Listen to this article
Sir Simon Jenkins, 70, journalist, author and broadcaster, edited The Times from 1990 to 1992 and has also edited the London Evening Standard. He has been chairman of the National Trust since 2008 and was knighted in 2004 for services to journalism.
What was your earliest ambition?
I wanted to escape, escape, escape, to be somewhere I wasn’t. Then when I was at school I wanted to run the country.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
I started out in the state system and ended up in the public system at Mill Hill School. I enjoyed school when I was younger – I found primary and prep school exhilarating – but I found public school much more inhibiting. Then I found university a release. I went to St John’s College, Oxford.
Who was or still is your mentor?
Mr Morrison, my classics master at school – I don’t know what his first name was. He taught me Plato and Socrates. He was a remarkable man and teacher. He started me out in being argumentative.
How physically fit are you?
Pretty fit. I play tennis. I climb mountains in the summer and I climb Cader Idris twice a year. I love feeling fit.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
No question: ambition. I always say to young journalists who want to know how to get on that it’s 80 per cent wanting to badly enough.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
I took the 11-plus and failed it. IQ tests are ridiculous.
How politically committed are you?
I’m fanatically politically committed. My commitments don’t happen to coincide with those of a coherent party but I care strongly about issues and topics.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
No. I think the impact of my carbon footprint is so utterly trivial as to be beyond consideration. It’s not that I don’t believe in global warming but it’s like not eating dinner in order to help the starving.
Do you have more than one home?
I’ve got one home, which is in London, but we have a family holiday house in Wales.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A helicopter. I would love to be liberated from the awful British road network.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
A garden in Kensington.
In what place are you happiest?
In that garden, I suppose.
What ambitions do you still have?
I’ve always wanted to sail across the Atlantic.
What drives you on?
The awful passage of time. The brevity of what’s left to us.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Trying to make people aware of the architecture of England, which sounds a bit pompous. Editing the newspapers I’ve worked for. And I love running the National Trust.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
Personal things I’ll leave out. Never having written a good novel. I can hardly open the fiction pages of the newspaper without wincing.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
I haven’t a clue! Maybe: “It could have been a lot worse.”
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I would collect the dole and write. I might even get round to the novel. Possessions are just possessions.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
Yes, totally. I’ve campaigned for it. I strongly believe in the right to die.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
‘England’s 100 Best Views’ by Simon Jenkins is published by Profile Books, £25
Get alerts on Simon Jenkins when a new story is published