Michael Portillo entertains and fascinates at Warwick Arts Centre

Michael Portillo - Life: A Game of Two Halves, Warwick Arts Centre, December 3.

A FORMER conservative politician and railway enthusiast Mr Portillo may be - but his charisma, way with words, skills in comedy and instant likeable quality make him so much more than that.

With no fancy introductions (an appropriate start to an evening with “a former future Prime Minister”, says Michael), the man most remembered for his catastrophic electoral defeat in 1997 launched into a highly entertaining and surprisingly very funny account of his time in and outside of politics. There are the inevitable jibes at Labour politicians - in particular Mr Blair - but they are cheeky rather than slimy and they are only thrown in for fun, rather than being at the centre of his musings.

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We learn of his awe and respect for Margaret Thatcher - with whom he worked very closely, yet never crossed that barrier she is so well known for constructing around herself; of his absolute belief that the euro will fail (“it’s like a train that has had 17 carriages lumped on its back that cannot continue without derailing”); and his conviction that the Leveson enquiry must lead to a code for journalists backed by legislation.

But then we also delve into the ‘other half’ of his life - when, for the purpose of making a documentary, he became a ‘single mum’ in Merseyside for a week, having to look after four children on £80 a week while juggling two part-time jobs, one of them in the childrenswear department of Asda; when he became a hospital porter for another television show and discovered that the NHS is like the descriptions he has heard of living through the Second World War; and when he travelled to Spain to meet, on camera, his deceased father’s brothers, who fought on the opposite side to his father during the Spanish Civil War.

The evening included a lot more than this - and time for questions, which Michael approached with careful consideration - yet it was all really very fascinating and brilliantly told. I came out of the studio theatre full of respect for a man who has really widened his own horizons and, through his television world, has helped others to do so as well. He seems to have a real interest in almost everything and you can tell that he says what he says after giving it a lot of thought.

Sundari Cleal