What is your favourite book?
The Diaries of Samuel Pepys. My absolute, all time, if I only had one book, choice. There is something so utterly compelling about the intimacy of the ordinary yet it opens up seventeenth century London in a way that is so true and personal. In the midst of witnessing astonishing historical events, are the details of bad food, clothes, the weather and the daily life of London. A reminder of how long and hard it was to get anywhere, to write after dark by candlelight, to stay clean and yet there is an overwhelming joi de vivre which is infectious and uplifting. A couple of years ago, I was driving to Italy and the friend I was with had bought Pepys Diaries read by Kenneth Branagh - so utterly, utterly boring we gave up by the time we got to Dover. That's no reflection on the abilities of Mr Branagh but I think Pepys wrote a book to read, to keep by the bedside, keep in a travel bag but not to be read aloud.
As a child, what was your favourite book?
I am of the Enid Blyton generation and loved all the Famous Five, Mallory Towers and the rest. Adored Swallows and Amazons, Beatrix Potter, Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and hated Grimm's Fairy Tales but for a while was completely hooked on the Jill books by Ruby Ferguson, all about ponies and gymkhanas. Childhood books fall into the categories of those that are read to you and those you read yourself and I think it's when you start reading yourself and lose yourself in a book that the magic sets in so it would have to be Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and I can remember reading that in bed right now. <!--more-->
What book would you take on holiday this year?
I haven't taken a holiday yet and am spending every spare minute creating a garden so my reading ranges from Geoff Hamilton and Beth Chatto to Getrude Jekyll and much in between. When I do go away later this year, I shall do my own Long List, consult friends and colleagues, and hope to end up with the best possible mix of Books You Should Read When You Have Time to Do It Properly.
Do you have a favourite political book/biography?
The Prime Minister: the office and its holders since 1945 by Peter Hennessy. Peter is a wonderful writer and a brilliant communicator because he is above all, an enthusiast for his subject and so he shares his enthusiasm and thus his knowledge generously. He's also a West Ham fan. I'm also a great admirer of Peter Oborne (also a West Ham fan) who is an elegant and thoughtful writer and I think everyone should read Why Politicians Lie.
Which book published in the last ten years do you think is the most significant?
Not just because he was once my boss but I think Paddy Ashdown's Diaries are significant and in time, will be seen as even more so. Paddy was meticulous about his diaries and is totally honest. His personal integrity and humanity shines through the diaries but for anyone interested in British politics, the Ashdown Diaries also shine a very probing light on our political system, Tony Blair and his coterie and the daily challenges of trying to be a decent politician. If, as the old saying goes, "the personal is political" then Paddy's Diaries manage to show why.
Which literary character would you most like to be?
Always wanted to be George in the Famous Five, Jo in Little Women - independent, slight tomboy, bit of a busybody so guess I'm heading towards Miss Marple with secatures in hand!
Jo Phillips is the co-author of Why Join a Trade Union?, which is available to buy from the Biteback website.