5 things we learnt from walking with Rory Stewart

Rory Stewart has once again taken to the streets in his bid to become the next Mayor of London. The Big Issue joined him, and this is what we found out.

Rory Stewart is walking again, this time as he bids to become London’s next mayor. Peter Ross joined him.

In next week’s Big Issue, on sale around the country from Monday, Peter Ross joined Rory Stewart for one of his famed walks around London. The one-time Conservative party Prime Ministerial candidate turned potential independent London mayor has made a habit of getting to know his constituents by doing the novel thing of meeting them face to face. Here are five things we learnt from their jaunt around North London.

1) He’s not looking back to Westminster

Having bolstered his reputation significantly when running for the Conservative leadership last year despite not securing the post, you’d be forgiven for thinking he still had his eyes set on the country’s top job. However, that is not the case.

“I’m exhausted, but so much happier than when I was an MP. I feel much more useful,” he says. “I want to be mayor in a way that I didn’t really want to be prime minister. I’m not a very good politician basically.”

2) He wants to tackle rough sleeping  

Rather than being a gimmicky publicity stunt, Stewart insists his walks – and a new social media campaign #ComeKipWithMe, in which he’s been asking for invites into the homes of people around London – are essential for developing policies that would work.

I want to be mayor in a way that I didn’t really want to be prime minister

He has already promised to resign within two years of getting the job if he fails in his bid to reduce the number of violent crimes, and when asked if he’d commit to the same promise if he fails to tackle rough sleeping, he said: “Yes, I think I probably could.” He has since pledged to halve the amount of rough sleepers in London, currently at around 9,000, in his first term.

3) Brad Pitt won’t be making a film of his life

A fact that has been brought up time and again since Stewart’s rise to prominence has been his improbable connection with Brad Pitt, with the rumour going that Pitt bought the rights to Stewart’s life story and a movie was in the works.

It’s a half-truth. Pitt did buy the rights, but the option has now elapsed. “This is one of the great defining clichés of my life. I was a kind of minor celebrity, but when I became a politician it all stopped.”

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4) He has the London mayorship in his blood

One of Stewart’s ancestors, Sir John Wroth, was the lord mayor of London back in 1360, and despite his internationalism – born in Hong Kong and deeply connected to the Scottish roots of his late father Brian Stewart – this isn’t the only claim he has to the capital.

“My grandmother was born on the street where I live now. In 1911, they put straw down on the street so the horses’ hooves wouldn’t wake the baby,” he says. He also still lives in the same South Kensington house he lived in as a child.

5) He never thought he’d live this long

Stewart has packed more into his 47 years than many have in a lifetime, but confesses that he’s surprised to have made it this far. “I thought I would die in my late 20s, early 30s. I assumed I would have been killed in a war.”

Maybe perfectly summing up the kind of man he is, and wants to be, he relayed a story to Peter as the walk came to an end: “I was in a plane flying over Afghanistan in 2007 and we hit some bad turbulence. I remember thinking ‘if this plane crashes, I’ll be perfectly happy. I’m doing something I love, I believe in this, if I die now I’ll feel completely at peace.’

“But if I had died when I was the Defra minister, ah, that would have been depressing.”

This article includes excerpts of an interview from this week’s Big Issue magazine. For more from Rory on the London mayoral race and his views on Westminster, pick up a copy from your local vendor or buy it from the Big Issue Shop.

Original interview by @PeterAlanRoss