Exclusive interview with Dan Snow
by Karen Shaw
Mr McNish was my history teacher. He wore brown nylon flare, a pale blue polyester shirt, beige socks and blacks sandals. Despite loving history as a subject, I would have preferred to chew on carboard rather than listen to his monotone voice and squeaky sandals. Surprisingly I achieved a reasonable grade in my exam but would have passed with an A* if historian and broadcaster Dan Snow had been my teacher.
Judging by his pictures Dan is more Indiana Jones than Mr McNish, I certainly wouldn’t like to imagine portly Mr McNish donning a vest and baseball cap (eww…I just did!) so when I caught up with Dan to chat about his tour my first question was: “Do you own a pair of beige socks or corduroy flares?”
“No, I don’t! I never have!” he yelps.
“I thought it was standard issue for male historians!” I reply.
“Not any more, Karen. Those days have gone.”
So, when did history become so fashionable Dan?”
The world is changing,” he answers, “I know hundreds of historians in universities around the world that are very dynamic people.”
“THE NORTH HAS THE BEST MUSEUMS IN THE WORLD”
I can’t argue with that, Dan is incredibly dynamic, and he’s brought history to the masses, blowing the dust-off history’s boring reputation. After graduating from Oxford University, he first appeared on our screens in 2002 co-presenting Battles
of El Alamein with his father Peter ‘Swingometer’ Snow. Keeping it in the family they both collaborated on a documentary series called Battlefield Britain , winning a BAFTA in the process.
Continuing from his TV success Dan now runs his own online TV channel History Hit TV and has a regular ‘history’ slot on The One Show, and if that wasn’t enough, he’s about to visit the north with his show – Dan Snow ‘An Evening with the History Guy’. The tour will see him share memorable anecdotes from his career as a historian and broadcaster during the tour. Audiences are in for an additional treat as every show will have its own exclusive ‘local’ element that will see Dan present historical facts about each town and area on the tour. There will also be a chance at the end of the show to engage with Dan during a 20-minute Q&A. Dan’s tales will be enhanced with
compelling digital imagery.
“Well, I do like talking. It’s nice being on telly and podcasts but it can be lonely, you don’t get the same interaction. I like to see actual human beings. I’ve done a few and it’s great fun, it’s lovely to meet everybody and talk about history with fellow enthusiasts. I like to involve people in the audience, and it’s great to hear their remarkable stories. I hope people leave having thought deeply about the past of their town, their country and their world.”
One northern venue he’s looking forward to visiting is the Burnley Mechanics.
“I’ve been to Burnley a few times in the last couple of years to meet veterans, as there’s quite a few veterans of The Falkland’s War there, so I’ll be talking about this in my show. Our industrial history is the best in the world, and it’s been recognised now. I’m not at all surprised that lots of Indian and Chinese groups want to hear where this industrial revolution began that shaped the modern world and their societies. I love going to Manchester Science Museum, the north has the best museums in the world, and so many of those are mills, the preservation of them is amazing.”
There’s been a debate going on for years regarding The Battle of Brunanburh, many people argue that it occurred in Burnley, I wondered what Dan’s view was…
“No one knows where it happened, so everyone is right to claim it! I have to say, I personally think it happened on the Wirral… but you know what? When I’m in Burnley, I might well say it happened in Burnley to cheer up the crowd!”
Dan attributes his love of history to his childhood when he recalls spending weekends being taken to castles, battlefields, country houses and churches and now, one generation on, Dan does the same with his own three children. “Kids love history. We go to castles, medieval festivals, aircraft museums, the lot. My kids go bananas at all that stuff,” he chuckles, “they love it, they can’t get enough of it. The love of history is definitely there.”
How does Dan feel future generations may view 2019?
“I think they’ll feel we had evolved and created so much and yet we were shockingly unwilling to confront the problem of global warming and there were big problems that we just failed to confront. One is leadership, one is global warming and one is nationalism and they will be surprised that we had so much change, but our politics were rooted in the past. Historians are interested in the problems of the world and the solutions. Looking at the past gives us tips about where we are going wrong.”
If history is such a great teacher, why do we still have narcissists running our countries?
“Well that’s a huge problem and I completely agree with that. I think it’s because, the hardest thing to get right is good people in leadership. It’s like saying, ‘well why don’t we learn from our mistakes in our love life?’ “We always make the same mistakes because actually our passion in our personal life is hard to govern and unfortunately, getting good people into leadership positions is the same. We can put a robot on Mars, but we still have a lunatic in charge of the USA and that just shows how difficult
it is. No good system for electing or pointing leaders, we are still just doing our best. What we have learnt from history is we can get rid of the leaders, where 200 years ago, Donald Trump would be president for life, now he’s going to get absolutely
kicked out of office in two years’ time which will be a great blessing!”
As a child my first brush with history was The Battle of Hastings 1066, when does history become historical?
“Everything from the beginning of time to two minutes ago is history,” says Dan, “I love learning about all of it for sure! It’s not all about old libraries, dead kings and dust. It’s everything. It’s your parents’ eyes meeting across a crowded room and
why we are who we are.”
So, for Dan is there any historical mysteries that he’d like to solve?
“Hundreds and hundreds! There are all sorts of extraordinary stories in the past that we don’t know why they happened. Why did Tutankhamun die? Why did his tomb
manage to remain untouched when all the other ones were completely ransacked?”
While on the subject of mysteries, Dan has revealed his fair share and in his latest book titled, On This Day in History he brings to life a key event that happened on each day of the year. So, if you want to know why in 1752 Britain went to bed on 2nd
September and woke up on the 14th or how a women’s march in 1917 set off the Russian Revolution then this fascinating book is one for you.
“I’ve done so many programmes and talks around the country for The One Show. I would always make a note of interesting things or people I’d interviewed or places I’d been, and I found that if you add it all together you pretty much have a book,” says
I decide to test him on what had happened in history on the date we meet…
Quick as a flash, he answers, “The Battle of Isandlwana! It was the first major encounter between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom. I have no idea if he’s just made that up, but I’m happy to believe him.
“You’re dead clever,” I say in a thick northern accent.
“No, just good at remembering history things! I’m a disaster at anything else.” Funnily enough, I find that very difficult to believe considering his boffin background.
As well as being the son of legendary broadcaster Peter Snow and the nephew of Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, Dan is also the great-great-grandson of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The Snow family are boffins, so I was curious to discover if, as a child, he’d ever felt pressurised to enter the academic arena.
“No, the only pressure was to find something you enjoy and be fulfilled. That was it. It wasn’t measured in money or job status… everyone around us? They all loved what they did, so I wanted to be lucky enough to do the same. I grew up in London with my parents, we didn’t have lots of luxuries, but we never wanted for anything, it was a privileged upbringing and I think I’m just very grateful for that. I copied what my dad did, not what he said. I could see that he was happy. He’s never boring, he treats every day like it’s a gift. I’m always thinking about history. I’m always tweeting about it. When I’m not at work, I’ll stroll up to a castle and have a little poke round, it’s all
part of my life. I’m just a glorified curtain twitcher and a gossip!”
Unfortunately, time waits for no man and that includes Dan, so as the interview draws to a close, I tell Dan that waiting for him outside is a time machine and ask him where’s he’s going to go and which historical character he’s going to be.
“I’m going to be a naval captain in the 18th century working under Horatio Nelson!” he answers. I was going to opt to be Queen Elizabeth but after serious consideration, I’ll travel back in time to 1987 and burn Mr McNish’s sandals!
DAN’S NORTHERN DATES
11th March – Ilkley, Kings Hall BOOK TICKETS
12th March – Stockport, The Plaza BOOK TICKETS
13th March – Barrow, The Forum BOOK TICKETS
14th March – Burnley, Mechanics BOOK TICKETS
15th March – Lancaster, Grand BOOK TICKETS