The Inventory: Paddy Ashdown

Paddy Ashdown, 73, served as a Royal Marine and an intelligence officer before being elected MP for Yeovil in 1983. He was leader of the Liberal Democrat party from 1988 until 1999 and High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 until 2006. He was knighted in 2000.

What was your earliest ambition?

At the age of four, having spent my entire life on [then India’s] North-West Frontier, I saw the sea for the first time and fell in love with it. I swore then to join the Royal Navy.

Call of the sea: the Royal Marines

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Bedford School. I took a naval scholarship at 16. My maths wasn’t good enough for the RN, so I had to choose the Royal Marines – a far better place for me, as it happened.

Who was your mentor?

A remarkable man, John Eyre, changed my life when I was 16. He introduced me to poetry and literature, got me to act in the school play, got me to sing madrigals – he gave me a love of classical music.

How physically fit are you?

I have an Anglo-Saxon view that if I keep fit I can eat and drink too much without doing too much harm.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

No.

How politically committed are you?

Politics is the thing for which my gifts and experiences were made.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Somebody once said, “The harder I work, I find, the luckier I get.” That’s true. I tend to work quite hard and to be quite ambitious.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Yes – we always have done.

Do you have more than one home?

A flat in London and a cottage in Somerset. My wife and I wanted to bring our kids up in the country.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

More time with my grandchildren. A hi-fi system that would make the cottage bounce with Beethoven.

Your biggest extravagance?

A whole day I can spend writing and researching uninterrupted.

In what place are you happiest?

Wherever my kids and grandchildren are. Our cottage and the garden.

What ambitions do you still have?

To be prime minister. What other ambition can you possibly have? People know me as an ex-soldier, as a politician, but it would be flattering to be introduced as Paddy Ashdown the author. My secret ambition is to find someone reading one of my books on the tube. It hasn’t happened yet.

What drives you on?

Blaise Pascal once said of space: “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.” The eternal silence of retirement scares me to death.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Being MP for Yeovil. There is no greater privilege than representing the area you love.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

I would love to have led my party into government.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

He’d be very surprised. Looking back on my life, I don’t know how I got from there to here.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

If I had a decent voice or could play an instrument I’d have loved to be in a choir or an orchestra. Or a teacher: the greatest of all professions.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Jane and I both have living wills. After nursing my father, I concluded that if there are issues of morality, they seem to me to be submerged by issues of humanity.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Not sure. But I do believe in a divine.

How do you rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10?

10. I’ve been so lucky. If someone said, “Sorry, Paddy, it’s all over from this afternoon”, I wouldn’t have cause for complaint.


“The Cruel Victory: The French Resistance, D-Day and the Battle for the Vercors 1944”, by Paddy Ashdown, is published by William Collins, £25

Photographs: Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures; Getty

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