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On the road with… Phil Spencer

Blue heaven:
Australia’s
Byron Bay

What is your favourite on-the-road moment?

Working in Brighton once with Kirstie [Allsopp]. She was walking 25 yards behind me and noticed that people’s instant reaction on spotting me was to crane their neck to spot her too. We swapped positions and I began walking 25 yards behind her and the next person clocked her, turned their head to try and spot me, and walked straight into a lamppost. I shouldn’t laugh but it was funny.

And your favourite city?

Melbourne is not a particularly big city but it has incredible facilities that match any capital. My wife is from Melbourne so we head there in December every other year via Byron Bay, which I think is the best place in the entire world. England in December is cold and dark by 3pm, whereas Byron Bay has beautifully warm water and long beaches dolphins swim along — we spend a week there before heading to Melbourne for Christmas.

What keeps you sane on the road?

Gin and tonic, specifically Bombay and Fever-Tree, or a good book by Wilbur Smith: I am a massive fan of his and have read everything he’s written twice. They’re still great boys’ adventure books but with a lot of history included too.

Beach culture: At home Down Under

When have you been most frightened while travelling?

I was robbed on a bus in Peru when I was 22 — there was a big disturbance at the front of the bus and my money belt was cut off me. It wasn’t the actual robbing that was frightening but the terrifying realisation that I was entirely on my own without a plane ticket, passport or any means to get cash. I went to the embassy, who gave me £75 and set about getting a new passport. For the next ten years every time I looked at my passport I was reminded of being in Peru because I’d had all of my hair cut off the day before I was robbed.

What have you ever taken from a hotel room?

Brew dog:.Spencer travels with Yorkshire Tea boxes

Teabags. I realised I was middle-aged when I started travelling with my own Yorkshire Tea teabags. Hotels always seem to provide Lipton’s tea but recently I was in a hotel in a room and found a little packet of five individual Yorkshire Tea teabags, so I robbed all five of them.

What has been your most life-changing experience while travelling?

There’s no such thing as a bad holiday as you’re expanding your horizons and you’re doing something different, which can only be healthy. The places that have left their mark on me the most are Chile, Peru and Ecuador in South America because they’re all so colourful and vibrant with a strong Spanish influence. I love Morocco too as it’s the closest, most culturally different place to England. Travel helps you become a more open and confident person because you learn to look after yourself. If you travel as a youngster, you learn quickly that if you get yourself in the s***, you’ve got to get yourself out of it too, which is all part of life’s rich tapestry.

Bucket list: Horseback riding in Wyoming

What’s the worst meal you’ve had?

Barbecued sheep’s pancreas from a North African market. I was young, hungry and keen to eat as the locals do, so I didn’t think about sanitation or cleanliness and as a result got really ill.

Full colour: Chile beguiled Spencer on his travels to South America

Where’s the strangest place you’ve spent the night?

In a ditch by the side of the road in the high Atlas Mountains. I thought I could walk across the Atlas Mountains but nobody else I was with shared my ambition so I thought, ‘Sod it, I’m just going to do it on my own’. Having walked all day and got exhausted, I then spent the loneliest, coldest night of my entire life in my sleeping bag in a ditch looking at the stars above me, thinking, ‘Philip, what are you doing?’

Have you ever come close to being arrested?

Yes, in Australia. I got drunk and pulled a moonie at an approaching car, which turned out to be a police car. I would’ve spent the night in prison but, oddly enough, one of the locals I was drinking with was also a policeman who had his badge on him and managed to get me off the hook.

Tipple: Spencer likes to kick back with Bombay gin

Where are you going to go to next?

My boys are 12 and 14 now so they want adventure over a beach holiday and next summer’s holiday is under debate — possibly sailing in Croatia, possibly a riding holiday in Wyoming. Personally, Patagonia and Colombia are on my bucket list.

Spencer takes part in 2019’s Everest In The Alps challenge for The Brain Tumour Charity, everestinthealps.com