WORLD-FAMOUS writer Bill Bryson has said he ‘passionately believes’ County Durham should win City of Culture status in 2025, and insists it is not about being ‘all artsy-fartsy’.

The American author’s affection for the historic city remains as strong as ever, a quarter of a century after he described it as a ‘perfect, wonderful little city’.

Speaking exclusively to the Northern Echo, Bryson who is now retired, said he wholeheartedly endorsed the bid launched this week at Beamish Museum, near Stanley.

He said: “I believe absolutely passionately that Durham should win.

“I have said for a long time that all of the Durhams, the city, the university and the county are the friendliest places I know.

“Durham City is an incredibly cultural spot. It has got so much history, with the cathedral and all of the medieval history that goes with that.

“It is one of the world’s great cathedrals. It has one of the most historic shrines in the world.

“On top of that you have got all of the historic buildings that area around the university and with all of the bridges it is an incredibly beautiful place with a long history of doing lots and lots of cultural things.”

The Northern Echo:

Bill Bryson at the Durham University library named in his honour 


Bryson is from Des Moines, Iowa, but now lives in Hampshire with his wife Cynthia.

During the 80s and 90s he and his family lived in Kirkby Malham, North Yorkshire.

In Notes From A Small Island, his best-selling travel book about Great Britain, Bryson, now 69, asked why no-one had told him about Durham before.

He wrote: “I had no idea that it was so splendid. I couldn’t believe that not once in 20 years had anyone said to me, ‘You’ve never been to Durham? Good God, man, you must go at once! Please – take my car’.”

It started an enduring love affair between the renowned Anglophile and the city, which earned him an honorary doctorate from Durham University, and a six-year tenure as chancellor.

The Northern Echo:

Bill Bryson was chancellor of Durham University from 2005-11

The aim of the team behind the bid, which includes the university, Culture Durham and Durham County Council, is to secure the title for county and the city, meaning people and communities across the county would benefit from the national spotlight and the expected influx of visitors.

Bryson said: “I regret to say I do not know County Durham better, or the North East come to that.

“When I was chancellor I was kept busy and that was mainly in Durham or at the campus in Stockton.

“The few times I got to get out into the countryside I was just bowled over.

“It is really, really lovely and the views are sensational.

“I really do believe that there is too much focus on the south of England and London in particular and a lot of that should be spread out.”

He served as chancellor from 2005-11, during which time he brought Oscar-winning Hollywood movie star Russell Crowe to Durham to give students a masterclass in acting.

The Northern Echo:

Russell Crowe with Bill Bryson in Durham in 2011

But Bryson said one of the events on the cultural calendar that should not be overlooked by judges, ahead of the decision next May, is the annual Big Meeting, which this year marked its 150th anniversary.

Bryson said: “One of the things I suspect that is likely to be overlooked is that Durham is also awfully culturally diverse.

“Something that always impressed me about Durham is the Miners’ Gala and the idea of celebrating working class people and their achievements.

“That is certainly not something you find in Hampshire, where I live."

The Northern Echo:

Durham Miners' Gala is a firm fixture of the county's cultural calendar 

The Northern Echo:

Bryson said: "People think of the idea of City of Culture as being all artsy-fartsy, but I think it is much more than that.

“Obviously, it is to do with art, history, and heritage, and all of that but it is also it is about being aware of your local roots and celebrating that as well and what is special about it and makes it different from other places.”