Historian Dan Snow is a regular at Blenheim Palace, first as a child and now with his own children. But as an Oxford student he was “partying far too hard” to trek over to Woodstock. “I was too busy having a good time,” Dan laughs. “I don’t think I left OX1 the whole time I was there.”
“humans are a funny old bunch and it’s fascinating what we have done to each other over the centuries,”
Famously gaining a double first in history at Balliol and rowing three times in the boat race, Oxford is still one of Dan’s favourite cities.
Which makes him the perfect choice to present Blenheim Palace’s next Virtual Specialist Talk – The Unknown Churchill on March 17.
“Churchill remains a complex figure whose legacy is coming under enormous scrutiny. I love visiting Blenheim and seeing where he was born,” Dan says.
I’M LIKE A KID IN THE CANDY SHOP WHERE HISTORY IS CONCERNED”
The talk will feature on Dan’s HISTORY HIT – the most listened to history podcast in the UK, part of his history channel HistoryHit.TV, which has taken off beyond all recognition in lockdown.
“It’s gone crazy. History is certainly thriving which is very exciting, but then it’s natural to be curious about our past. People have always been interested,” Dan says.
Dan certainly has been. “I’ve always been like a kid in the candy shop where history is concerned,” he agrees. “I have always been a bit obsessed with it.”
So after Balliol, it was an obvious move to venture into television, considering his own lineage – his parents are famous journalists Peter Snow and Ann MacMillan, and he’s related to Channel 4 news reporter Jon Snow.
And yet while Dan Snow may appear an easy target for accusations of nepotism, he has more than proved himself, while endlessly mentioning how “privileged” he’s been or how “lucky” he is, during our interview, as if to get in first.
“Blenheim is a reminder of the world into which Churchill was born into and grew up in“
“I have just been in the right place at the right time,” he says, “although we are a family of storytellers.”
And yet a glance at his exhaustive CV says otherwise. Yes, he started out by presenting the BBC’s 60th anniversary special on the Battles of El Alamein with his father and collaborating again on a series called Battlefield Britain, but he won awards for it and since then has covered history from every perspective and for almost every TV channel.
From the Vikings to Nazi gold, The Mary Rose to Tutankhamun and even his own paternal great-grandfather Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow, a WW1 British infantry general, no stone has been left unturned by Snow. His thirst for historical knowledge is inexhaustible it would seem.
“Well, humans are a funny old bunch and it’s fascinating what we have done to each other over the centuries,” he smiles.
“I’m a generalist where history is concerned, whether it’s British imperialism or the Crusader Queens Of Jerusalem, Bismarck or Julius Caesar – I don’t specialise because there is always a plethora of topics to choose from.”
Talking to me from his family home in the New Forest where he’s having a lovely time with his wife and children during lockdown (he is married to prison reformer Lady Edwina Louise Grosvenor), Dan is still working enormously hard.
Enjoying the best of both worlds, he is able to run his TV channel, podcasts, ongoing TV projects, an October theatre tour, his @thehistoryguy Twitter feed and numerous other projects, from home.
“It’s nice to be with the family,” he says. So does he miss the travelling? “Not the long distance trips. I miss travelling around the UK and having the freedom to wander around Bath or Oxford. But other than that it’s been lovely. It’s going to the pub and seeing friends that I miss the most.”
The next day Dan can be found canoeing over to nearby Hurst Castle, built by Henry VIII, to assess the recent damage done when a wall fell into the sea, a throwback to his rowing days perhaps?
“I suppose I must have had some discipline to get up early every day and go rowing. It was madness but the rowing kept me sane because I partied hard and was out every night at Oxford.”
And then he pauses: “My time at university was very special. I was there aged 18-21 and I had a wonderful time. I probably took it all for granted, but I had the time of my life and was very sad when it all ended. So I am hugely sympathetic to today’s students and what they are going through.”
As for Churchill, will he be mentioning his darker periods? “He had lots of them, Gallipoli, not being re-elected, being kicked out. But there is also so much about him we don’t know, despite the myths, and that’s the wonderful thing about history. There is always so much to find out, new material to explore and a wonderful archive at Blenheim to use.”
Hosted by Blenheim Palace’s historian Antonia Keaney, audience members are able to post questions during the event as Dan and Antonia explore some of Churchill’s favourite Blenheim haunts and examine the breadth of Churchill’s talent, achievement and personality.
“Blenheim is a reminder of the world into which Churchill was born into and grew up in – a palatial, aristocratic, late Victorian world which feels very different to that inhabited by Churchill as the boiler suit wearing politican of the mid 20thcentury.” Dan explains.
So he’s looking forward to the talk then? “Absolutely, and I’m a big fan of the first Duke Of Marlborough as well. He was a brilliant general and a crafty politician. Probably the best general in British history.
So why don’t we know more about him and the Battle Of Blenheim? “Because everyone gets superseded, and people only tend to have space to remember one person, so they remember Nelson or Wellington…. or Churchill. But at the time, Louis XIV and the Battle Of Blenheim was as threatening to England as The Kaiser in WW1 or Hitler in WW2, it’s just that it was 300 years ago. At the time it was a huge deal and Blenheim Palace reflects that.”
The Unknown Churchill with Dan Snow is on 17th March at 7.30pm. For the full programme of virtual talks and to book a place, visit: virtual.blenheimpalace.com/virtual-tours