My Famous Uncle

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I’d like you to meet my brilliant uncle …

There’s nothing like having a famous uncle. As a small child, growing up in the relatively sheltered city of Brussels (where my father was working) and then near Abergavenny in the Welsh countryside, my imagination would run wild with the stories of my explorer uncle. He visited us often, between his epic journeys, and kept us enthralled with his travellers’ tales. He was glamorous, energetic and full of mischief; encouraging the younger generation to question – and to a certain degree – rebel against the straitjacket of our everyday lives.

Every so often, a new book would appear and I would hunt thirstily through the pages for the photos. We did not have exotic overseas holidays and these images showed me a life so alien from my own, yet so very similar in some ways. Mothers and babies bonding, teenagers having fun, proud men displaying their weapons and beautiful young women giggling could be found periodically amongst the pages. It was the images of the people that fascinated me most and there were never enough of them.

My uncle’s books brought to life these indigenous cultures he loved to learn about and live with, and his work instilled my own lifelong fascination in diverse cultures and travel. My lucky children have benefitted from this by joining me on trips to India, Africa and the Middle East over the years – an insight that I only experienced when I left school and started to travel round the Middle and Far East buying silk for my first business.

To me, Uncle Robin is just my uncle, but he brought a little adventure home with him from his travels, and as a young adult, my friends would vie to sit next to him at dinner parties when they came to stay in my parents’ house. Everyone wanted to hear his stories, which he tells with such enthusiasm and joy. It gave me kudos to have a famous uncle, especially such a glamorous one! No matter how many people were queuing up to shake his hand at the end of a lecture, he always made a long arm to welcome in his niece and other family members.

Well I’m not longer that shy niece, and neither of us is so young anymore but how proud I was to see his name up in lights outside the National Theatre last week. A collection of his best photographs are being exhibited there until 10th March and a selection was projected house-size onto the outside wall. Stupendously grand, what an accolade! “This is even better than being on Desert Island Discs” I cried at him, to which he agreed. (And between you and me I think there is really VERY little to beat being a guest of Sue Lawley.)

Entry to the exhibition is free and there’s plenty to keep children entertained if they have some imagination and the visit may even encourage them to being ‘Uncle Robin’ fans themselves. Robin Hanbury-Tenison has not only written dozens of travel books, but has also penned some fabulous adventure stories. His kids books are suitable for 8-year-olds and above – not for the feint hearted or those with queasy stomachs, but perfect for tree-climbing, ruff-tuff little boys (and girls) who need a real life explorer as their role model.

Robin’s children’s books are available from Waterstones. Follow this link for the first in the series:

Robin’s other books and more about ‘my famous uncle’ can be found at:

Or to find out about his exhibition at the National Theatre, take a look at:

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