The Scottish singer-songwriter tells JOHN LEWIS that tramping around on her beloved Western Isles makes her feel like Frodo Baggins.
Nowadays, KT Tunstall spends a lot of time in hotel rooms, touring every continent on Earth. She’s one of the UK’s biggest pop exports, with Brit Awards, Grammy nominations and record sales of six million. But she had never set foot inside a hotel until she was well into her 20s.
‘When I was a kid, every family holiday was a camping holiday,’ she says. ‘Mum and Dad were nature freaks, like something out of Nuts In May. Camping and walking. Walking and camping. It must have been hell for them as they embarked on these epic, four-hour hikes around the Scottish countryside with three obnoxious children, screaming, “Why! Why! Why are we doing this?”
‘Even on a Christmas Day, every other family would be opening presents in front of a fireplace and we’d be stuck down a gully, freezing and starving, wailing at our parents! It seemed ridiculous. But I love it now.’
Tunstall had an unconventional childhood on the east coast of Fife. Her adoptive parents (mum a teacher, dad a physics lecturer at St Andrew’s University) were keen mountaineers who met at Bangor University. ‘My dad was the president of the university’s climbing club,’ she says.
‘Once he took the entire club climbing up Bangor Bridge, pissed. I’m quite immaturely proud of that.’
She and her brother even went on a rock-climbing course. ‘I was loving it until the teacher told us that if you lost your carabiners – you know, those hooks that you insert into the rock – then you can just push your fist into the hole and work your way up. I was in my early 20s and had already embarked on a career in music, and thought, no flipping way, man! My hands will get wrecked and I’ll never play guitar again. I realised that I would never be able to take this as seriously as I’d like to as a hobby!’
After her marriage in 2008 – to her drummer and musical director Luke Bullen – Tunstall took a long honeymoon, trekking in New Zealand, llama-riding in Peru and jamming with folk musicians in Rajasthan. But she’s still drawn to the village called Sligachan. On one side you’ve got the Red Cuillin, these bare, smooth, reddish mountains. And on the other side you’ve got the Black Cuillin, which are pointy and quite frightening. European mountaineers train on them before they go to the Himalayas. It’s very extreme. ‘It’s one of those walks where you spend time chatting and then there are parts of it you can spend quietly.
The scenery changes your mood.’ Tunstall and her other half keep a flat in London, but spend most of their time in an 18th-century house near Hungerford, Berkshire. KT enjoys stomping around the Berkshire countryside (‘I’ve got my Peter Storm walking boots and all my walking gear!’).
‘I love being overwhelmed. I love being in places of isolation, places that are utterly uninhabitable. It’s like mankind looking at nature and saying, OK, you’ve won! We can’t conquer you!’
By John Lewis, Do Not Disturb (In-hotel Magazine)