A gap in their lives

15th August 1997 at 01:00
Interview:Tom Conti;Michael Fish;Professor Lesley Regan;Oliver James;Frank Delaney; Barbara Taylor Bradford;Tony Banks;David Gentleman;Denise Lewis;Anna Home

Minister for Sport Tony Banks has visions of becoming a bilingual, muscle-bound expert on the18th century; the very idea fills novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford with horror. The idea of a gap year, that is. But time out can never come too late for some, as Pamela Coleman discovers


Actor, currently filming a new movie, Out of Control, in Canada and the US

"I'd go abroad and experience another culture. If I was young, I'd take a room in Paris to share with a chum, preferably a female French chum, learn to speak French well, and learn how to make love in French and find out how the people thought, how they viewed the world, especially how they viewed England.

"I have never had a year off. My daughter Nina did; she went to Paris and, in a way, I envied her. I would very much like to have done that when I was young.

"If money was no object I would go in my Land Rover - it only does 13 miles to the gallon. After France, I might move on to Italy or go deeper into Eastern Europe. People in Britain don't understand what a cultured area mainland Europe is."


Head of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at St Mary's Hospital Medical School, London "I regret that I didn't have a gap year because I think it would have given me more perspective when I started my medical studies. I would have liked to have done something like VSO, to have gone and worked in a Third World country.

"Now, at 41, if I took a year out I'd work. I've just had nine weeks off, which is far too short a time. I went to Stanford University in California and worked in a laboratory trying to understand a bit more about molecular biology. I did things I never have time to get involved with here. . .without the responsibilities of running a department and looking after patients. The phone rang all the time and it was never for me. It was fabulous, nine weeks of bliss. And I came away with the ability to make a critical appraisal.

"I wouldn't dream of saying I've gone molecular and I can understand it, but what really bothered me before was that I didn't have enough knowledge to be able to stand back and look at a paper I was asked to review or a grant application I was being asked my opinion about.

"I'm going to drop out later and have a year off for pleasure. My pipe dream is to live in the south of France. The only other thing, apart from medicine, I really ever wanted to do in life was to be an opera singer but I've missed that boat completely. I've left it much too late."


Weather forecaster

"I don't like hot weather, I'd much rather have it cold, so in my gap year I might head for the Antarctic. I like going to out-of-the-way places that are off the normal beaten track. I'd never get a round-the-world ticket - like young students do - because they all end up in exactly the same places, like Bangkok or Sydney.

"Usually I take holidays away from the tourists and stay in small hotels and eat in local restaurants, and meet the locals and sample their way of life. I wouldn't go to a five-star hotel if you paid me. Once I've been to a place I never return. I've been there, done that, got the photograph. The world is much too big to keep going back to the same place."


Television psychologist. His latest book, Britain on the Couch, will be published by Century on September 18

"Between leaving Eton and going to Cambridge, I spent the first two months of my gap year on a building site, then I bought a Honda 125 and went to Manchester to help to set up a play scheme for 50 disturbed children with Community Service Volunteers.

"Now, if I had a year out, I think I would use it to study. It would be a wonderful opportunity to pursue something like economics. I don't want to become an economist, but I would like to be able to read economics books and understand them, and develop my own point of view and relate psychology to economics. My instinct is that advanced capitalism is very unhelpful to our evolved psychological needs.

"As an alternative, I would be quite tempted to return to the jungle in Ecuador where I went in 1978 to do research. I would like to see how it has changed and perhaps take a camera with me and make a documentary about it.

"But I am 43, and I really like my life in London and have a lot of things I want to do. I don't really want a gap year. As a psychologist looking at myself, it could be I am too involved in my career mission and not sufficiently alert to the broadening possibilities the offer should be opening up and isn't. I tend to think it is simply that I know what interests me."


Author and broadcaster. His latest book, a psychological thriller, The Amethysts, was published by HarperCollins in July

"I've just had a year out - but that was enforced because of illness. The whole idea of a gap year is a lovely one because, being a writer, one has a fantasy that you'll take a few months off and then a wonderful new idea will come to you. But that isn't actually how it works, because the ideas come when you are working.

"If I had a year out through choice I would examine why, in that enforced year off, the novel I was writing changed so completely. What was meant to be a middle-of-the-road middle-market thriller turned into a much more considerable piece of work dealing with the presence of evil in all of us.

"I had written about a third of it before I became ill, including a quite considerable hospital scene which was never re-written because I had anticipated it almost to the letter. I almost saw my own future. That enforced year out made me think there is no such thing as time out from creative time. It also made me use pockets of time that suddenly present themselves to test new and exciting ideas.

"The ultimate reward of a gap year, enforced or not, is that it gives you a period of self-examination. And I decided in my year out to move from London to Somerset, to countryside that is very similar to the lush green fields where I grew up in Ireland, back to my roots."


Author. Her new novel, Power of a Woman, was published by HarperCollins in July

"A gap year? I've never heard of a gap year. I went to school in Leeds and I don't think there was such a thing as a year out in my day. It never occurred to me to take a year off then, nor would it now. I'd go into a total panic. I wouldn't know what to do.

"I left school at 16 and went into the typing pool of the Yorkshire Evening Post - much to my parents' horror. They were hoping I'd go to Leeds University, but I was focused on becoming a journalist and thought the best route was to get a job on the local paper as soon as possible. I got an honorary doctorate from Leeds a few years ago but sadly my parents had both died by then.

"I do take time off but I produce a book a year and, if I'm not researching, I'm writing with just a normal few weeks' vacation. I get very restless on holiday so I would be more so if I had a whole year off.

"I would be a bit apprehensive about losing the momentum of writing. It takes me a while to psyche myself into the next book and, although I wouldn't be afraid I wouldn't write again if I took a year out, I'd be panic-stricken about becoming bored.

"I am very driven. I don't go to lunch and I hate shopping. There are only so many books you can read, so many movies you can see and I travel anyway. I'd feel guilty about taking a year off. It would be such a waste of time."


Minister for Sport

"If I had a year off I'd like to do three things: First, I would go down to the gym every day and spend two or three hours getting healthy. Then I would eat a very light lunch and go off to my language class. I would like to learn a foreign language, particularly French, so I could join in all the interesting political debates that take place in Europe. I think the real important work is done when they start speaking languages other than English.

"And then I would turn my activities to study of the 18th century. I do a lot of reading about Wilkes and Pitt and Charles James Fox, and I would like to become a renowned expert on 18th-century politics.

"I'm being optimistic because in a year I don't think I would necessarily turn out to be a bilingual, muscle-bound 18th-century expert - but I'd like to work towards it. It's a very attractive flight of fancy.

"If I took a year out, I probably wouldn't want to go back to politics. The more I think about my fantasy year, the more I think I would feel that there are other things I could perhaps spend my time doing. The fact is that if you took a year out as a politician not only would you probably not want to go back, you probably wouldn't get back!" DENISE LEWIS

Athlete. Silver medal winner in the heptathlon at last week's world athletics championships in Athens

"Psychology is an unused area in sport in Britain and if I had a year off I might embark on an Open University course in the subject. Quite a few people have told me that I like playing mind-games.

"I'd also like to go ski-ing and to learn to speak German fluently. I have family in Switzerland so it would be useful.

"Or I might start a family. I'm 24 and so busy I can't see a year in which I could take time off, but my partner and I would like to have children. It's difficult for athletes to take a year out from their careers, especially if things are going really well. Right now I can see myself competing for another seven-and-a-half years.

"I daren't take a year off though. I don't know how my body would feel afterwards. I've never actually experienced being out of shape, I've been training since I was at school.

"I'm not sure I'm brave enough to take a year off - but sometimes when the training is really difficult I think I could just do with taking time out, sitting in and chilling out."



"India, that's where I'd go if I had a year to spend as I wished. I'd go back to Karnataka in the south central region because of its lovely landscape and caves and art.

"I wrote a book about India and travelled everywhere but I'd like to get to know this particular area better. It has beautiful rocky hills which make lovely silhouettes against the sky which, when I was there in November, was very tempestuous and stormy. I would like to see it through all the seasons.

"I like the pace of Indian life and the sense of being in a totally different culture. I'm not interested in the Raj aspects of India - in Karnataka they are fairly thin on the ground. It's an area dominated by agriculture and is the essense of rural India with bullock carts and bicycles."


Head of children's programmes, BBC TV

"I didn't have a gap year. After leaving the Convent of Our Lady at St Leonards on Sea, I went straight to St Anne's College, Oxford, that autumn. Now, if I could take a year off, I would use it to travel for my own purposes rather than going to places where I have to speak at conferences and things of that kind. I go to wonderful places and don't have time to take breath and look around. Earlier this year, for instance, I was on the international jury for the Banff Television Festival in Canada and we were viewing from 8.30 in the morning till 8.30 at night. I opened my curtains and there were the Rockies and then I went into a darkened room and watched television for the rest of the day, which was very frustrating.

"In my gap year I'd travel in comfort; I'm too old to muck about in Land Rovers. I'd like to spend more time in France and Italy, both countries I enjoy very much and where I enjoy the food and the wine.

"I shall be retiring later this year so I am already looking forward to having more spare time. I have a house in London and a house in Sussex and I am looking forward to being able to choose to stay in my Sussex home at the time when the garden is looking its best instead of having to rush away and abandon it."

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