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An Evening with Michael Portillo at York’s National Railway Museum

23 March 2016

In the northern city of York, famous for its beautiful Minster and haunted alleyways, the annual March Literature Festival has begun in earnest. For the duration of this early spring month, the city is dedicated to the written word, with events and celebrations occurring across its historic centre. One such event takes place at the world-renowned National Railway Museum, where amongst the many fabled exhibitions including the legendary Flying Scotsman and the only Bullet Train outside of Asia, Michael Portillo; TV star and former Conservative MP, provides an insightful evening look into his own life.  

The British journalist, TV presenter, former Deputy Conservative Party leader and Cabinet Minister first rose to public attention during the Thatcher years before then becoming Secretary of State for Defence (and later Employment) during the John Major government. Post his time in the House of Commons, the enigmatic broadcaster found fame in TV, presenting a wide array of screen and radio shows. Portillo has since become synonymous with the long-running hit series "Great Railway Journeys".

Portillo's began with an insight into his association with the iconic rail adventure series, which first began as the host of a single episode of the BBC Two series "Great Railway Journeys". In the episode Portillo traversed the route from Granada to Salamanca in Spain. His performance as host earned him many plaudits and a permanent place in a revamped version of the series. "Great British Railway Journeys" charted a course around the isles with the aid of George Bradshaw's 1863 tourist handbook. Portillo delved into the railways effects on the economic and cultural history of Britain. The series debuted in 2010 and was an instant success, leading into a long run that has so far encompassed a further six seasons. Portillo has traversed the length and breadth of the nation during the iconic BBC Two show's run, riding on some of the nation's oldest and most celebrated services. Portillo did confirm that his personal favourites were the Settle to Carlisle line and the renowned West Highland Line, along the rugged Scottish coast.

Moving on from railways closer to home, Portillo began a journey across the USA in 2016's "Great American Railroad Journeys", using an 1879 copy of Appleton's Guidebook to the rail networks of North America as a personal map. He spoke about his travels from the bustling hub of New York City to the world famous Niagara Falls and then on from Philadelphia to Jamestown, uncovering the history of the American railroad and its importance to the nation.

Portillo went on to add that there is plenty more planned to appease even the hungriest of "Great Railway Journeys" fans, with the BBC scheduling in an additionally series in North America as well as new found adventures across Ireland and throughout the European continent.

The charming evening came to a close with a Q&A session in which the secret to Michael's vibrant wardrobe was finally revealed. All of his famous salmon pink blazers are indeed his own and there are 15 of them!