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by Andrew Learmonth
18 November 2021
Getting To Know You: Tess White

Getting To Know You: Tess White

What’s your earliest memory?
Making sandcastles on the beach in Wales. We had a Volkswagen Dormobile and we used to go to the same place, to the same house, every summer. We’d pile in with the luggage in a triangle on top. I remember the tomato sandwiches, we’d always have tomato sandwiches on our way down. 

What were you like at school?
Diligent and sporty. Always got involved, whether it was the school play or the hockey team or rounders. 

And are you still sporty? Do you still do any acting?
I don’t do any acting but I am a second dan in karate. I’m a member of what’s called JKA Scotland. 

Wow. You must be pretty good if you’re a second dan?
I started when I was 17, then I did it at university and then I gave up when I had a family because it just wasn’t practical. I got my son started but he only managed to get to a green belt and then gave up, and then I realised that he wasn’t going to do it so I started back again when I was 40. And then I got my black belt by the time I was 50 and then I did my second dan two years ago.

Who is your dream dinner date?
Joanna Lumley. I think she’s fun. She’d be great because the conversation could cover many areas.  I used to love watching Absolutely Fabulous. You could almost go back to when she was a serious actor in the Avengers to then becoming a comedy actor and then [her role in the settlement campaign for] the Gurkhas.

What’s the worst thing that anyone’s ever said to you?
Accusing me of being anti-European because I voted for Brexit. It’s not true. I speak French, I speak Dutch. I am not anti-European. 

What’s your most treasured possession?
My hot water bottle.

Is it a special one? Have you had it for a while?
No, because they last me about five or six years then they burst. It isn’t a particular one but it is my most treasured possession. 

What do you dislike about your appearance?
My height.

How tall are you? 
Five foot two and a half. The half is very important. And one of the things about karate is it helps keeps the height, because when you’re in your 50s you start to shrink and so it’s enabled me to keep my back straight. 

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Beef crisps.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I would go to my first year at university and my first Freshers Week, because Wham! were playing that week and I didn’t go and I’m really upset with myself for not going.

I really wanted to go and then I didn’t because I didn’t think it was trendy because I was a heavy rocker at that time. I was into Deep Purple. And then I got into George Michael later after Wham! So that’s my regret. 

I was very serious at university, really diligent, there were so many good groups on that week. I wish I’d made full use of my first week.

Are you still into Deep Purple and rock?
Yeah. I used to have a goatskin coat and when I was a teenager I’d spend Friday evenings embroidering my jeans. Do you know the Rush sign? That was the hardest thing I embroidered. I’ve seen Black Sabbath a few times. I saw Def Leppard when they first formed at the Manchester Apollo. 

What was your favourite gig?
Genesis at the Birmingham Marina, that was my favourite. I think it was in 1983. But then I went to see Rita Ora a few years ago and I really liked that as well. So I’m very eclectic. When I was young, I used to go to the Halle with my mum in Manchester and so I like classical.  I play the guitar. I used to be in a brass band, and we played all over the country. We actually cut a CD, the Marple brass band. So I just love music. 

You’re the second Tory MSP from the north east of Scotland to have their own CD. Peter Chapman released a collection of Doric songs. Anyway, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
You can do whatever you want as long as you understand what the consequences will be. That came from Graham Sweeney, my boss at Shell when I was on the board of Shell renewables. That was a paradigm shift, actually, when he said that to me.

What skills should every person have?
The ability to read.

What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?
The Great Escape.

Any particular reason? 
When I saw Steve McQueen on that motorbike, I knew that one day I wanted a motorbike. And I learned to ride at the Harley school in Wales, and then I got a motorbike and I loved it.

Do you still have the motorbike, do you still go out?
No, I sold it. I had to choose between karate or my motorbike because I had an almost near collision and a friend of mine at karate had had a similar thing and lost his knee. And, at the time, I just thought, ‘I’m in my 40s, I can’t have both’. 

So I had to sell the motorbike. She was called Rosie and she was a dream and I sold her to my friend who has still got her actually and is very happy with her.

What’s your best holiday?
When I went to Béziers in France. I’d never been abroad. I was 15. There was an amphitheatre and UB40 and The Police were playing. I basically fell in love with France and after that I went often. I worked in France, I speak fluent French, I sing in French – badly. 

What was the last book you read?
It’s a book called Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Miners' Pardon: 'I knew I had done nothing wrong'

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