Neil Oliver, archaeologist, historian, author and presenter of the TV series Coast, stresses all the questions being thrown up around our country and indeed the British Isles at the moment are nothing new.
He will be sharing his love of Great Britain with audiences this autumn on his first-ever UK theatre tour. The tour, The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places, which is also the title of his new book, will be in Worthing on Sunday, October 7 at 7.30pm.
“At the moment, we are living in interesting times,” Neil says. “It is the Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times! But we are certainly not the first generation on this island to live in interesting times.
“People are so angry about certain topics at the moment, but if you look back at the long, long history of the British, it has all happened before. This country has always had big decisions to make. We have had natural disasters. We have had famine. We have been invaded more times than anybody can count. We have had religious intolerance. And we have had civil wars. We have been good for our neighbours, and we have been bad for our neighbours.”
Neil’s response is to see the British Isles as a whole. As he says, he is an archaeologist. He doesn’t see a distinction along the coast when he crosses a border between England and Scotland or when you go from the British part to the Republican part of Ireland.
It’s a view which shapes his approach to what some might see as a crisis of identity within the British Isles at the moment.
“Imagine the British Isles are a person that you care about, a dear friend. Imagine that person has come to you with big decisions to make or going through an uncertain period of their life. If you are a good friend, you will say ‘Let’s get to those decisions, but first let me tell you that you are good and that I love you. I know you have been through a lot, but you can cope. We have been through many things, but just remember who you are. You are a good person. You have been useful and good and you need to remember that… and now let’s get to the matter in hand.’
“That’s exactly the kind of preamble you would give to someone who comes to you with round shoulders and head down. You would tell them that it will be alright and that they can cope with whatever eventuality comes their way.
“And that’s what I want this book to be. It is not separatist. It is not banging the nationalist drum. It is just that if this island was somebody you cared about, you would tell them that everything is going to be OK.”
Neil, who was appointed as president of the National Trust in Scotland in 2017, is also known for his television series A History of Scotland and Vikings. Whilst filming Coast Neil “fell in love all over again with the British Isles”, he says.