Celebrity Travels: John Sergeant
By Katie McGonagle | 2 Mar 2022
The former BBC and ITV political editor, also known for his star turn in Strictly Come Dancing, picks out his most memorable travel moments before joining Ambassador Cruise Line on a sailing to the Norwegian fjords
One of the happiest times of my life and my best holiday experience came in my ‘gap year’. I was 18 and had got into Oxford, and I worked as a filing clerk to save enough money to go to America for seven months. In those days, the cheapest way was to cross the Atlantic on one of the famous ocean liners. I travelled both ways on the old Queen Elizabeth, and worked just outside Washington DC as an accountant in a plant that made concrete patio blocks. Not on the face of it very exciting, except that the company was about to go bust and as bookkeeper, I had a ringside seat.
For several months I travelled across the States. I met two fellow students and one of them owned a station wagon. We went from coast to coast, with troubled times in the southern states where racial tension was rising, and delightful interludes of conventional sightseeing, including an awe-inspiring visit to the Grand Canyon. On one of my last days back with the family who had provided me with the job and let me stay at their home in Alexandria, I went to the March on Washington in August 1963, and heard the best political speech of my life: I was in the crowd when Martin Luther King made his ‘I have a dream’ speech, and I often recall that day and how the hairs went up on the back of my neck.
I like to combine holidays with some work. I find one of the best ways to switch off is to keep busy. Over the years my annual sailing holiday – renting a yacht on the south coast and sometimes sailing to France – has fitted the bill perfectly. You spend so much of your time thinking about the wind and the waves. It is a marvellous way to escape from everyday concerns.
Going back to a place where you have been badly frightened as a war correspondent is never easy. I was trapped in a hotel in Nicosia in Cyprus when the Turks invaded in 1974 and was only rescued with the arrival of Canadian troops working for the United Nations. But I have been back several times, and even though still divided, Cyprus remains one of the most bewitching holiday destinations.
I was married in January 1969 and with our very limited funds, Mary and I spent two glorious days in a very cold Paris. We try to get back there every year, though not always for the anniversary – as a holiday city, Paris is hard to beat. I have always liked holidays with a theme, and we have often found it in archaeology. My wife taught Latin and Greek, and we usually discover common enjoyment in classical sites. I like the idea of learning something, as well as enjoying food and good weather, and that hasn’t changed over the years.
I would love to go to China, but after all my years with the BBC and now as a freelance, I am slightly concerned about how they might treat me as a journalist. But I haven’t given up hope. I remember after reporting from Vietnam during the war, we were allowed to spend a few days in Hong Kong, but seeing China from across the border was nowhere near enough.
For the first time in years, I have not been abroad [since the start of the pandemic]. I did manage to get a West Country sailing trip, but I am longing to get going again. My last cruise was a winter trip to Barbados. It was brilliant to feel the weather getting better each day and when we finally reached the other side – suddenly it’s summer. The passengers were great and laughed at the jokes during my talks. Then there’s the food and drinks – that’s what I enjoy about the cruise experience.
* John Sergeant will appear on Ambassador Cruise Line’s themed sailing, British Broadcasting Legends, alongside Floella Benjamin, Jan Leeming and other household names. The seven-night Autumn Fjordland cruise departs on October 16 from Tilbury and is priced from £629 per person.