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Sixty Seconds with Michael Palin


■ The actor and presenter, 75, on ghosts, goats and Final Ascent, a doc about mountaineer Hamish MacInnes

You narrate Final Ascent. How did you meet Hamish?

I’ve known him since the Monty Python days, since he was head of Mountain Rescue in Glencoe. He helped us when we were filming there, throwing bodies into the Gorge Of Eternal Peril. I mean, not real bodies. He’s quite mischievous, he’s a maverick with a great sense of humour. I was immediately very attracted by him and the world he was working in, because it’s a very dangerous and difficult job.

And you’ll both be at Glasgow Film Festival for the screening…

Yes, it’ll be good to see him again. I think he’s quite proud of the film — he wouldn’t say so but it’ll be good for him to see the reaction of a big audience to it. I think he’ll be aware how sympathetic people are and fascinated by his career. And the fact that, at 88, he’s reconnecting with all the things he’s done in his life at a time others might be fading away.

What else are you up to?

I’ve been doing publicity for Erebus: The Story Of A Ship, the book I wrote about ships from the 1840s. I’ve finished that. I’ll do a tour in the summer to publicise the paperback and I’m working on a book putting together my journals of the trip to North Korea I made last April and May.

What do fans say when they approach you?

They are generally very friendly. I’ve not been punched by anybody yet, although there’s still time. When you get to a certain age and have been around for so long, people aren’t quite sure what you’ve done and when you did it. But they give you a little nod and they use the word ‘legend’, which I always abbreviate to leg-end.

I thought people might quote Python at you

No, they don’t. A lot of people send emails, cartoons of me in Python days and all that. People do like to recognise the association with Python but I don’t get asked to do silly walks any more.

How do you feel about the term ‘Pythonesque’?

It means that Python, or whatever it was, one was unable to duplicate or replicate it. It was a creature of that time and attitude, and importantly was a group of six people all putting material in there. It was different every week and produced a joyful reaction in people. It wasn’t dour, it wasn’t being gloomy or angry — mainly silly, which I think is a great release for people.

Mountaineer: Hamish MacInnes

Which sights on your travels have been most breathtaking?

One was when we struggled over the path from Nepal into Tibet. There’s a point where you get out and climb up a bank. You look down and there below you it seems — though that’s an optical illusion — are all the main Himalayan mountains spread out before you. And Victoria Falls: spectacular.

Is there anywhere in the world you aren’t known?

The Himalayas — I wouldn’t say they’re big Python aficionados. If you’re travelling in a world where people are saying, ‘Oh hello, what are you doing now? How’s your wife?’ it takes away the mystery of discovery and exploration.

Is that one of the reasons you travel to far-flung places?

I think so. I like to forget celebrity and reputation of fame. Once you’re on the road, what I want to know about is the people I meet and how they live. It’s about exploration without recognition.

Do you have any recurring dreams?

Ha, I’m not sure if I do any more. There’s the usual one all actors and people in the public eye have, which is being on a stage without the right script. That I do have.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I believe in other people’s belief in goats, sorry, ghosts, not goats — I do believe in goats! I’m not a sneerer, though. I’d actually quite like to see a ghost.

If you could see anyone’s ghost, who would it be?

Someone to make me laugh. Spike Milligan, possibly.

What were you obsessed with when you were a kid?

Getting out and about. I was restless. I wanted to get out of the house as soon as I could. As soon as I could ride a bike I got outside Sheffield, the hills of Derbyshire. And music: 1950s rock ’n’ roll, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley. And of course The Goon Show. The humour of Spike Milligan was incredibly liberating.

Any final message for the Metro readers?

Just to say what a wonderful newspaper it is! They’re very good. When my North Korea programme came out, Channel 5 did a wraparound on all Metros in the country with a marvellous piece of artwork based on North Korean communist artwork. It was terrific, one of the best campaigns I think I’ve ever seen. So rock on, guys!

Final Ascent will screen at the Glasgow Film Festival from tomorrow until March 3,