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Bullies won't silence me: TV historian Neil Oliver is defiant and ready to go to war with critics


Television historian Neil Oliver is more used to talking about war than war. Lately he has felt like he is in "Ypres Salient in World War I", fighting skirmish after skirmish.

The area in Belgium has been the site of some of the most violent battles on the Western Front, and recently the 53-year-old presenter has been repeatedly attacked from certain quarters to show the support of public figures under attack, including Harry Potter, author JK Rowling and academics David Starkey.

Two weeks ago, the splinter flew again when he spoke of his "humiliation and heartbreak" that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his family had apparently cut short their vacation in Applecross in the highlands because they had felt "unsafe".

His comments sparked an outcry from SNP and independence activists who believed the excavation was aimed at them.

Oliver, pictured with Mrs. Trudi and his children, has been subjected to "vengeful, personal" attacks but refuses to be yelled at by the crowd.

Last night Oliver, whose TV hits include Coast and Vikings, said, "I feel like I'm in this entrenched position in a war of attrition.

“I've been a lightning rod for the nationalists since 2014 because I spoke out for the UK.

“It has now become an article of faith that if you are really Scottish you would vote for independence and if you are for continuing the UK then you are not Scottish.

“It has just become a binary position that is being pushed by a section of the population. But I grew up British and Scottish. I never thought about it again.

“The two terms are interchangeable for me and I never thought that I would make a political statement in any form.

“Now that the situation has turned out, everything is political and you can't be Scottish and British. It's one or the other. & # 39;

He added: “With Boris Johnson, no one knows but himself and his own people why he left Scotland early to return to London.

"But there was certainly a perception that he was scared or expelled from Scotland and I thought I don't even want that proposal about this country."

“Whether it is true or not, it has been claimed by some and there was a bit of partying in some quarters because I saw it on Twitter about the fact that he had raised sticks and left.

“There were all these people at the border with their hazmat suits yelling at English tourists.

“There are banners all the time in different places – 'England out of Scotland' and 'Tory Scum' – and there is no doubt that there is an atmosphere here where the English or people who vote conservatively are told they are not welcome are.

“Growing up there was always this kind of funny anti-English that went on in the days of rugby and football games, but I never felt there was any depth.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fiancee Carrie Symonds and baby Wilfred (pictured) left their highland vacation early

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fiancee Carrie Symonds and baby Wilfred (pictured) left their highland vacation early

"Now there is a discernible sense in which Scotland is declaring itself undesirable to certain people in some areas and I just found that appalling."

Oliver, who lives in Stirling with his wife Trudi and three children, will step down as President of the National Trust for Scotland later this month after serving three years.

The announcement – gleefully greeted by critics as a sign that he had been persecuted – came after he was accidentally dragged into Black Lives Matter series over a racist comment by fellow TV historian David Starkey during a radio interview.

Three days before the show aired, Oliver liked a pre-publicity tweet from interviewer Darren Grimes and replied, "Tell him I definitely love him."

When Starkey's offensive comments – which he has now apologized for – hit the headlines later that week, Oliver was suddenly attacked as well.

He said, “I didn't know David Starkey, I had only met him 18 months ago when I was hosting an event at the Tower of London as NTS President, and I found him charismatic and charming.

“I certainly didn't know he made any comments that could be labeled as racist.

When I saw this tweet from Darren Grimes before interviewing him and saying he might have to tell him he loved him, I responded with that sentiment.

& # 39; Three days later the clip ran out of his remark and I thought & # 39; Oh for God's sake! & # 39 ;. The rest is history, but I was in a proxy war. & # 39;

When he first spoke about it, he said he had felt for some time that he could no longer speak freely without his role as NTS president being drawn into the debate and potentially damaging the organization.

He added, “I couldn't say anything but me. If I speak for them or try to raise money for them, then I'm the president of the NTS.

“But I still have a good part of my life ahead of me if I'm not the NTS president.

& # 39; So, I thought, well, the three years will be over in October, I'll just let go of it at that point.

"The Trust can go on, I can go on, they can have a different president, and I can go on with the things I want to say to advocate the reasons I stand up without being constantly watched."

He was also an outspoken critic of "Cancel Culture" and the Scottish Government's controversial hate crime law, which he described as the latest attack on freedom of expression.

This resulted in him jumping in defense of JK Rowling, 55, who has been subjected to a spate of abuse since June when she was accused of being transphobic after making public comments on gender and sexuality.

Calls have been made to "cancel" her and boycott her work after she mocked an online article that used the words "men who menstruate" instead of "women".

