Jemima Khan, Jon Snow and others tell Prospect about their best presents—and the worstby Prospect / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
Best present received: my wife gave me a beautiful Tang horse about 15 inches high for my 50th birthday. It’s my most beautiful possession. Best present given: to my wife—portraits of our daughters by Tom Halifax. Worst present given: what I thought were fashionable leather jackets bought in a market in Seoul for my daughters. Never to my knowledge worn. Worst present received: a loudly ticking wall clock in the shape of an antelope from President Mugabe.
Chris Patten is chairman of the BBC Trust
The best present I ever received was an antique mosaic ring with a view of the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, given by my agent, the late Pat Kavanagh, for the publication of my book The Pattern in the Carpet, which describes just such a ring. Pat was an inspired giver of gifts and it is a treasure. The worst was a worrying green jersey that didn’t fit but was too good to throw away. The best I ever gave was a beautiful red and orange chequered bath towel which I gave to my father one Christmas. He died in 1982 but I spotted the towel the other day in the house of one of my sons and it still looks good. The worst was a bottle of Poire William for a party given by a dangerous drinker. Eau de vie, eau de mort, what a stupid idea. It might have killed him.
Margaret Drabble is a novelist and writer
Being raised as a child on Styal Road in Gatley was the best gift I ever received. The road was divided down the middle between Cheshire and Manchester. We were on the Manchester side and it meant I had to attend primary and junior school in Wythenshawe. It was a tough upbringing, and it had a profound influence on my development and life.
Jim O’Neill is chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management
A scented candle from someone you’re close to is always offensively unimaginative.
Jemima Khan is a writer and campaigner
Best present I’ve given: I ordered a VW Beetle for my wife one Christmas and had it delivered to the hotel where we were staying. Christmas morning we went for a walk. She saw the car and said how lovely it was—at which point I handed her the key and told her to take it for a spin. Worst present I’ve given: my parents got some rubbish from me when I was young. I still remember the Max Bygraves LP that my mother never played…
Ian Rankin is a novelist and writer
My most memorable present came last year: an uncooked (but dead) suckling pig. It caused a minor domestic crisis because it wouldn’t fit in the freezer or oven. Luckily Cambridge is stacked full of institutional catering facilities. So it found a safe, cold home for a week and was cooked up for 20-plus on new year’s eve. Hoping for an ostrich this year.
Mary Beard is professor of classics at the University of Cambridge
Right Hon Sadiq Khan MP
I’ve got very loyal parliamentary researchers and for my 40th birthday they got me the 1984 Liverpool strip (the year we won the treble) with “Khan 40” on the back. When my daughters were six and seven, they gave me a voucher for ten breakfasts in bed. I didn’t reckon on the destruction that would be wrought in the kitchen. They were banned from cooking again and I never got the other nine breakfasts.
Sadiq Khan is shadow justice secretary
Best present from my husband: a barrel of earthworms, a cartload of horse manure and five tons of compost to start my herbaceous border. Worst present, also from my husband: a weekend scriptwriting course by the famous Robert McKee, who said that if you had not had an unhappy childhood you would never make a writer. I had a very happy childhood.
Prue Leith is a restaurateur. Her fifth novel, “A Serving of Scandal” (Quercus), is out now
Best gift I ever got: I met Jonathan Ive, the Apple designer and we got on like a house on fire. A few days later, a MacBook Air arrived in the mail. The worst: a colleague came back from Poland with a winking Christ—a sort of giant beach postcard; when you moved it, the eye would wink and a droplet of blood fell down his cheek from the crown of thorns. The best I have given: a fabulous necklace found while working in Jordan. The worst: a wonky self-executed watercolour of a pond on Cape Cod!
Jon Snow is a journalist and news presenter
When I was 12, being sent thousands of miles away from my family to live on the edge of the Guyana rainforest, my mother created a new outfit for me. She magicked a new pair of shiny tan shoes from the Ridley Road market, bullied a yard of cloth off a bemused trader, and made me a new jacket. No child could have been better turned out. Problem: the shoes were both left-footed winkle-pickers, which turned the journey into a 12-hour torture session. And the beautifully tailored Harris tweed jacket would have been perfect for the Orkneys, but not 80-degree tropical heat. The truth is that the gifts didn’t matter; it is the love of the giver that stays in the memory.
Trevor Phillips is chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission
Best gift received: my father gave me a tie he wore in the film of A Hard Day’s Night, which was given to him by Paul McCartney. Worst gift given: aside from the occasional thoughtless pot of Clarins night cream I grab at airports for my wife, the worst was mis-addressing a larky have-a-bottle-on-me gift to a friend and sending it to my newly bereaved grandmother.
Peter Florence is founder of the Hay Festival
The worst gift I’ve ever received was a Shirley Temple doll. I was seven. Her curly blonde hair and blue eyes messed me up. Whenever I drew a self portrait up until the age of 12, it was always a picture of Shirley. Sometimes we don’t realise how deeply children “mirror” and what harm it can do.
Bonnie Greer is a playwright and theatre critic
When I was married I was given a pair of exquisitely embroidered Irish linen sheets, a nightmare high-maintenance gift. It took two hours to iron them. It’s been 39 years and I still think of them with hatred. I hope the best things I’ve given were book dedications to family and friends. Maybe the best gift I’ve received was a gold Cartier pen which my husband gave me, as an act of faith, after my first book was accepted.
Hilary Mantel is a novelist
Best gift received: last father’s day my stepdaughters bought me a contraption for cooking vegetables on the backyard grill. It turned out not to be terribly practical, but after decades of childlessness, I felt like a real Dad. Worst gift received: for my 16th birthday, a guy who claimed to be a friend bought me a poster of a scowling, pickle-faced old woman with the caption “I don’t like you.” Best gift I’ve given: when I met my wife, Rebecca Goldstein, she didn’t wear a watch. I bought her a tiny Skagen with a pale green leather band (her favourite colour) and enclosed a card with a saying from my grandmother: “How can you be a mensch without a zager?” Worst gift I’ve given: a Rocket eBook reader to a librarian at MIT. In what I hope was a coincidence, she immediately retired.
Steven Pinker is a psychologist and writer
Best gift received: my godchildren Eleanor and Cara Shearer and the chance to be with them regularly as they grow up. I started writing children’s books because some godmothers knit and some tell stories. Worst gift received: a knitting machine.
Jeanette Winterson is a novelist and writer
Right Hon Andrew Mitchell MP
Best gift I’ve given: to my family, a Welsh Springer spaniel, Molly, winner of Westminster Dog of the Year 2009. Worst I’ve received: a DIY colonic irrigation kit.
Andrew Mitchell is the secretary of state for international development
Worst gift received: I was given a bottle of aftershave (which I never use) “with best wishes to Simon from Billie, Xmas 1980.” Noticing the label was peeling, I pulled it off, to find another saying “with best wishes to Billie from Margaret, Xmas 1979.” But this gives me so much pleasure when I bring it to mind that it can’t be the worst after all.
Simon Blackburn is a philosopher
Worst gift: a golden “good luck” acorn bestowed on me by an elderly Barbara Cartland whom I was interviewing for TV. Within 24 hours both my house and car were broken into. Thanks, Barbara.
Peter Bazalgette is a former television producer
Research by Clare Hammond & Rosanna Boscawen