Dan Snow on his love for Hampshire, a passion for history and his latest book
PUBLISHED: 11:26 02 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:26 02 March 2017
Historian, keen rower, family man and lover of all things Hampshire, Dan Snow’s life is anything but dull. His TV work has brought history to a new audience and his latest book is another fascinating glimpse into our past, as he tells Bernard Bale
A lifetime of battles and castles might seem the lot of a war-mongering baron or perhaps even a Crusader. Until you meet Dan Snow, whom the nation has adopted as its favourite historian and who just happens to live in Hampshire, which he describes as historically fascinating.
In a sense Dan Snow is a Crusader, because he likes nothing better than to arouse an interest in history among people who perhaps had previously thought of it as little more than a boring school lesson. Already Dan has converted many with his TV series, books and radio broadcasts and there is a growing army of budding historians inspired by his enthusiasm and interest.
Hampshire has provided him with many happy visits and he plans many more in the future. “I have featured various parts of Hampshire in my television series, it is such an amazing county producing centuries of historical facts,” said Dan. “What I really like is that Hampshire people are so in touch with their history. They do not take it for granted but take a real interest and pride in it, whether we are going way back to Roman times and before or to the more modern links with the 21st century.
“Much has been preserved of the past and is there to be seen, to be experienced and to feel. I find Winchester especially interesting. It was, of course, the second most important place in the land many centuries ago. Some considered it to be even more important than London and certainly when the future Louis VIII of France invaded England in the 13th century he considered Winchester to be strategically so important that it was high on his list of places to conquer,
“He did, (in June 1216) and as a result he soon controlled over half of the English kingdom. But just when it seemed that England was totally in his hands, the reigning King John died in October that year and many of the rebellious English barons who had supported Louis switched their support to John’s son Henry III, then aged nine.
“Defeat after defeat ensued for Louis and he not only lost Winchester but everything else he had gained and had to make a capitulated withdrawal from these shores. This has become a forgotten part of our history and yet it is such a vital point as a defeat of Henry’s men could have changed the whole course of our culture, our Royal family, our language, our lives.”
Dan Snow came to our TV screens in a fascinating series on battlefields, which he researched and presented with his famous and much-respected father Peter, the radio and TV presenter and himself a renowned historian. It was sparked off in 2003 by a special programme on El Alamein to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the World War II battles in the north African desert that led to the defeat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps by the Desert Rats. That led to an eight-part series on BBC2 in 2004 called Battlefield Britain which won a BAFTA award for special effects.
That series not only launched the nation into a much keener interest in history but launched Dan into a high-profile career as an expert.
“It has always been history first with me rather than the thought of a media career,” he explained. “When you have parents who take an interest in history and are also media people it does rub off. They have been great role models but it was never a natural path for me to take, just a great way of sharing my passion for history.”
Dan is not only renowned for his TV work but is also something of an action man, having rowed three times for Oxford in the Boat Race with one win to his credit and taken part in many other sports. He has also shown a caring side, typified by the time in 2010 when he and a few friends took three inflatable boats from Dover to Calais to help 25 people return to the UK after they were stranded in France by the air travel disruptions caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland. The French authorities were none too pleased but Dan’s Dunkirk spirit saved the day for those stranded. That same spirit saw him make a citizen’s arrest during the 2011 riots in London when he caught someone looting from a shop.
Dan is also a family man, married to Edwina, formerly Lady Edwina Grosvenor, whose god-mother was Princess Diana. They have two daughters, Zia and Orla and Wolf, their son. Needless to say they were encouraged to take an interest in history from an early age.
“Zia has already been with me to a few castles and trod the battlements in the rain. That’s the sign of a true historian,” he joked.
Although Dan has been associated with battles, his interests go far beyond matters of conflict. His latest project brings back to life the golden age of steam railways in Britain.
“I think we all love steam trains, they are such magnificent creatures,” he enthused. “This latest project is a celebration of them and we have some great footage. Many of the trains were characters in their own right and are as famous as stars of stage and screen. It goes without saying that Hampshire is very familiar with railways of course.
“That is why I like the county. It is very diverse. We can talk about the wars and the railways but Hampshire has also played such a major role in our naval history as well as a part in the history of agriculture with many great farming innovators, religion and many more of the avenues of life that we might take for granted.”
Dan is a champion of Hampshire Cultural Trust and said: “The Trust’s vital work is well worth supporting. If we work together we can not only safeguard but also develop the vibrant cultural scene of our county.”
Dan’s big TV series in 2016 was The Vikings Uncovered which dealt with the Vikings reaching America, but even that had Hampshire connections. “The Vikings seemed to get everywhere,” said Dan. “They also attacked Winchester but found it a bridge too far when they ran up against Alfred the Great and his brother.”
His latest book is Peter & Dan Snow’s Treasures of British History which he wrote with his famous father. Published by Carlton, it is an exciting examination of the nation’s history as revealed through 50 key documents, some of which are reproduced in the book but all of which are shown to be so important in the story of Britain. While historians will find it a ‘must have’ book it is written in a style which makes it fascinating to anyone with an interest in the story of how we got here.
The book has confirmed Dan Snow’s role as not just a very professional and accomplished TV presenter and a great historian, but as a man who successfully combines the two to involve millions of others in his passion for life past and present.
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