The author expressed concern about the SNP's Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which allows a person to legally change their gender without a medical diagnosis.

Despite expressing fears about the GRA's impact on women's rights and access to refuge, hundreds of pro-trans activists accused her of hatred.

Oliver was among a number of high-profile personalities who supported their right to freedom of expression – and rounded off their support.

Yesterday he said, “I've never met her, but her books and films have long been in my family's life and my oldest boy listens to the audio books.

“When I saw her being attacked, it wasn't so much about what she said – although I totally agree with what she said – I felt like she was part of an extended family, some of the most hideous was exposed. poisonous attack.

"I just thought not getting up to support them would be wrong."

He added, “The reduction in the opportunities to feel safe, or even safe, just by freely expressing your opinion is not a thing I would have ever expected.

Oliver supported JK Rowling, 55, who has suffered a spate of abuse since June when she was accused of being transphobic after making public comments on gender and sexuality

Oliver supported JK Rowling, 55, who has suffered a spate of abuse since June when she was accused of being transphobic after making public comments on gender and sexuality

“It is something that is related to other parts of the world and other times in history.

“I never thought that in the 21st century in Scotland or the UK there would be an atmosphere where you would be shouted down by the crowd for saying what was considered wrong.

"If you had said a few years ago that we were in this terrain now, I would have made fun of it."

He adds, however, that his criticism of the hate crime law and independence of Scotland – he described the prospect of a second referendum as a "cancerous presence" – has earned him many enemies north of the border, but has earned him "endless amounts of profits" has support & # 39; too.

He explains, “I am fully aware that there are many people who share my point of view. It's just that the atmosphere makes it easier for many to be calm.

"My wife keeps telling me that it seems so bizarre that it is someone like me who is so highly regarded in this situation, because I was never a political person, I was never a member of any political party and I can. " I envision a situation in which I would be a member of one.

“I consider myself very in the middle of the road in most things.

“I'm in no way an extremist, and I find it ironic that I'm being put in the role of a lightning rod for such haughty vitriolic opinion.

“I haven't changed my posture or position in any way in my life, and some of the comments made to me have been poisonous.

"A lot is based on the way I look – I get endless comments about my hair or my face or the way I walk or the things I do on TV, and a lot of it is just a vengeful one, personal attack. I will not give in.

“The longer it takes and the more malicious it gets, the more I have to defend myself against it.

“When I feel like I'm being bullied, I can't credibly tell my children that they have to fight back against bullies if they don't see me doing it too.

"I also think it's important for the rest of Britain to understand that half the country is up here and our voices are not represented."

Last year, before a global pandemic loomed and a lockdown was imposed, he wrote about the mounting tensions he was experiencing across society and looked to the past for answers.

The result is a new book, Wisdom of the Ancients: Life Lessons from Our Distant Past, which contains a number of historical stories from around the world and examines how their broader subjects, including "Family", "reach for perfection". and "the courage to do what needs to be done" could be used as a learning tool for modern life.

Oliver has condemned the group of Scottish nationalists protesting at the border

Oliver has condemned the group of Scottish nationalists protesting at the border

He says, “I wrote this book in search of answers. Our world now seems to be in a particularly bad mood. The temperatures are rising. The news is often fateful and hopeless. Simple rest is hard to find. So I looked back at the world of our ancestors. & # 39;

His journey begins at the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis and continues on to the ancient stone carvings near his home in Stirling and the Lake District.

It stretches from prehistoric human footprints in Laetoli and the oldest house in Olduvai, both in Tanzania, to the grave of a 10th century young Viking girl in Birka, Sweden, as well as places he found while filming his television series Coast in Australia and Australia discovered New Zealand.

He said, “There is a wide range.

“They are places that I wrote, talked, dreamed about and wanted to share because in these difficult times people are under a lot of pressure with work, busy life, social media, the flow of data, information and news People are constantly trying to process there are like cardinal codes on a compass to which we can hold onto.

“I realized that I was taking comfort in these stories because they demonstrated the enduring importance of ideas like family and home in modern life and the idea of ​​telling and remembering stories about your own family.

"I think something like ancients' wisdom makes old stories relevant to people."

He added, “There are certain knowable truths that range from four million years ago to the present day.

These are the distant memory chords that Abraham Lincoln spoke about in his first speech to the American people.

“They connect us with each other and with the beginning of human history. I hope the book encourages people to think differently about the past than they did before. & # 39;

· Wisdom Of The Ancients will be released on September 17th by Bantam Press.

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