My haven: Wine writer, TV presenter and author Oz Clarke, 63, relaxes with a drink in the basement study of his west London home
17:29 GMT, 4 November 2012
Oz Clarke in his basement office relaxing
Before I went into the wine trade I was an actor in the West End in the 80s. This picture from 1982 shows one of the highlights, playing General Peron opposite Stephanie Lawrence’s absolutely sensational Evita. But after five years I was exhausted, so I thought I’d write a wine book between shows and then go back to the stage. But I never did. Yet there’s nothing like the thrill of getting up on stage in front of 2,000 people.
I’ll always treasure this picture of my mother Kitty and father Owen on their wedding day in India in 1945. My dad was a doctor tending to wounded troops out there during the war, my mother an Irish volunteer who survived two torpedo attacks to get there. They met in 1944 and married within a year, as so many did back then – having no idea what the future held. The thing I love most is the wonderful look of optimism on their faces.
At the age of 12 I got a Teach Yourself Banjolele book out of the library and taught myself to play it in a few months. It’s a cross between a banjo and a ukulele and has given me an awful lot of enjoyment over the years. It never had the desired effect on the ladies though. I can remember trying to woo one young lass with it, only for it to go down like a lead balloon. I still have a strum from time to time – it’s a great way to unwind.
I grew up in North Kent and I’ve always been an ardent Gillingham FC fan. I see them a few times a season and I still have my ticket stub from our Wembley play-off win against Wigan in 2000. I’ll be a Gills fan until I die – I’ve never seen the point of supporting a team based at the other end of the country just because they’re glamorous. This book I’m reading, Never Look Back by Haydn Parry, tells the story of the club.
Rowing is massive at Oxford, so I got into an Eight, learnt to row, and thoroughly enjoyed the discipline of running down to the towpath at 6am, busting a gut out on the river, then having an enormous fry-up. During Eights Week you try to bump into the boat in front and if you get a bump every day you’re given your oar, a great honour. The oar has my precise weight on it from back then – 12st – a great spur to stay in shape.
This bottle of Chteau Palmer 1964 is a memento of the first blind wine tasting contest I ever won as a student. My Oxford pals and I beat Cambridge and won a crate of this, although we polished off all but one bottle in weeks. I only started drinking wine at Oxford, and this bottle takes me back to the days when few British people did – I like to think I’ve played a small part in turning us into a nation of wine lovers.