Tees Lifestyle – Ben Houchen

It caused a ‘political earthquake’ when Conservative candidate Ben Houchen was voted Tees Valley’s first Mayor by residents of Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland, Hartlepool and Darlington in May. Amid the dramatic backdrop of HMS Trincomalee at Hartlepool Marina, Mayor Houchen talks exclusively to Tees Life about life on Teesside…

Teesside Life

The restaurants I love to eat in are
First of all Muse in Yarm. I used to be a councillor for Yarm, I live there and it’s a beautiful restaurant, so I tend to go with my wife quite a lot. I also like the Brasserie at Hudson Quay and Central Park in Middlesbrough, and a little further afield I enjoy the Crathorne Arms. We also enjoy TGI Fridays at Teesside Park and The Keys in Yarm.

The meal I most enjoy is
The Parmo! I have plans to get designated status for the Parmo.

My favourite tipple is
A good red wine. I’m not a wine connoisseur, but I do enjoy a nice, light red wine.

The stores I like to shop in are
Gadget-type, techy shops. I try to avoid clothes shopping as much as possible.

I spend too much money on
Food. My wife and I tend to go out quite a lot. We’re both so busy, by the time we get in we can’t be bothered to cook.

One place on Teesside I’ve not yet visited which I’d like to
Is the Transporter Bridge. I’ve never been on it so I should really take that opportunity while I’m Mayor!

My perfect night in would involve
A takeaway pizza and a film with my wife.

My perfect night out would involve
Meeting up with friends for a few drinks and a nice meal in a place that isn’t particularly loud, and then end up in Yarm at about midnight for a final pint in the Black Bull.

Life’s Loves

A book I love is
‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas, I’d recommend it to anyone. I’ve also read the whole series of ‘Game of Thrones’ but never watched the programme.

TV programmes I love are
Political stuff like ‘The Thick of It’ and ‘House of Cards’, but ‘Homeland’ is my thing at the moment.

The songs I love are
From my university days, so bands like Arctic Monkeys and Maximo Park.

A holiday destination I love is
Anywhere off the beaten track with historical significance is always an attraction.  I hate lying by a beach or a pool.

People in Life

I most like to spend time with
A very small group of close friends, along with my wife. I’m very good friends with (former Stockton South MP) James Wharton, and Cameron Brown, who works with me, is a good friend, as is my brother, Dan.

The biggest influence on my career
Were my parents. When I was younger I thought I was going to be a rugby player. I was with the Leeds Tykes Academy, now Yorkshire Carnegie, and I was also in the England development squad when I was 16. But my parents always made sure I kept my feet on the ground and did my GCSEs, A-levels and then went to university. I had three compress fractures in my back aged 17, which ended my professional aims, but because of their drive to give me an academic background I was able to get a law degree which has stood me in good stead for the career I’ve chosen.

The person who most makes me laugh
Is definitely my wife. Sometimes I might have a bad day or I’ve been slagged off in the media, but she will lighten the mood and put things into perspective for me.

The person who inspires me is
James Wharton, for what he’s achieved at such a young age – and I know he’ll go on to achieve in the future. I certainly look up to him in terms of how he has conducted himself, and his outlook on life.

The people who make me angry are
People who talk down Teesside. We can be a cynical bunch, but there are actually a lot of great things about our area. When people thrive on the negatives, it really angers me because we can help ourselves, and there are lots of examples of people and businesses helping themselves. We have beacons for the area, like this fantastic museum here in Hartlepool, Middlesbrough FC and companies like AV Dawson and PD Ports – fantastic examples of we do brilliantly.

Working Life

My greatest achievement is
Being elected Mayor of Tees Valley. I’ve stood for elections on a number of occasions, all within the North East, because I don’t want to be anywhere else. If you’re interested in politics there’s nothing to make you more proud than being elected to represent people in your local area. There’s a lot weight and responsibility that comes with the job, but it’s one I wear with pride.

My biggest disappointment was
My foray into professional sport and the injury I sustained, which meant I missed out on a potential long-term contract with Yorkshire Carnegie, and pursuing a professional rugby career. It’s something that has always niggled away at me, in the back of my mind, the ‘what could have been’, but I guess we all have those stories.

My business mantra is
I don’t have all the answers, which is the one thing I always say to people. It takes a very arrogant person to say “I know what I’m doing” and not listen. I think being aware of your limitations is extremely important.

The alternative career I might have had was
Running my own business, which is what I was previously doing but no longer have any involvement in. I ran it for a few years and I’m proud to say I created more than 20 new jobs for Teesside, and the business continues to expand today.