My Sussex: Andrew Graham-Dixon

Andrew Graham-Dixon.

How long have you lived in Sussex and what brought you here?

I’ve lived in Nutley for ten years. My parents bought a house there when I was about four or five. I moved back when they passed away, and I took on the farm and the ancient woodlands. In theory it’s a manor house, but it’s really two houses that are knocked together that used to be a workshop and a forge. It’s a bit of a mad old draughty place, really. I’ve got that house to thank for my childhood pneumonias.

It’s interesting countryside round there…

I try to go for a two-hour walk every day with my very vigorous Labradoodle, Frank. In Sheffield Forest and Ashdown Forest, passing through Airman’s Grave. That’s a little monument a mother built as a shrine to her son who died, along with five other crew members, when a bomber went down there on the way back from a mission in 1943. That’s very difficult to explain to my five-year-old son, Vincent, without upsetting him.

Is Vincent named after Van Gogh? Frank after Frank Auerbach?

Vincent is named after himself, but if he had to be named after either Vinnie Jones or Vincent Van Gogh, it would be Vinnie Jones. Frank is named on the basis that dogs should be named after men that you’d meet down the pub. If we had another dog, he’d probably be called Ron.

Tell us some of your other Sussex haunts…

I love it that half an hour away from my ancient woods, I can be in Birling Gap, and looking at that shingly beach that inspired – or very like the one that inspired – Matthew Arnold to write about the ‘melancholy, long withdrawing roar’ of the waves. Or I can be up just above Lewes where Virginia Woolf decided to end it all, or in Eastbourne, at the Towner. I think my favourite town is Lewes, which has a strange kind of magic which I don’t quite understand. I like its rough edges. And the landscape is very odd, with all those hills: I’m always surprised that the houses have managed to stay stuck down.

Does Sussex sate your cultural appetite?

If you live in Sussex and you’re looking for culture then it’s obvious that London is where you need to go for a lot of it. The National Gallery, the British Museum… London’s the greatest city for visual art in the world, and it’s only 45 minutes away by train, so as far as I’m concerned that means it’s in Sussex. If I lived in New York State, I wouldn’t ignore Manhattan.

What about Brighton?

I’m not that keen on Brighton. Apart from the Royal Pavilion. That’s amazing. Completely over the top. That chandelier – it looks like someone’s put lightbulbs in a 3D model of the Jabberwocky illustration. That living room – it just needs Elton John in it playing the piano in drag, and it would be complete. I think Elton would have got on great with the Prince Regent.

What other Sussex buildings do you like?

I like the architecture of Sussex because it’s so heterogeneous. I slightly quail when I go to the Cotswolds because everything looks like everything else, whereas here you get thatched, brick, Georgian, timber… I love Petworth House, Standen near East Grinstead, Sheffield Park. I like the castles: Lewes Castle, Bodiam Castle. And I love those cottages at Birling Gap, on those crumbly cliffs, falling into the sea.

You were once a Turner Prize judge. Is it a big deal that it’s coming to Sussex this year?

Are they expecting hundreds of thousands of people to descend upon the Towner? I don’t know how much people pay attention to it. I think people are a bit suspicious about the process of how it’s awarded, and they’re possibly right to be. The general perception is that it’s so politicised that it’s not really a measure of brilliance as an artist to win it: it might just be a measure of being the right combination of allegiances. I think a lot of art has moved itself to such a marginal relationship to most people’s lives that it’s hard for people to get excited about a lot of it. In a funny way I suspect it may have worked negatively in terms of public perception of contemporary art.

Andrew is currently writing a book about Jan Vermeer. You can subscribe to his website, an archive of thousands of his articles and films, at