Giles Coren was an angry young man. He’s happy now, thanks to his journalist wife, early nights and long grass. By Louise Flind
Is there anything you can’t leave home without?
My Kindle because I used to pack at least one book per day – so there was never any room for clothes.
Is there something you really miss?
London water for drinking and making tea.
What are your earliest childhood holiday memories?
Corfu and Ibiza were the two places my parents used to go. We’d go for a fortnight and rent a villa. It was the early ’70s: choc ices, Uvistat sun cream if there was any, and buying Disney comics in Spanish, Portuguese or Greek – and my dad pretending to translate them.
What are your memories of your dad, Alan Coren, on holiday?
My dad loved his holidays, didn’t wear sun cream, always burnt, always wore little Speedos.
Were there family arguments on holidays?
Lots of arguments, all the time. We’d often drive down to the South of France in the Volvo with the windows wound up. My parents would smoke 60 fags a day and my sister and I would be going green in the back of the car, begging them to wind the window down, but they wouldn’t because it would spoil my mum’s hair. The Corens were very good at holidays: everyone just got drunk, smoked cigarettes and got sunburnt.
Were there constant discussions about papers and books when you were a child?
Yes – we talked about them all the time.
What’s your favourite bit of Hampstead Heath? Do you bump into Hunter Davies, Valerie Grove and other Oldie writers?
I like it deep in August when the grass gets up very high. I haven’t seen Valerie but I see Hunter almost every day and we always stop for a chat. I bumped into Melvyn [Bragg] the other day. I see Julian Barnes, Howard Jacobson, Julia Hartley-Brewer … lots of people I know.
You wrote a book about anger. Are you less angry than you used to be?
I used to get angry but don’t any more. My dad had a short temper.
Did you mind having to write about your family during the pandemic in your Times magazine column about life at home?
No, it was my idea.
What is your favourite restaurant in Britain and abroad?
The Bell Inn at Langford in Oxfordshire. I don’t like foreign restaurants [giggles].
What do you read on holiday?
Sometimes two novels a day – anything except Harry Potter.
Do you prefer writing or being on telly?
I hate them both. If I had money, I wouldn’t do either…
Lord Beaverbrook said, ‘I pity anyone who isn’t a journalist.’ Is it the best job in the world?
Yes, yes, of course. A wonderful quote – and I hadn’t heard it, of course. The reason I’m so happily married to my wife is not because she’s beautiful, funny and nice but because she’s a journalist.
If you weren’t a journalist, what would you be?
A bad, penniless novelist.
What’s your favourite building in London?
When I was at Westminster School, we had our dinner near the Jerusalem Chamber where Henry IV died.
Did you like Westminster School?
I didn’t much appreciate the school; I was sort of lonely and miserable. When everyone else was playing football, I’d wander into Westminster Abbey.
You were at Oxford – your favourite building in Oxford?
I didn’t like Oxford much. Out of loyalty’s sake, I’d better say Keble Chapel [he was at Keble College].
You lived in Paris – what is your favourite building in Paris?
I didn’t like Paris, either! The Hôtel Salé with all those Picasso goats in the garden.
Where did you go on your honeymoon?
Crete for a week, and Santorini for another.
Do you lie on the beach?
Yes, yes, all the time – and anyone who says they don’t like it is a fool…
Do you have a daily routine even when you’re away?
I wake up and go to bed early wherever I am.
Do you stay in a hotel or in an apartment?
Ideally in a villa with a cook.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Raw donkey in Tuscany.
What’s your biggest headache?
My fear of disappointment. I like to know what’s going to be there, arrive and find it.
What’s the strangest place you’ve ever slept in – while being away?
On a patch of grass when I was 20 in the Hippodrome, Istanbul.
Do you like coming home?
I like being at home all the time, which is why I liked lockdown.