Former MP Chris Mullin enjoying life in Coquetdale after a career living in cities

An occasional series of portraits of Creative Coquetdale Folk by Katie Scott – this week, Chris Mullin, journalist, author and retired politician.

By Katie Scott
Saturday, 21st March 2020, 10:44 am
Updated Saturday, 21st March 2020, 10:44 am
Chris Mullin who has retired to Callaly in the heart of Rurual Northumberland with his wife Ngoc.
Chris Mullin who has retired to Callaly in the heart of Rurual Northumberland with his wife Ngoc.

Chris is a successful novelist and investigative journalist. His three volumes of diaries and his memoirs have won immense praise. He has had a most impressive working life: an MP for 23 years, a minister in three departments, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and much more besides.

A Very British Coup, his first novel, was published in 1982. An award-winning film version came out in 1988, and later, a Channel 4 series: Secret State. Chris has recently published a sequel to that thrilling story, it is called: The Friends of Harry Perkins.

Chris and his wife live in a cottage with an impressive walled garden, in Callaly.

As he makes me a cup of tea, I admire the lovely Vietnamese art works which adorn his walls.

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    “My wife, Ngoc, is from Vietnam,” he tells me. He shows me pictures of what the garden was like when they first moved in – it was full of massive Christmas trees!

    He tells me : “It was a forest. We had to cut all the trees down and grind out the stumps. Then we could actually see the wall.”

    There followed a lot of hard physical work before they could enjoy the beauty of the flowers, vegetables and fruit which they had planted.

    The garden is beautiful, and clearly takes up a lot of Chris’s time and effort.

    I ask why he was so keen on a walled garden: “I once dreamed of taking on the neglected walled garden at Chillingham; but that would be an absolutely massive project! So we were very happy to find this one. It gives us privacy, while at the same time offering us wonderful views from the cottage.”

    Besides gardening, Chris enjoys walking. His favourite route is from Prendwick to Ingram and back in a circle. “It’s lovely to stop for a cup of tea at the Ingram Cafe,” he says.

    I ask why he chose to retire in Northumberland.

    He says: “We often came here on holiday when we lived in Sunderland. It is so peaceful. Visiting Rothbury is like going back in time – I know we cannot pickle it, but I like that not that much has changed.”

    Having lived in inner cities for 40-plus years, Chris has certainly earned the rural life.

    Always busy, the former Labour MP for the Sunderland South constituency is finding pleasure in the demand for his presence at literary festivals.

    “Around the time I retired I published three volumes of diaries, two of which were BBC Books of the Week and best sellers. I thoroughly enjoy giving these talks,” he says.

    Since retiring ten years ago, he has spoken at about 150 literary festivals, attracting audiences of up to 750. He has filled the big tent at the Edinburgh Festival six times. And more locally, Chris can often be seen and heard at Alnwick’s well known Barter Books, and at the town’s Playhouse threatre.

    He was appointed by the Secretary of State as a Member of Northumberland National Park, and was also President of Northumberland Wildlife Trust.

    Chris is speaking in Rothbury about his latest novel on Monday, March 16, at 10.30am, in the Jubilee Hall.

    Details of all events are available at