Michael Palin is certainly a man of the world. He’s been around it, pole to pole and places many of us will only dream about, writes Graham Walker.
So when I ask him what three essential things every traveller should take with them, everyone in earshot stops to make a note.
And oh, it can’t include tickets and a passport, I tell him. That’s too obvious.
He breaks into that famous mischievous laugh, which suggests the answer will be as informative as his travel programmes, with a hint of Monty Python lunacy and a punchline as memorable as A Fish Called Wanda.
He doesn’t disappoint.
“I would say a notebook,” he begins. “But then I’m a bit like that, for recording everything I see. But I do think it’s vital. You go to some wonderful place, so try to remember it – take either a very good camera or a notebook.
“Spare toilet paper, that’s for sure.
“And a torch. You never, ever, travel without a torch. I know it sounds old-fashioned and we all think we’ve got lighting all over the world, but actually I’ve been to so many places where a torch has saved my life – usually in conjunction with the toilet paper. But I won’t go into that.”
Now everyone is laughing on the big yellow school bus I’m interviewing on outside Sheffield train station.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch our video chat.
The 70-year-old, a contender for world’s most travelled man, who recently received a BAFTA Fellowship, had just stepped off the train and was back home in the city, briefly, to discuss his documentaries at the Crucible, as a headline guest at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest.
His journeys have taken him across the world, including the North and South Poles, the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, Eastern Europe and, most recently, Brazil.
But in an exclusive chat with The Star – watch our interview at thestar.co.uk/video – he revealed where he likes to holiday, when he’s not got a film crew in tow.
“I have to negotiate with the wife. She’s not a great adventure traveller – so she doesn’t want to go clambering up Himalayan passes or going down the Amazon.
“She wants to go somewhere reasonably comfortable, where the sun is shining. So it confines us to places usually not too far away. We go to European cities. We love New York. We go to Majorca every year for a week with my grandchildren – that’s great.
“I can do about a week of that, no more. And I love it.”
He’s still got the TV travel bug and there are more places he wants to visit before he hangs up his map.
Michael added: “There’s lots of places I’ve not been to and I want to visit. Most of the Middle East I’ve not been to, usually for obvious reasons, because it’s very difficult to get film permission in places like the Lebanon and, of course, now Syria. A complete no-go area. I would love to go there. And I would like to go to Iran.
“There are also more exotic places, like Madagascar, Costa Rica, Panama. I would like to see all those, yes.” Currently he’s busy editing a third volume of his diaries, covering the 1990s, due out next year. He’s about to promote paperback versions of two other books he’s written, a novel called The Truth and the Brazil book. Then he’s off to make a documentary in America, about artist Andrew Wyeth.
And although it’s nice to go travelling, like the song says, it’s nice to come home – even if London has been his real home for years. He explains: “Sheffield isn’t physically my home. My home has been in London now for years, but certainly, mentally, in my background, Sheffield is my home.
“It was the city I grew up in. When you grow up in a place and are educated in a place, you learn how it works, about the streets and all that. That’s what you remember, most of your life.
“I always think back to Sheffield being rather a city of character. I live in London and it’s a lot of villages, a huge place, there’s no one character to London. Sheffield has a character – it’s got the hills, the stone walls and the stone buildings. And it’s about the right size. You can stand in the middle of Sheffield and you can look out and see the hills and beyond. And that’s about the right size for a city.
“Sheffield is a lot more glossy, smart, smooth and chic than it ever was. Mind you, it was never a chic city. But it was a city of great character. It was a big industrial city when I was growing up – all the steelworks were operating.
“It’s changed from being a big industrial city to a much more cultural, lively, educational city. Universities have done a lot for the city.
“In a sense it’s been transformed and I hope it hasn’t lost its slightly grudging edge which Sheffielders always have about their luck and the rest of the world and all that. I like that about Sheffielders. They are their own folk and not going to do anything to impress anybody else, thank you very much.”
As for Monty Python, he says there are no plans for an official reunion, but they still enjoy making one another laugh.
“We see each other. Python still gets played around the world. There’s still a lot of interest. We enjoy each other’s company and make each other laugh. You never know.”
And how would he like to be best remembered?
“Oh, I don’t know. It would be nice to be remembered,” he says. As ever he gets the last laugh.
* Sheffield Doc/Fest continues Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16. A Who Do You Think You Are session, chaired by The Star’s Graham Walker - in conversation with Larry Lamb, who underwent the experience, and TV makers - is at The Crucible Saturday, June 15, at 12.30pm. For more Doc/Fest details visit sheffdocfest.com.