you know, I’ve got a really funny phobia that goes way back. I don’t know if this is going to sound strange but when I was a kid, I read way too much about the Loch Ness monster, in the depths of Loch Ness. I don’t know if this is weird but to this day, it scares me a wee bit. Also, although I do sort stuff out in the house, I’m not great with creepy crawlies and bugs, to this day.

Do you worry about the Loch Ness monster now? No, no, no. Which is reassuring.

Who would be at your dream dinner party? That’s really hard. Let me think. I think LBJ [Lyndon B Johnson] would be really interesting, just because of his political brain and the stuff he did, which was quite forward thinking as well. Also, I’m a mad Arab [Dundee United fan] so I’d have Paul Sturrock along as well. Maybe Jim McLean too, though that might get a wee bit sweary.

I think it would be sweary. How do you think LBJ would handle that? Yeah, it’d be interesting. Also, Constance Markievicz would be an interesting person to speak to, she was the first woman elected as an MP. It’s interesting to get people’s different perspectives.

Can you cook? No, I’m a rubbish cook. I was lucky growing up, my mother insisted on me cooking, but it’s the thing I’m just hopeless at. I can’t cook in any way, shape or form. Actually, can I add one? I find Pope Francis really interesting.

You want to invite Pope Francis and Jim McLean to the same dinner party? I don’t think it would be too shouty, but it would be interesting. Do you know who else would be good? I’m only thinking about this because I just read my daughter ‘Rebel Girls’, otherwise, I wouldn’t have thought about this person ever before, but Coco Chanel. One of my big things is perceived wisdom, you know, things we just think ‘of course, they’re right’. Well, I’m not into fashion in the slightest but I think she would challenge perceptions.

What’s the book? It’s Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. It’s a cracking book, and what’s really good about it, is that for someone like me, it really challenged my perceptions about things. Also, people like Marie Curie too. I’m not a scientist but people that go out and challenge how we do things, I’m really into people that challenge received wisdom. You don’t make progress without challenging how we see the world.

What’s your most treasured possession? I have a first edition of Fitzroy Maclean’s Eastern Approaches, which is a phenomenally good book. He was a Tory MP for Argyll, but the book is about being parachuted in to deal with Tito and the Partisans, and he writes amazingly about his adventures. My granny was really into it, and she gave me the book before she died.

What do you dislike most about your appearance? I’ve gone through life with people telling me I’m skinny. It’s one of these weird things, I’ve always wondered if I was too skinny.

Does working in parliament mess around with your diet? It’s horrendous for your diet, but I used to work in jobs where you had to travel a lot, to places in the former Soviet Union and the Western Balkans, and that messed with your diet too.

If you could travel anywhere in time, where and when would you go? There’s so many, I’d love to see some dinosaurs. Or I’d love to be in Athens around the dawn of democracy, just to see the whole rough and tumble of it. That would be interesting, listening to Pericles.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? I love different types of beer, Belgian beer in particular, from my time there.

You should have run as an MEP. I know, in fact, I’m always much more comfortable in the European Parliament than in Westminster, actually. I did Erasmus, and I love a chippy. But then I’m lucky, I live near St Andrews and we’ve got quality chippies there as well.

What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced? Around the time of the EU referendum, or just before, I had my appendix taken out. I woke up in the middle of the night in the most intense pain, although my wife gave birth just before the 2017 election, so she has got zero sympathy for my sore appendix. It was during the EU referendum campaign, and it was so manic that it actually ended up being quite good, because I actually got to spend two days in St Thomas’ Hospital in London, reading a book while folk brought me cups of tea. I was forced to do that, and I had a nice window.

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