Magazine article The Spectator

'Travelling to Work: Diaries, 1988-98', by Michael Palin - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Travelling to Work: Diaries, 1988-98', by Michael Palin - Review

Article excerpt

Travelling to Work: Diaries, 1988-98 Michael Palin

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pp.592, £25, ISBN: 9780297844419

In these diaries, which I found excellent in a very specific way, Michael Palin tells us about his life between the late 1980s and the late 1990s. At the start of this period, he was about to become a hugely successful presenter of travel programmes. Ten years later, he was wondering if this was, in fact, what he wanted to be. 'Should I accept that this is what I'm best suited for?', he writes. Or should he try to do something else, like be an 'arts presenter' or a novelist? His own verdict: 'I don't know.'

Palin is obviously a man of great qualities. For instance, he's almost always an optimist, but never a bore. He's clever, he's charming, he has good taste. But he has something else, too, and he has this thing in such abundance that it's become the main quality he's known for. He tells us he likes to be liked. And the thing is: everybody likes him. It just goes without saying. I like him. I've liked him from the start. Compared to a normal person's life, Palin's seems like a procession of people trying to tell him, in one way or another, how much they like him.

At first, you think how lucky he is to live this life. He's always being asked to go here and there, to accept awards or to be linked with this or that. Everybody knows that to be associated with Palin is a good thing. He has great talent and great decency, an extremely rare combination. So he zooms around a lot, going to talks and ceremonies. The city of Sheffield (his home town) wants him to make a speech; the anti-apartheid people want him to join their campaign; the BBC wants him on the radio; film directors want him to play cameos; others want him to do voiceovers and ads, to attend parties, to take part in a conker championship. 'Offers flood in every day, and just sorting through and fighting them off is work enough,' he writes in 1990.

After reading this for a few hours (it's compulsive) I began to think of the Julian Barnes story about a man who dies and wakes up in the afterlife. Everybody seems to love him and he can do anything he likes. At first he thinks he's in heaven. …

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