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Neil Hanson

Interview with Neil Hanson

Neil Hanson has been an Oxford graduate, a plasterer’s mate, an ice cream salesman, a holiday camp redcoat and – simultaneously – an art critic and a rugby league commentator. Now he is a speaker who regales audiences with his hilarious experiences as a ghost writer and running Britain’s highest inn. In this interview, you can read about Neil Hanson’s fascinating experiences throughout his chequered career.

What made you want to run an inn?

Sheer chance! I’d worked in a couple of bars before though I’d never run a pub. I was sitting on the sofa one morning, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper instead of getting on with my work, when I came across an article titled “the Loneliness of the Long Distance Landlord” about the search for a new landlord of the highest inn in Britain. I applied on a whim. When we went for the interview the surroundings were spectacular but the inn was a wreck and the owners were a pair of crooks, but when my partner pointed out that ‘We’d have to be mad to want to swap a pretty near idyllic existence for a wet, windy, rat-infested ruin in the middle of nowhere, working for two of the sleaziest people we’ve ever met”, I replied brightly, ‘So that settles it then, if they offer it, we’ll take it!’ They did…

 

How did you get started with ghostwriting?

Like much else in life, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was already a published author when my agent suddenly became the go-to guy for a succession of freed terrorist hostages from Beirut, SAS men, Gulf War pilots and various other rugged types, who all had great stories to tell but didn’t necessarily have the literary skills to do so. My agent knew I was a fast worker who could get along with most people and asked if I fancied trying my hand at ghostwriting. I did and loved it, meeting some really interesting people, hearing some amazing tales and getting an insider’s eye view into all sorts of closed worlds that would otherwise have been hidden to me. I’ve been doing it ever since with about fifty different clients so far.

 

You certainly have had a lot of unique experiences in your careers, but what are the best – and the worst experiences – you’ve had as a speaker?

When someone entrusts their event and their audience to you it’s a huge privilege, and when they go home happy, having enjoyed a great evening, it’s a fabulous feeling. I couldn’t pick a favourite out of all the ones I’ve done, but whether it’s fifty people in an intimate venue or an audience of several hundred in a cavernous ballroom or conference hall, there’s no greater pleasure for me than making people laugh.

So I can’t tell you the best, but I can definitely tell you the worst! I was booked to follow a celebrity chef at one event that had better remain nameless. The event, in a vast hotel ballroom, was so badly organized and shambolic that it over-ran by over two hours, so instead of starting my speech at 9pm, as arranged, the organizer did not give me the nod until 11.15pm, a time when the audience were already looking anxiously at their watches and worrying about missing their last trains home. And when I asked the organizer for the microphone, he gave an embarrassed smile and said ‘Sorry, the chef seems to have taken it home with him.’ All in all, it wasn’t a great night…

 

Who or what inspires you?

The same things that inspire most people: above all my wife, my children, and my friends. I’m also inspired by the people I meet and ghost write for, particularly those who’ve done something extraordinary or had something remarkable happen in their lives, or have skills that the rest of us can only dream of. I’ve worked with a few SAS men over the years, for example, and it’s the things that they take for granted because they’ve been practised so often that they almost become part of their DNA, that are the most fascinating to me. The ones I’ve met are not at all the caricature macho men that reading the tabloids might lead you to expect. None of them are conventionally well educated – they all left school with few, if any qualifications, but all of them are highly intelligent and lateral thinkers to a man – any problem I pose them, they’ll take a walk around the edge of it and come back with three or four solutions that would never have occurred to me. And of course they have levels of fitness, toughness and sheer determination that I can only dream of. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my time, and can turn my hand to most things, but if I’d tried to do SAS Selection I’d have burst into tears and gone home on Day One!

 

What 3 tips would you give individuals struggling to enjoy life?

I’ve been very fortunate, I do a job that I love – though many people probably wouldn’t consider writing a proper job at all! Not every job is as interesting, of course, but if you are stuck in something you hate, you just have to find a way to change it because otherwise it will drag you down. And don’t be afraid to make a complete change of direction, it doesn’t always work, as my CV demonstrates, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Be alert for opportunities. We can’t all be a Prime Minister, a brain surgeon or an astronaut, but whatever field you work in, opportunities will come your way. Your education and your career to date are, if you like, the training ground so that when those opportunities do come along you will not only recognise them for what they are, but be in a position to respond and take advantage of them.

It’s a cliché, I know, but don’t lose sight of the things that really matter in life: love, family and friends. It took me a long time to realise that “sweating the small stuff” is not a good way to go.

 

With the huge variation in jobs you’ve had, did you ever feel lost with your career?

I’m not sure I ever really had a career, more a succession of frequently unconnected jobs! I’ve always been willing to take a step into the unknown, sometimes with good consequences sometimes with bad. I’ve made a lot of mis-steps and wrong turns along the way, and I’d certainly be a much wealthier person if I’d stuck at one career and climbed the greasy pole to the top of it. But if you’re happy where you are now – and I am, very – you can’t regret any of the steps that took you there, because if you unpick any one of them, the whole lot comes tumbling down. I’m also very lucky to have done so many different things before finally ending up as an author, because writers draw constantly on their own life experiences in their work and, as a glance at my CV would demonstrate, I’ve got quite a few to draw on!