Gyles Brandreth - a passion for hard work, knitwear and Harrogate

bus  Harrogate Business Luncheon.  Pictured from left are Mayor Robert Windass, Graham Scott, Duncan Williams, guest speaker Gyles Brandreth, Christopher Butterworth, Mayoress Sylvia Windass and Howard Matthews.  (121012M4g)

bus Harrogate Business Luncheon. Pictured from left are Mayor Robert Windass, Graham Scott, Duncan Williams, guest speaker Gyles Brandreth, Christopher Butterworth, Mayoress Sylvia Windass and Howard Matthews. (121012M4g)

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It may have been a long time coming, but household name Gyles Brandreth believes his lifelong passion for knitwear has finally propelled him to the front line of fashion.

The former actor and MP shot to fame in the 1970s on popular shows such as TVAM and Countdown, dressed in ubiquitous woolly jumpers, but had to endure jeers and taunts from those who thought them outmoded.

However, on an impromptu dash to Harrogate train station as my front seat passenger following his appearance as guest speaker at the Harrogate Business Awards, Mr Brandreth revealed he, myself and other wool fans could be on the verge of something of a heyday.

He said: “I love jumpers. I became known for being on shows such as TVAM and Countdown, both of which are celebrating their 30th anniversaries next year, and I used to wear the jumpers and people mocked them.

“But now I see they are back. We are at the forefront of fashion again, to the extent where the Victoria and Albert Museum wants one of my jumpers to add to its collection. Also, the BBC is planning to make a documentary about the knitwear industry, and I am involved.”

This knitwear passion stretches further, as he revealed a failed past attempt at jumper manufacturing, one of the many businesses in which he was involved but did not taste success.

Mr Brandreth offered three tips for those hoping to start up a business.

He said: “I have been self-employed for more than 40 years. I have been a variety of things, but I have also had a few attempts at running a business, and I can’t claim these have all been hugely successful but I have learned lots along the way and these are my rules for you. First, don’t dabble, focus. That’s almost all anyone starting a business needs to know. You must set out what you want to do and focus on it.

“Secondly, every day matters. You must work out what you are going to do in the morning, and get on with it. You mustn’t try to be everything to everybody.

“Thirdly, I stick to the words of a Psalm: “Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man.”

“Working a business isn’t easy. I had a series of knitting shops but I got into the business at the wrong time. Hand-knitting was collapsing, so it didn’t work. I ran an exhibition but chose the wrong location, which meant it was not successful.

“There are lots of ups and downs in business. The one good thing I ever did was let my wife look after the money. We need to have a woman in the attic doing the book-keeping. With business, I have been there to see how not to do it.”

Mr Brandreth is a man in demand. After being delivered to the station on time, the following days would see him travel as far as the Isle of Wight and Dundee.

Before setting off, the Harrogate regular - he has performed at the theatre and spoken at the literary crime festival in the past 12 months - spoke of his adoration for the town.

He said: “I love coming to Harrogate, because it is as modern as tomorrow with plenty time for yesterday. That is a very clever and attractive combination. It has an incredible heritage but it is not locked into nostalgia. For example, the theatre here is Edwardian where I performed, but alongside that you have the street full of modern restaurants. It manages to be ancient and modern at the same time and that is so clever.”