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By Julie Peppiatt on 18.10.2023

Comedy at the Gulbenkian: Former MP Michael Portillo

“What would you say to someone looking to go into a career in politics?”
“Lie down in a darkened room until the feeling goes away!”

Laughter ensues. Michael Portillo, previously a junior minister to Margaret Thatcher, appears to have a surprisingly light-hearted approach to politics. Dressed in his Tory-blue blazer, donning grandfatherly slipper shoes, and offering a book-signing session at the end of the night: his persona was somewhat reminiscent of ‘Gilderoy Lockhart’ from the Harry Potter series.

At first Portillo’s jokes seemed too clean-cut and his speech appeared too fast – and I was beginning to expect a regurgitated version of a ghost-written autobiography. Not knowing much about 90s politics myself and being the youngest member of the audience by at least thirty years, I was expecting to be in for a brain-numbing hour and a half. His entry into the show with a multitude of contextual quips had not enticed me, but once he had relaxed into the first twenty minutes things started to get a little more interesting. His insight into a world working alongside Thatcher, his inside knowledge of the Labour party’s governing and his opinion on today’s politics were all told with such finesse that it was hard not to be engaged. His great expanse of general knowledge acquired throughout the years was profoundly evident and his open, friendly demeanour made for a good public speaker. He seemed to have a little more substance than a substitute professor at Hogwarts after all! I found myself enthralled by subjects that had never enthused me before. I came to be surprised by the number of empty seats in the theatre. This was a show worth seeing!

I believe the older generation that filled the audience – the ones handing around the boiled sweets in the front row and wearing identical knitted jumpers – already had a connection with Michael Portillo. Having lived through his decade of politics, fans that willingly purchased tickets to hear his speech, they did not need convincing of his gravitas. He had been an interesting character in his rise through the Conservative government and was now leading a successful career in journalism, showing his softer family side, mainly featuring in his documentary series on Britain’s great railways. His career being one of `two halves` is something that has intrigued enough people to allow him to tour stages vocalising his success, especially when given an opportunity to converse with him in a Q and A session. However, after living though his show, listening to his opinions on today’s economy and his experiences filming in England and Spain, I have to say I to now understand why the tickets were bought.

It takes a thirst to learn and an open mind to enjoy this show, as well as perhaps a slight incline to political debate. Although I cannot say it is the most exciting experience of my life, I am glad I went. This is just an interesting man who is worth listening to. If you can grab a ticket, a chance to hear a renowned politician speak is just the beginning.

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