John Prescott: ‘I’ve only ever been in two or three fights’

The politician, 80, on life as a merchant seaman, saying no to email, and being an optimist

People are surprised that I smile in real life. I smile all the time. I’ve a reputation for not doing it, but I am an optimist.

When I was younger, I just wanted my mum and dad to smile at each other in the morning. I saw my dad kiss another woman and ran to the police station and asked them to arrest him. They put me in the car and said, “Go home son, don’t tell your mum.” It left me with a horrible feeling. My parents divorcing is my greatest regret.

The professional politicians we have now rile me up. The debates are more like a bloody student’s union, not a proper parliamentary affair. There’s not a lot of common sense about.

When you get to being 80, you’re not scared of anything. I’ve got four or five years to think about death. When I do die, after 50 years in politics, all they will show on the news is 60 seconds of me thumping a fellow in Wales.

I’ve only ever been in two or three fights. One was with a guy when I was at sea [Prescott was in the merchant navy]. We were dancing in a club and he pulled a knife on us. I faced him, but pulled out – one slip of the knife and you’re gone.

Technology attacks me. I’m not a man for it. I live on fax, I don’t bloody email. But the thing I most dislike about the modern world is I’m not part of it.

Diving is a wonderful way to relax. No one else can talk to you. You’re down at the bottom of the sea gliding with the fish. It’s brilliant.

You won’t hear me say anything about Brexit today – and I have a lot to say about it – but we had our chance. I don’t agree with Gordon [Brown] and Tony [Blair] coming in as ex-leaders to say their view. We passed the leadership on, let them get on with it.

Nelson Mandela made me feel starstruck. I introduced him at the Labour party conference in 2000. He was great, everyone felt it. He’s my hero. There’s a picture of him, me and Tony and they’re both laughing. Mandela had just asked me, “Have you hit anyone today, John?”

My very worst habit is picking my nose. And snoring. Not at the same time.

It’s easy to lead people on strikes, more difficult to get them back. You should never get caught up more with courage than common sense.

I’ve been married 60 years. Tolerance and understanding go a long way.

I’ve had a glorious time. Politics has allowed my personality, my aggression, my passion, to play a full part.

British Made with John Prescott is on Channel 5 on Fridays at 8pm


Nosheen Iqbal

The GuardianTramp

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