INTERVIEW: Sue Perkins
A rare chance to enjoy an evening with Sue Perkins, packed full of crackling wit and dubious puns. Sue – the No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author of Spectacles – is touring to celebrate the publication of her new travel memoir East of Croydon.
Sharing her extraordinary adventures from the Himalayas to Hong Kong where she explores the tranquil Mekong River, the less tranquil streets of Varanasi and meets a selection of randy hermits and shamans.
Sue talks more about what you can expect from the tour….
You are touring the country with this book. What can people expect if they come along to your tour?
They can expect me, but without the team of make up artists, stylists, lighting cameramen and special effects experts who make me appear presentable on the telly. I can seem a little shocking at first, in my unvarnished state, but you’ll get used to it over the course of the evening.
Describe your book, and your journey to us in your own words?
This is a follow up to my autobiography, Spectacles, and charts my life from 2014 onward, during which I’ve trotted round a fair chunk of the globe.
You had not done much travelling before these big trips? What was it that made you say yes to filming a documentary in the Mekong Delta, and along the Ganges?
Prior to 2014 I’d day-tripped to Brighton, showed off for a month every year at the Edinburgh Festival and spent a memorable fortnight in a tower block in Torremolinos in the Costa del Sol. That was about it. The Perkins family are, traditionally, built more for comfort than adventure
Of all the people you met on the trip, can you identify one or two who had the most impact on you?
I was very taken with a woman called Seebagh from the Kreung tribe in Ratanakiri in Northern Cambodia. I immediately connected with her. I listened, with fascination, to her stories. She, in turn, laughed at me. When I returned to camp, I realised I had an enormous pig turd spattered all over my back, which may have accounted for the reason she found me so hilarious.
Secondly, not a person, but an elephant. Onion, the elephant, to be precise. I was lucky enough to spend time at the Elephant Valley Project in Monolokiri, looking after the animals rescued from a life of pain and suffering in the tourism and logging industry. Onion was still grieving over the death of her boyfriend, Bob, and she would walk to their favourite spot every morning and wait for him. It was a privilege to care for her, and spend time in her world for a little while. You can volunteer there, and I thoroughly recommend it.
And are there any particular places that left you with a profound, lasting impression?
Luang Prabang in Laos is very special. Everyone had told me how ‘mellow’ and ‘chill’ it was, which was enough to put me off. However, once I’d arrived, a sense of total peace enveloped me. Within moments, I was one pair of tie-dye trousers away from the full hippy. GO there.
If anyone was reading this and thinking of travelling to the Mekong or Ganges, what would be your top packing tips?
When I went on my first big trip, I took everything with me; waders, hazmat suits, oxygen tanks, satellite phones –you name it. The more I travelled, the lighter my bag became. You don’t need much; a good pair of shoes, some ear plugs and your anti-malarials (if you’re heading off the beaten track) It may sound hokey, but it’s true – your attitude is way more important than the contents of your suitcase.
You mention eating lots of strange things on your travels – any particular high/low lights?
We would often stay with host families, and in those situations, it’s extremely impolite to refuse their hospitality. I do remember sitting down to a meal of what looked liked barbecued rat and thinking that I’d have to drink heavily in order to cope.
Oh, and deep-fried frog is something of an acquired taste.
Can you share any particular lessons that you learned from your travels that you care to share?
If the translator starts laughing as you put something in your mouth, spit it out immediately. If your choice of dinner is making a local giggle, then you can bet it’s not a good choice…