28th January 2019
Writer, comedian, director and dad father of three, Ben Elton, 59, chats wine and western Australia with Amanda Statham
We used to go to East Wittering in West Sussex when I was a kid, which is a beautiful part of the world. The holidays that left the biggest impression on me, however, were between the ages of five and 11, when we used to go to my Uncle Heinz’s farm in Datterode in central Germany. He and his cousin had fought in the war on different sides (Heinz had been adopted by my great uncle and wasn’t ethnically a Jew, so was conscripted into the Wehrmacht, while his cousin Gottfried fought in the British Army). Then, when the war was over, Heinz reclaimed the farmhouse and it brought the family back together, which was fascinating to me. He’s an amazing character and still alive – in fact, he had his 100th birthday recently!
My kids have reached that age where a holiday is the best way of getting to see them, as two are at uni and one at school full-time. We’re currently based in Fremantle in Australia, as my wife Sophie is from Oz. I met her when I first arrived down under in the 80s. I was performing with Rik Mayall and she was a sexy female bass player! It’s where we wanted to raise our children, though I have dual citizenship with the UK, so we could split our time between both countries when the kids have all left home. We did a great six-day family road trip down Western Australia, taking in Albany and Margaret River. I thought we might fight, all of us crammed into a car, but it was actually really good fun.
Put your phones down. Talk. And these days it’s not always the parents telling kids off, it’s often the other way around. In fact, I’ve included a character in my new film who can’t stop looking at her tablet and phone, to the annoyance of her teenage daughter.
Earplugs. I’ve travelled all over the world and this is the one thing that I never, ever travel without. Whether you’re stranded at an airport or need to quieten noise on a plane, they’re fantastic at helping to block the world out when it’s become too much. I know you can get sophisticated noise-reduction headphones these days, but I don’t find anything works as well as a foam earplug!
I’m a fan of the grape and grain, so when I travel I like to try local brews. If I find one I really enjoy, whether it’s a beer, spirit or wine, I’ll bring a bottle back. The only trouble being that I do like to travel light and try to take hand luggage only if possible – and they don’t let you through with a bottle of booze, which is annoying.
I’m back to Australia and Sophie’s actually coming to the UK to see our daughter at university here, so we’ll be crossing paths and I’ll be the one back home making the sandwiches and doing the washing. We’re all getting together in January, though, for a family ski trip to Zermatt in Switzerland. It’s a pricey trip but worth it to get the whole family together, and the place is fantastic – a small village resort just beneath the Matterhorn. Really stunning.
I’m a big fan of Scotland. I love Edinburgh, for its hundreds of years of culture and the grand architecture from the Industrial Revolution. It’s a jewel. But the Highlands are fantastic too – I love the heather, the Munros, the lochs, the tiny crofts. Actually, the best journey is from London up to Fort William on the sleeper train. It’s perhaps not as amazing as it was 30 years ago, but I still think that it’s a top journey. Order a whisky, read The 39 Steps [the thriller by Scottish author John Bucan] and enjoy!
Ben Elton has written the script for Kenneth Branaugh’s new film, All Is True, about Shakespeare in retirement, out in UK cinemas February 2019