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Kent: Coast presenter and author Neil Oliver talks about The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places

By Angela Cole

As the windswept presenter of BBC's Coast, Neil Oliver is passionate about sharing his love for our country. As he heads off on his first theatre tour, he talks about what's special about Kent and why we need to cherish it.

Neil Oliver may be sporting a fetching Scottish accent, but don't let that put you off - he loves Kent as much as anywhere.

Neil has travelled the length and breadth of the country, and knows every historical nook and cranny. Many of them are included in his latest book, The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places, something which he has effectively been working on his whole life.

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Neil Oliver is coming to Kent Picture: Grant Beed
Neil Oliver is coming to Kent Picture: Grant Beed

"It is very much my story. It isn't chronological and it includes pre-history, the Ice Age, the Romans, but also right up to date with the Millennium Dome. It was considered a white elephant but look at it now; it's a part of history."

He adds: "History is about people. I am interested in people. And why they live where they live."

Among the 100 places he talks about in what is his tenth book, and first stage tour, are some Kentish treats. They include Lullingstone Roman Villa, the Bronze Age Boat at Dover Museum, Dungeness and the Victorian Channel Tunnel. "People were actually contemplating a Channel Tunnel much further back in time. This attempt in Victorian times was made - it goes several miles in and was made using a steam powered machine, not unlike what was used when the Channel Tunnel as we know it was made.

Neil Oliver Picture: Grant Beed
Neil Oliver Picture: Grant Beed

"But then there was a concern that the French would invade and there was a security risk. The project ground to a halt and there it remained. They had to be very careful not to break into it when they did the Channel Tunnel."

Scots born Neil, who studied Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, freelanced as an archaeologist before training as a journalist and made his TV debut in 2002 with BBC Two’s Two Men in a Trench, with Tony Pollard, visiting historic British battlefields. Since then he has been a regular on our screens.

"I stumbled into TV," he said. "I stumbled onto that magic carpet that is TV and it whisked me all over the place.

"I am used to standing infront of people at literary festivals and the like, but this is my first tour like this and standing infront of 39 people in a row is a different prospect. I am filled with both excitement and horror."

But he does admit that a tour has its own excitement, as it can change over time. "Sometimes you get a question that makes me reconsider; that makes you see something from a different point of view. With a tour I could say something on the first night and someone could say something about it and give me a slightly different point of view, so by the end of the tour I am saying something quite different."

Neil also had a chat with KMTV

THE BOOK

The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places aims to share Neil’s enthusiasm and unique perspective of British history.

It is the tenth book for the archaeologist, historian, author and presenter of the TV series Coast. Neil, who was appointed president of the National Trust in Scotland last year and is also known for the TV series A History of Scotland and Vikings, he says of the UK: "From north to south, east to west, it cradles astonishing beauty. The human story here is a million years old and counting.”

The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places by Neil Oliver
The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places by Neil Oliver

Among the Kent treasures included is the Bronze Age Boat at Dover Museum, which is thought to be 3,000 years old and on display at the Dover Museum and Bronze Age Boat Gallery.

A lover of all of the UK and beyond, when pressed on his favourite place in the world, however, the Scot in him does surface. "Orkney - it's a Marmite place. It can be quite chilly - you take the rough with the smooth." His book is published by Bantam Press and costs £25.

DETAILS

The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places will be at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, on Thursday, October 11. To book call 01892 530613 or go to assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk

The show is also at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford on Monday, November 12. To book tickets call 01322 220000 or visit orchardtheatre.co.uk

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