Priti Patel: My life in travel – the recently departed minister talks family holidays, mountain trips and Liam Fox with our resident travel guide

Golan Heights - unimaginably beautiful

What is your favourite journey?

I love mountain air and last summer, during a family trip to Israel, was lucky enough to catch a ride, as many ordinary tourists do, with a couple of dozen armed friends in an armoured convoy to an unimaginably beautiful place called Golan Heights. The view was breath-taking and it was lovely to chill out with the guys up there and talk about their fund-raising efforts for a new military outpost. Many of them are hard-working soldiers – just getting on with life. It reminded me a lot of the Mendips – but with more barbed wire – and machine guns.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Liam Fox is a joy to travel with. He’s always surrounded by such interesting and amusing men and has a lovely manner, particularly with young people. Contrary to popular opinion, there are some politicians who are without airs, graces or conceit. I’m one of them. Liam is definitely another and then of course there’s the wonderful, charismatic – John Redwood. Lovely John and I once shared a train to Macclesfield and we laughed all the way – mostly about how stupid everyone who disagrees with us is!

liam fox
Disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox

Are you a sun lounger, a culture vulture or an adrenaline fiend?

None of the above! I’m very much a people person. I believe that if you go to a foreign country on holiday you should get out of the hotel, away from the hotspots and just meet the “ordinary Benjamins.” The Prime Ministers. The military top brass. That way you can really get much more of an understanding of a place.

Dream trip

The great thing about Brexit is that once we’ve left the EU we’ll be able to travel anywhere we like again. I’d quite like to go to Belize. I know a lot of people who say it’s paradise.

What is your first holiday memory?

There’s a popular misconception that my parents fled Idi Amin’s Uganda in the 1970s to settle in Britain like ‘refugees’ or something like that – but it’s completely untrue. We are as British as Prince Phillip. The delusion grew out of my family’s love of travel. My great-great grandparents went on holiday to Africa in the early twentieth century and liked it so much they just extended their vacation sixty years. Sure my parents were born there and my ancestors are from India but we have always been British. Obviously on an extended holiday you’re going to make a lot of friends – so as a child we’d frequently go there but let me be absolutely clear about this. My parents were on holiday in Africa and were not immigrants to this country.

idi amin
Idi Amin

Worst thing about travelling

Queues. They’re my bête noir. Queues at immigration are mostly the fault of other people of course and this is yet another reason why we need to slash migration figures. Another Brexit plus!

What do you read on holidays?

I’m a voracious reader. I love to read Facebook and Twitter. Possibly sometimes a magazine if I want to devour something really meaty – or a WhatsApp thread.

What luxuries can’t you live without?

Cigarettes. Lovely, soothing, warm tobacco. I don’t smoke but I love cigarettes. And the packaging was an art form wasn’t it, before the EU in their “wisdom” started suggesting it glamourised smoking. Ridiculous nonsense. People like to smoke without looking at charred lungs! Yuck! Get over it Brussels busy-bodies!

queue
Brexit benefit! Queues will end as people stop visiting Britain

What was the last journey you went on?

I took a flight back from Uganda this week. I’d only been away a couple of days but I was deeply moved by the warmth of feeling towards me in Britain and the concern for my safety. I’m told ordinary journalists watched my flight from beginning to end to make sure it touched down OK! Imagine how good that feels! Knowing you mean that much to people – well – it’s flattering.

A place you would like to visit that you have never been to

I’m told Witham in Essex is lovely.

Have you ever been in a difficult situation while travelling?

A couple of years ago I went on holiday with my lovely assistant, Alex Sawyer, who is also my husband when he’s not doing his high-powered job! There was a mix up with our reservation so I decided we should sit where we wanted. After a bit of a rumpus an air hostess told me that the seat was “First Class” and belonged to somebody else and that I had to leave and sit in “economy”. Imagine the indignity. Well they were just about to call security to forcibly eject us when I gracefully volunteered to leave my seat – by myself – voluntarily.

Where next?

I quit my ministerial post much as I left that airplane seat – voluntarily. In fact Theresa May begged me to stay. She’s a great PM and I’m backing her all the way. One day of course she might choose to step down. It’d be pretty nice to have another woman in Downing Street, wouldn’t it?

Priti Patel – thank you