Hello, I'm Simon Clark and I'm director of the smokers' lobby group Forest. I run the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign and I'm also director of The Free Society, an offshoot of Forest that campaigns against Big Government.
I was born at St Thomas' Hospital, London, in March 1959, which makes me 52 and quite old. For a while we lived close to Heathrow in a place called Harlington (my father worked at the Nestles chocolate factory in nearby Hayes), but when I was three we moved to Maidenhead in Berkshire.
Maidenhead has changed enormously since the Sixties but I still enjoy visiting the area - Henley and Marlow in particular. I just wish I could afford to live there. There's a house in Hurley, just outside Henley, that I've had my eye on for 30 years. Not only is it a beautiful house, it's opposite the church, it has an oast house and it's a very short walk to the river. If it was on the market I imagine it would cost several million pounds, but a man can dream, can't he?
When I was ten my father was put in charge of a factory in Dundee. I had never been to Scotland but I was delighted to go because when I was at primary school in England I used to tell people I was Scottish. I don't know why. It made me different, I supposet. I do have some Scottish blood in me, but not much. My maternal grandmother came from Bannockburn, although she lived most of her adult life in Wembley and, after my grandfather retired, Colchester.
At the age of ten, shortly before we moved north, I remember being devasted when Scotland lost 4-1 to England at Wembley. I can't tell you who scored for England but the Scottish goal was scored by the Rangers centre forward Colin Stein. I even wore a Scottish football shirt to watch the match on TV. As it happens that was the last time I supported Scotland against England at anything. Ironically, the longer I lived in Scotland the more English I became, unlike many English people who seem to go native as soon as they cross the border.
In 1969 however it was huge adventure to move to Scotland and I couldn't wait. We travelled overnight by Motorail from London to Perth and then drove to Fife where we were to live for nine years in Wormit, overlooking Dundee and the River Tay. Our house had an uninterrupted view of the river, which is a mile wide at that point, and we also had a good view of the Tay Rail Bridge.
I had a year at the local primary school before going to Madras College in St Andrews (1970-76). Six years at school in St Andrews were followed by four years at Aberdeen University (1976-1980). My first choice of university was York, Aberdeen my second. York rejected me, so Aberdeen it was. My parents moved back to England in 1978 but I still visit Dundee and St Andrews several times a year, partly for the football (I support Dundee United) and partly because I really like St Andrews and the nearby fishing villages of Crail and Anstruther. In fact, if it wasn't for the weather (and the Scottish Parliament), I would seriously consider retiring to St Andrews. I like Aberdeen too, but visits to the Granite City are quite rare these days.
I had always wanted to be a journalist but when I was a student at Aberdeen the thought of writing for the student union newspaper didn't appeal. Instead I edited Campus, a Private Eye style rag that specialised in gossip and innuendo and and poked fun at our fellow students, especially those who were involved in student politics. That was much more fun, even when we were sued for defamation. (It was eventually settled out of court.)
When I graduated with a modest 2:2 (friends told me I was lucky to get that), I was confident nevertheless of getting a job on the local newspaper. Fat chance. The Aberdeen Press & Journal had heard about the defamation case - they featured the story on their front page - so although I got an interview I had to look further afield.
I wrote to the BBC to join the news trainee scheme. Three thousand graduates applied and I was one of 50 to be interviewed, which I thought was pretty good, but come the interview I realised that I wasn't what they were looking for. "What do you know about Tibetan politics over the last 20 years?" I was asked. "Not a lot," I confessed.
I came much closer to getting a job with the Cambridge Evening News and if I had my life would have taken a very different turn. I remember, even now, sitting in the car park before the interview, listening to Bill Nelson's 'Do You Dream In Colour', Paul Burnett's Record of the Week on Radio 1. The interview went pretty well, I thought, and I was disappointed to miss out.
Instead, following a chance encounter with Michael Forsyth in a pub a week or so later, I was offered a job at KH Publicity, a London-based public relations company. Michael (later Secretary of State for Scotland and now Lord Forsyth of Drumlean) was a director at KH and when he left to launch his own PR company, Michael Forsyth Associates, he took me and another colleague with him.
To be honest, I didn't really care for PR. The main attraction was living in London. It had been a genuine ambition of mine since I was five or six. In those days (the mid Sixties) I would travel up to London from Maidenhead to visit my aunt who drove a Fiat 500 and lived in a basement flat in Kensington. We would jump on a Routemaster bus and she would take me to the theatre, the Natural History Museum or Battersea Fun Fair. (The fair was a permanent attraction from 1951 to 1974. Unfortunately it never recovered from a tragic accident on 30 May 1972 when five children were killed and thirteen others were injured on the Big Dipper.)
After three years in PR I still wanted to be a journalist but I was too old to be a trainee and I discovered (too late) that working in public relations was not a good career move if you wanted to work in mainstream journalism. So I took a different approach. I left my job in PR (despite the offer of a company car - a black MGB GT) and re-launched Campus as a national student magazine. The project was controversial and short-lived but it opened several doors and in 1985 I was asked to run the Media Monitoring Unit (MMU), founded by Lord Chalfont, a former Labour minister, and Dr Julian Lewis (now Conservative MP for New Forest East) to monitor television current affairs programmes for political bias.
The work was fairly tedious but we ruffled a lot of feathers and for five years we generated a succession of banner headlines including, in 1986, a headline on the front page of the London Evening Standard that read: 'Yes, the BBC is biased!'.
The MMU was one of several jobs I did as a freelance journalist. What I enjoyed most was editing magazines. For 15 years I edited a monthly magazine for a well-known high IQ society. I was not and never have been a member! Nevertheless it was good fun and I met lot of interesting people (not to mention a few nutters). Latterly I found myself organising a series of events for members and their families - lectures and debates; boat parties; concerts at the Royal Academy of Music; a variety show at a leading West End theatre.
Working for a chaotic but entrepreneurial publisher in south London, I also edited a magazine called Capital Account for the London Society of Chartered Accountants. A decade later I edited Freedom Today for The Freedom Association and The Politico for Politicos Bookshop in Westminster.
In 1999, having lived in Edinburgh for the previous six years, I returned to London to become director of Forest and the rest is, er, history.
To be continued ...