Giles Coren has an acerbic wit, great intelligence and immense charm. But get him talking about his children, Kitty and Sam, and a soft underbelly quickly appears. He is a television presenter and columnist and has been The Times restaurant critic since 2002. He chats with Cass Chapman about upcoming travel plans with his daughter, his memorable honeymoon, and why he won’t be rushing back to India.
What is your first childhood memory of travel?
It’s a received one. My sister was born when I had just turned three and we went on holiday without her. My parents took me away for two weeks to Sicily. We drove and I sat in the back seat; this is received because I don’t remember it, but apparently I sang this song, “The Cajuns and the Majums,” which I made up. My parents have told me this and my sister is obviously a bit bitter about this story, but that is how it was in the ’70s. Today, it would be frowned upon to have a baby and literally go away a week later for a fortnight. But they took me away so I wouldn’t feel threatened by her.
Where have you had your best holiday to date?
My honeymoon. We went to Crete for a week and then Santorini. Crete was pretty awful. We stayed in a place that was a massive, great, super hotel and the weather was a bit windy and wet. We got married in May and you don’t really know where to go then as the weather can be shit. We thought we might go to India as I had air miles, but we ended up going there before our wedding. We flew first class and it was horrible, because India is horrible. The best part was the flight. But the second week of my honeymoon in Santorini was the best holiday of my life. It’s beautiful. We were in Perivolas, we had the honeymoon suite with its own little courtyard and swimming pool and we conceived Kitty.
Where was the first place you went with a little one in tow? How did it go?
The very first was three weeks in Sussex, if you count that. We were afraid to travel and Esther was afraid to fly. We flew first when Kitty was about 13 months and not quite walking. It was to Cyprus and we stayed at the Anassa. We had an amazing suite and our own separate bedroom. The hotel had four swimming pools and a nursery for babies. It was completely easy and lovely, because we had three nannies for Kitty and it was off-season, so not that busy.
How do you find the experience of travelling with children?
I don’t find anything about my children stressful. Nothing. Esther finds it all stressful and that’s the dynamic we have and the boundary we have to tread. If they scream or cry for no reason I just get on with my day, while Esther feels it much more strongly than me. So, for example, I’m going away with Kitty in January to either the Bahamas or the Seychelles and Esther is staying behind with Sam, because she would rather be at home, near her mum and the doctor. I’ve tried to persuade her, but it would be my fault if it went wrong. I do understand though; she is on the frontline with the kids. And she is an anxious person, but I’m not. Esther worries jetlag will kill them but, I personally, would just go. Maybe I am a more simple person, but I want to end up on a sandy beach with blue sky and my kids playing in the pool.
And have you had any bad experiences of travel with your children?
I don’t remember bad experiences. I’ve never had a bad experience of any sort with my kids, ever. We went to Greece when Kitty was 18 months old and we left her behind with a nanny one day and went out on a boat with friends and got drunk. So, we felt a bit bad but, no, I’ve never had a bad experience with my children. Every experience I’ve ever had with my children is better than any experience I’ve ever had without them.
What is your must-have travel accessory when away with children?
There’s a long list of nappies and what not, but we take the Gro-clock. Esther takes two – one for each child. Kitty knows that when the sun comes on the clock she can get out of bed and come and get us. We take her nightlife, too – a rabbit nightlight – and her iPad. That’s not a must-have because she wouldn’t ask for it, but we take it. I won’t let Kitty go to sleep with it, but once she’s asleep we put it in her room, because if she wakes in the night I’d rather she had that than woke us up! And she’s now learning to read so the essential thing is hundreds of books, because she reads them and then gets bored of them. When we go away together, I’ll take 30 books for her probably, though luckily I read on a Kindle so won’t need any for myself.
And have you got any top tips for travel with kids, such as Calpol for getting them to sleep on flights?
I would never give my kids drugs to get them to sleep. Esther would do prohibitive operations if she possibly could – come winter she fills everyone with Nurofen – but I don’t. The only thing I’d probably take myself is baby Nurofen. When we’re away I won’t care if Kitty falls asleep in the afternoon; I tend to do the hippy thing and wing it and, of course, two hippy approaches would be no good. I won’t mind if she sleeps in the middle of the day though, because then she’ll stay awake at night and I’ll be awake too. It could all go terribly pear-shaped but we’ll see.