Interview with the author – Peter Daniels

 

PeterDaniels copy

Finding Wales identifies in the Welsh a distinct personality, born of their humanity and natural friendliness, an image designed to counter the almost dismissive attitude towards Wales adopted by both the ‘British’ press and the UK government in Westminster.

As a Welsh exile in England, Llanelli-born Peter Daniels had a successful career in market research, but the strong ties he retained with his homeland through the London Welsh RFC and the London Welsh Association led to a fascination with national identity, especially amongst those living outside of Wales.

By the author of the acclaimed In Search of Welshness, this book takes an in-depth look at the state of our nation, at Welsh national identity and at what exactly it is that leads to so many Welsh exiles feeling they need to rediscover their roots and eventually return home. It poses questions that Wales’s politicians and leaders need to grapple with.


Tell us about yourself?

A retired consultant, originally from Llanelli, who after graduating in International Politics & Economics from Aberystwyth, spent the next 50 years in the south east of England working in market research, marketing and advertising, work which encompassed tasks as varied as managing Heinz Salad Cream during the last major summer heatwave of 1976; helping advertising copywriters ensure that their advertising campaigns were both entertaining and relevant, in TV advertising’s heyday of the 1970s and 80s; advising on the design of cars, shops, magazines, restaurants, and interviewing a complete mix of people ranging from captains of industry, kids with their toys, gambling machine addicts, to the general shopping public.

In 2015 I returned, with my Essex born wife, Gill, to live in Wales, in Llantwit Major in the Vale of Glamorgan, responding to my latent hiraeth for things Welsh, whilst also benefitting from Wales’s cheaper housing market and lower cost of living.

What are the main differences between living in Wales & London, and what has changed since you first left Wales?

The first thing that has changed is me. Brought up in the socialist stronghold of Llanelli, yet in a true blue, pro British, royalty loving household, where the Queen’s Christmas Speech and Last Night of the Proms were must watch TV events, and holidays were taken every year in Bournemouth, the move to London made me much more conscious of how disregarded we Welsh are by the media, government, and to some extent by the general public itself.   In the space of a year I went from queuing for hours to pay my respects to Winston Churchill lying in state, to gate crashing the welcoming party  for Gwynfor Evans on becoming Plaid Cymru’s first Westminster MP.

I also entered the bubble that is the Welsh community in London, incorporating the London Welsh Association in Kings Cross, and the London Welsh RFC in Richmond. I met fellow minded Welshmen who introduced me to a wealth of writings tracing how historically Wales had suffered at the hands of the English, writings which bore no resemblance to the bland, boring and minimal instruction handed out in the Welsh History lessons of my schooldays.

Finding Wales - Peter DanielsLondon is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, and England for the most part offers a civilised environment offering ample freedom of speech. But the Welsh, both in London, and particularly in Llantwit, are decidedly more open, friendly and less pompous than the English, and the way both my wife and I have been so readily accepted into the Llantwit community has been a total revelation. And all this whilst being surrounded by the wild and wonderful scenery that is Wales.

As an environment to live in, however, Wales has both developed and receded since my 1950’s childhood. There is now far more culture and entertainment available, at least in and around Cardiff, and gone are the days when opera singer, Sir Geraint Evans, refused to sing in Wales again, because the facilities were so second rate.

Wales is now far less religious, which has removed one of the pillars that held communities together, but has also possibly made us less narrow minded and cautious. And we are beginning to acquire the desire and ability to govern ourselves, although the Westminster government did their best to limit the powers of the new Assembly, which thus spent its first 10 years arguing more about the process of government rather than taking any action.

The Welsh language has become far more relevant and important, although we have to be wary of not alienating non Welsh speakers and creating a split society.

The Assembly’s biggest task however is to revitalise the economy, as Westminster has made no effort to regenerate our infrastructure and business following its destruction of our coal and steel industries. And the town planners have likewise decimated our high streets.

Finding Wales is not therefore in any way a statistical or sociological study but a very personal one. It might, indeed, be said that the book is the author’s attempt to explain the experience of exile and return to himself. A a very readable account of what has been a common Welsh experience over the centuries.

– John Barnie, Gwales

You met many characters while researching the book. Who made the biggest impression on you?

The biggest impression was made not by anyone I interviewed, but by Lord Leslie Griffiths, who provided a quote for the cover of my second book, Finding Wales. After a childhood of extreme poverty, Lord Griffiths, has risen, through ability and effort, to become President of the Methodist Council and a peer and Labour Chief Whip in the House of Lords. Simultaneously he has devoted much of his time working for Christian Aid in many of the world’s poorest countries, particularly Haiti where he held his first ministry.  He has also become a regular broadcaster, author and teacher. The extent of his commitment to so many important causes beggars belief.

Evocative, nostalgic, stimulating, uplifting – all of those words apply to this riveting book that made me laugh, shout, reflect and punch the air.

– Leslie Griffiths (Lord Griffiths of Burry Port)

I was also impressed by 2 London born Welshmen. Dai Daniel, despite not being born in Wales, is a walking encyclopaedia on things Welsh, and it was he who pointed me in the direction of many valuable sources of historical information. Dafydd Davies, from Essex, learnt Welsh to provide support for his monoglot Welsh speaking father who had come to London in search of work during the depression of the 1930s.  Both Dai and Dafydd have contributed much to the preservation of  Welsh identity amongst exiles in London.

And finally to two younger respondents who, in their daily lives, have committed themselves to support causes that are so important to Wales’s future. Rhian Jones is currently a development officer for Y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, helping to promote Welsh-medium higher education. Iain Richards, whilst still living in Camden, north London, organises an annual music and literary festival every year in his native Blackwood in the Gwent valleys. ‘Velvet Coalmine’ is an event designed to act as a creative hub to bring  pride and excitement back to this old mining area.

Do you feel positive about the future of Wales?     

Welsh men and women put people before politics, and I have no fears that  Wales will continue to provide the friendly, open society that I have come to love. But this easy going society can also breed apathy. For centuries the Welsh have accepted instructions from Westminster as normality, even if it meant almost losing our language, being provided with a bare minimum of infrastructure, and being bled dry of our natural resources.

We have only the London media to tell us what’s happening. Somehow or other we were persuaded to vote in favour of Brexit, despite the fact that Brussels is funding so many of our infrastructure projects, and immigrants are so necessary to our health service and industry. We have been, and continue to be, supplied with insufficient information to make correct decisions. Historically all statistics have been provided jointly for ‘England and Wales’, with data on Wales, given its size, being lost in the combined figures. With the creation of the Assembly, certain aspects of government, such as health and education, are now devolved, but the London papers and the BBC News concentrate only on the performance of such services in England, unless it is to condemn Welsh inefficiency. We still do not know anything about the state  of Welsh government, economy or society. We are devoid of information.

The worst worry is that the Welsh people have no belief in themselves. We only voted for our own Assembly by the tightest of margins, and although I feel that most people now recognise we need one, views on its current quality and potential are to say the least mixed.  And we do love dithering and setting up committees in the hope of solving problems. And finally our political environment lacks pluralism, with our faith in socialism possibly no longer being totally appropriate. We no longer need to be protected in the work place. We need to generate the jobs themselves. ….desperately. And we probably need to do it in the absence of any help from Westminster.


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