As the countdown to Wales’ Senedd election continues, we sat down with the three men most likely to be first minister to talk beds of nails, coming out and referring to Brexit as breakfast.
Beans are good. Carrots are useless.
“It’s river clay,” the Welsh Labour leader told us about his allotment.
It means carrots “can’t fight their way through the soil” but “it’s quite hard to go wrong with runner beans so long as you don’t plant them too early and the frost doesn’t get them”.
We chatted to Mark Drakeford for our Walescast podcast, a “muscular stone’s throw” away from his two passions – the allotment and Glamorgan County Cricket Club.
He took on the allotment with a friend in 1983 after they “were so downhearted by Mrs Thatcher’s victory in the general election of that year that we felt we had to do something to stop ourselves from going mad”.
He now works his little patch of soil in later life, after an upbringing of milking cows on his grandparents’ farm in Carmarthenshire.
‘I’m a blue-collar, working-class Tory’
A few miles down the road, a chorus of cattle and sheep mooed and bleated as we talked to Andrew Robert Tudor Davies on the family farm.
Tenant farmers at first, his parents eventually took ownership of the land.
Away from the farm, his father was a bare-knuckle boxer in agricultural shows.
The Conservative Senedd leader said his father “actually lost a knuckle, when he used to do that – there was no knuckle there, because it split the knuckle”.
Did he inherit his father’s pugilistic genes?
“I like to think I’m more conciliatory,” he said with a chuckle.
It is a background that has shaped his view of himself as a “blue-collar, working-class Tory”.
Mr Davies said: “I never went to university, never went to college, left school at 16, very much put shoulder to the wheel and worked on the family farm here.
“It’s through blood, sweat and tears that you build things in life and I believe that’s the embodiment of what the Conservative party’s about,” he said.
‘I stood in a mock election at school… I came bottom’
While Mr Davies was only drawn to politics in later life, after the BSE crisis of the late 1990s, Plaid Cymru’s leader was telling people when he was as young as four that he wanted to be “prime minister of Wales”.
“Ammanford was a very political place, the strength of mining, the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers], even though it was overwhelmingly Labour,” Adam Price said.
“I stood in the mock election in Amman Valley comp in 1983 [for Plaid]. I came bottom of the poll.
“I was beaten by the communist. Well beaten by the communist,” he said, self-mockingly.
Asked to reflect on society’s journey on gay rights, Mr Price said: “If anyone had told me when I was 16 that I would be out, gay politician… in a civil partnership, and a father as well, I just could not have conceived that because there were no role models back then.
“The only thing you saw was maybe a gay character in [the 1978 BBC Wales film] Grand Slam, one or two stereotypes going on there.
“There was nothing that I could associate with and I really struggled in my teenage [years] and right into my early twenties.”
Elected to public office for the first time in 2001, he remembered a “suggestion that I was going to be outed by a journalist just a couple of days before the election but it didn’t happen, for whatever reason”.
image captionIt is almost 50 years since Adam Price declared he wanted to be “prime minister of Wales”
“I just decided, as soon as I got elected, I just want to be open and honest,” and so he arranged an interview with the late BBC journalist John Stevenson and “the response was terrific”.
“It does seem like an eon ago but it wasn’t that long ago and I just decided I wasn’t going to live my life like that.
“I also felt like I had a responsibility because of the lack of role models – well, here’s my opportunity to do something about that,” he added.
‘I didn’t used to speak about dyslexia in politics’
image captionAndrew RT Davies led his party at the 2016 Welsh elections
Back on the farm, Andrew RT Davies spoke of his personal struggles with dyslexia.
“Ultimately, you’re looking at a blackboard… it all looked a jumble of words, a jumble of confusion,” he explained.
“To this day, very often when you’re on the iPhone trying to send a tweet or send a text, you look at some word, or you look at something, and it just looks double Dutch.
“It was something I didn’t used to speak about when I first came in to politics because I wrongly looked at it as a weakness – because in politics, weaknesses are exploited – but actually I looked at it the further on in public life I got that actually it was to be put to advantage in showing what could be achieved.”
He said he finds writing speeches “a hindrance, to be honest with you, and actually if I see an autocue, I take a sharp intake of breath”.
A slip-up between Brexit and breakfast at the 2016 Conservative party conference hit the headlines.
“If I’d only copyrighted that, I’d have made a fortune by now,” he joked.
‘A man followed us, lying on beds of nails’
Mark Drakeford spoke of a very different challenge during his time as special advisor to the then-First Minister Rhodri Morgan.
“Rhodri would introduce me to complete strangers, ambassadors, people who were walking through the office: ‘This is Mark Drakeford, we keep him on because he’s the only man who makes me look well dressed’.”
Never one known for his sartorial flair, after a year in which his profile has shot through the roof, you get the sense he might invest in some camouflaged jumpers.
“It’s very hard to go out and be incognito any more,” he said.
Does he hate that?
“I don’t hate it. I do sometimes think it would be nice to be able to not be recognised and just be able to do ordinary things.
“My family went down to west Wales last weekend and came back and told me how it nice it was to be there without me.
“What they meant was they could go down to the beach and the could walk along and they weren’t being stopped every few yards.
“On the whole, people are very kind,” he added.
image captionMark Drakeford has been first minister since his election as Welsh Labour leader in December 2018
And yet some stick in the mind more than others.
‘Concrete Ken’, a man “whose speciality was lying on beds of nails and breaking concrete blocks with his forehead”, was one such character.
“He was a martial arts instructor and, for a reason that was never completely clear to us, he decided that it was his mission in life to make sure that Rhodri was elected [in the 1987 general election],” Mr Drakeford explained.
“And he accompanied us on that campaign, almost everywhere we went, entertaining crowds by lying on beds of nails.”
Some people test themselves by lying on beds of nails, others put themselves forward for election to become first minister.
Mark Drakeford, Adam Price, and Andrew RT Davies’ own test of political and personal character has another week and a half to run.