The BBC newsreader on Bach, football, and why Ulysses is the most over-rated book of all timeby Prospect Team / October 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
What is the first news/historical event you can recall?
I remember being in my grandmother’s house in October 1966—I was five at the time—when the news of the Aberfan disaster came on the radio. A huge coal tip slid down the mountainside and buried the village school, killing 116 children and 28 adults. My grandmother lived in one of the neighbouring valleys of South Wales, where huge coal tips towered over the terraced streets as they did in Aberfan. It was an event which cast the darkest of shadows across Welsh life, and still haunts people to this day. The families were treated appallingly by the National Coal Board and the then-Labour government. I was proud to tell their story in a documentary last year for the 50th anniversary.
What is the most over-rated book of all time?
How about James Joyce’s Ulysses? Everyone gasps and nods knowingly when it’s mentioned, but we all know it’s unreadable.
What is your favourite saying or quotation?
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” (Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi.) It’s taken me far too long to grasp the implications and possibilities of that line.
Where do you want to be buried/have your ashes scattered?
No idea. It will be for my family to decide. It really doesn’t matter. But it has to be cremation not burial.
If you had £1m to spend on others, what would you spend it on?
I’d share it among a range of charities. That would take away the heavy responsibility, and let the experts decide the priorities.
The talent you wish you had?
A proper talent for playing the organ or piano rather than the middling ability I’ve struggled with for decades. But I love playing, and it has given me endless pleasure over the years.
What have you changed your mind about?
I have changed my mind about so many things over the years and hopefully become a little more mature in my judgment. Football is one. I grew up in rugby-mad South Wales and I still support the Llanelli Scarlets. We rarely played football at school. But I married a football fan and my wife has converted me to the joys of football, though rugby is still my first choice. The music of Bach is another change. It is technically demanding and I disliked it as a young player, but I’ve certainly changed my mind. The complexity is rewarding, and the organ music now pushes Handel into a close second place.
What is the biggest problem of all?
Not so much a problem as a personal challenge. After 34 years working on daily news programmes at the BBC—it’s been the biggest privilege—I realise that my concept of work-life balance has been a little… flawed. It’s taken the departure of some of my children for university for this to really hit home. I can’t turn back the clock but I can certainly try to do better in the future.
The last piece of music or writing that brought you to tears?
I recently re-read the classic Terre des Hommes (Land of Men, 1939) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French writer and pilot who’s more famous for his classic Le Petit Prince (1943). But Terre des Hommes is his best work. Towards the end of the book, he describes his ordeal having crashed in the Libyan desert, and his rescue—within hours of certain death—by a Bedouin. It is profoundly moving as the author celebrates the wonder of human compassion which is blind to colour, culture or creed.
Are things getting better or worse?
I am a Celt so it’s no surprise that I am a pessimist, much as I try to see the sunny uplands promoted by irritatingly cheerful people. I worry about the future, I worry about my children’s futures, I worry about society’s ability (or even desire) to pull together. But I mustn’t be too gloomy…