Interview: Bill Bryson

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In an exclusive Tab interview, best-selling author BILL BRYSON tells KATIE FORSTER about his enjoyable experiences with weed, why he will never use Twitter and how Mitt Romney very nearly won him over.

Testament to Bill Bryson’s popularity is the length of the excited queue that stretches up the stairs following his talk at the Union. The best-selling transatlantic author has promised to sign copies of his books about travel, science and the English language – after a quick chat with The Tab, of course.

Despite the chaotic buzz around his presence at the Union, Bryson is gentle, smiley and very polite. I turn on my phone to record the interview and he looks at it as if it’s a small animal he’s never encountered before.

“Phones do that now?” he asks in quiet wonder. “My family won’t let me have a decent phone because I lose them as soon as I get them.”

Born in small town Iowa, Bryson first came to Britain after leaving university to travel around Europe, and liked it so much he decided to stay. His witty observations on the peculiarities of British culture were published in the hugely successful Notes from a Small Island.

Does he regret dropping out of university? “That’s a tough one. I was a terrible student, completely under-motivated at every possible level, because I wanted to go out and live in the real world.

“I ended up having a better life than if I’d followed a conventional educational course. But I was lucky – I came from a generation when you could get a job on a good newspaper without having a degree.”

There’s no denying that Bryson is an adventurous spirit. In his talk he described close scrapes with grizzly bears in the American wilderness and near-death experiences on light aircraft in Africa. Does he think that globalisation has made travel less exciting?

“It’s now much easier to get from place to place, which has taken some of the magic out of it. When I first came to Europe there wasn’t a single McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, so you had to rely on your own resources and eat locally. Each country was more individual which made the world a more interesting place.

“We did a lot of hitchhiking. It never occurred to me that it might be dangerous. One striking thing was that we got picked up by a lot of women. I’m not sure if that would happen now.”

Bryson is well-known for his comical critiques of fat, stupid Americans who do not understand sarcasm. He returned to live in the States with his family for eight years and has written about his relationship to America in The Lost Continent , A Walk in the Woods and Notes from a Big Country.

He is happy about the results of the US election and describes Obama as “a remarkable human being”. Yet he admits that he recently found himself in a tricky situation concerning his political allegiance.

“I come from a long line of democrats but just before the election Mitt Romney was asked his favourite books and he said one of mine, which made it tough. So I like Romney better than I used to, but I still didn’t want him to be president.”

He declares himself “completely in favour” of the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and Washington. “I haven’t smoked marijuana in a very long time myself but I’m very happy for other people to do so, because I really enjoyed it when I did it.

“I don’t see any reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to do it. I have a friend from California who has it on prescription for insomnia, and it makes a world of difference for him.”

As someone with a good knowledge of both countries, would he rather be president of the USA, or Prime Minister of Britain? “Neither!” he cries, wide-eyed. “I would hate doing all the stuff they have to do to get elected.

“There has to be almost something slightly wrong with you to be able to put up with all that, especially in America where the campaign literally goes on for years. Britain is pretty bad but America is just insane. I couldn’t shake hands with and be pleasant to that many people.”

Bryson has now settled in Norfolk with his family. He thinks that there’s a “kind of cosiness” in the fact that Britain’s high streets are all pretty much identical, pointing out that chains such as WH Smith and Boots were already around when he arrived.

He calls the Olympic opening ceremony “a genuinely joyous occasion, one of the best experiences I’ve had in this country” and says he will never succumb to Twitter as “it’s really not in my nature to want to engage in any kind of relationship with lots of strangers.”

There is only time for one more question before he is whisked off to sign some books. Does he consider himself a hippy? “Yes, in spirit!” he giggles. “I suppose everyone from my generation still does, on a lot of levels.”

Peace out, Bill…

  • BB Fan

    His talk at the Union was great!

  • Em

    Please stop saying the word “pre.” Just no.

    • Obviously

      That’s what we call it

  • Pop M.D.

    Good company make a good night out, not your surroundings.

    I have never, ever heard anyone call pre-drinking “pre”.

  • Lucian

    The most banal article ever written. I mean honestly, who cares about the life of this untalented, self-absorbed wannabe DJ?

  • April Vellacott

    He has poor taste in music and little experience – I’ve opened for Yolanda B Cool. #girlpower

  • Benoît’s Ego

    There’s not a single mention of me in this article.

  • Juan Torres Ray

    Toss pots

  • anon

    I think you’re making some sweeping statements here. A lot of bouncers, in Newcastle, are just dicks. See: Sam Jacks.

    • Colin

      I think students are all dicks ! See newcastle for the worst !

  • Pingback: miumiu ブレスレット()

  • hm no

    They’re twenty-something year old men and they discussed raping women. They’re old enough to know better and understand why they’re being criticised. Stop your pity party.

    • logic.

      If 2 people discussed those things (and they’ve both been outed), why does it mean you can destroy the lives of dozens of other people? You’re a moron.

  • waitwhat

    Yea but I mean The Tab released their names… The Student didn’t release their names in any of their articles concerning this debacle, so maybe you should be having this conversation with your own newspaper

    • ..

      They didn’t even release the names of the people responsible for the horrible comments…they just started railing on the guy who’s twitter they found first

  • Hypocritical shite

    Jesus, The Tab really does have a need to add to the noise regardless of what they’re promoting. You can’t condemn a “lynch mob” that you helped spearhead with a sensationalist article and then later claim moral superiority.

    In this very article you’ve uploaded an uncenscored photo of DKE members that (myself included) many people will never have seen before, adding to the frenzy that you’re apparently so superior too.

    There’s so much wrong with this its hard to fathom why anyone thought it would be a good idea to post.

  • regular reader

    this entire news site is a load of shit

  • David Towndrow

    This is the best thing I’ve ever read

  • OP leg

    who’s the girl with the milk shes peng

  • lowe

    bullshit if youve had it since week 4, def cleaned up for inspections and then were messy bellends

  • St Andrews

    we missed you

  • madeleine otto

    Thank you. I’m making a comeback.

  • meep

    I didn’t add those photos in. My original photos were different.

  • Alex

    Your logic if flawed. Just because it’s University property does not make everything that happens there public information. If that were the case, you would be entitled to know exactly what happens in a University toilet. Let’s hope you don’t believe that. Again, your logic is flawed. Come back with a better argument.

  • mais non

    The logic isn’t flawed. The society is registered with the University to proceed with these meetings- they were granted space and were trusted not to abuse it with the dissemination of misogynistic, inappropriate material. What are you even talking about as regards ‘public information’? It’s not a sect but a society within a larger community that we all share, and should not have anything to keep private or hidden in a scummy corner in the first place. It isn’t the same as a University toilet-unless you conduct meetings there too, no judgement.

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