Benet Brandreth - son of TV presenter and former MP Gyles - will be bringing his debut novel, The Spy of Venice, to the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival next month. It is the 'thrilling tale of Shakespeare's lost years' he tells ANN CHADWICK

Benet Brandreth – actor, comedian, rhetoric coach and winner of the World Public Speaking Championships (twice) - is the son of TV presenter and former MP, Gyles. Erudite and somewhat of a Renaissance man, his career has encompassed soldier, barrister and now, novelist.

His debut, The Spy of Venice, hinges on the story of a young Shakespeare.

“It’s a thrilling tale of Shakespeare’s lost years - what did he do before he became a playwright? How did he get from Stratford to London and what adventures did he have on the way?" he says. "It imagines William involved in the intrigues and excitements of Venice in the late sixteenth century - a time of vengeful Popes, brilliant poet-courtesans, and an age of wonders. It is a Dumas-style thriller with Shakespeare as its hero - what’s not to love?”

Working for years as a rhetoric coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Benet has a deep knowledge and love of the plays.

“Knowing the plays so intimately I couldn’t help but wonder about this man, who seems to know us so well, when we know so little about him. I imagined how he might have got from provincial Stratford to the greatest love poet and master of the English language the world has ever known.

"In the course of my research I discovered the extraordinary history of Venice at this time - its central role in the events of Europe. It was a city that I knew already - and loved. It wasn’t hard to imagine Shakespeare there, inspired by its wonders and by its denizens.”

His favourite of Shakespeare's plays is Macbeth. “The agony of Macbeth at his own debasement is so extraordinary, I find it hugely compelling.” And his ultimate Shakespeare quote: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”

Benet puts his love of literature down to his famous dad. “His love of language is well known and he’s a master of it. I was fortunate to live in a household that adored language and I am very conscious of the joy that it has brought me over the years. My father has been a huge inspiration, although it was my grandfather and great-grandfather that were barristers.”

Before becoming a barrister, Benet had a stint as a soldier.

“It may seem as if my career is eclectic - but in fact there is a common thread (well, for all bar the soldiering, but that was brief). That common thread is a love of language and the way that language works on the minds of others. In all of the things I do I am trying to work out how language has its power, how it works and, hopefully, sometimes mastering language enough to move, to entertain, to teach: Movere, Delectare, Docere, as Cicero put it.”

Benet is heading to Harrogate shortly after his hit show in Edinburgh - his one-man show was a sell-out at the Fringe.

“I love to perform,” he says. “The reviews for Edinburgh have been lovely - I hope Harrogate will also enjoy 'a brilliant, witty man at his peak' (Chortle) and find me 'Ridiculously funny, breathtakingly erudite' (The Scotsman). They will certainly find me modest and unassuming!”

If audiences need any further enticement to see Benet in Harrogate, he says: “I know my Shakespeare backwards, you will learn, you may laugh, but you will undoubtedly enjoy!”

Benet Brandreth, Thursday October 18, 6.30pm, at the Crown Hotel, Harrogate. Tickets: £11. Box office: 01423 562 303. Full Festival line up: