Tea with Queen Judi, Bicycling in Amsterdam and Hunting for WMDs with Hans Blix
Snow, Jon, New Statesman (1996)
Monday, and I find Eriks Egenvalds's Passion and Resurrection still ringing in my ears from a phenomenal performance the night before. In the Georgian splendour of the Grosvenor Chapel, the Voce chamber choir had lifted the roof with this spectacular choral piece of 21st-century sorrow and joy, conducted by Suzi Digby, the Cambridge-based conductor and pianist.
Female conductors are rare; she is the match for any man I've ever seen on the conductor's rostrum. Concise, certain, emotional and yet not extravagant, she has the capacity to get to the top, taking her choir with her. To be honest, when I discovered that the centrepiece of the concert was to be a major choral work by a 36-year-old Latvian composer resident at Trinity College, Cambridge, I feared the worst--something atonal, dark and brooding. Not a bit of it. The music was dramatic, melodic and exceptionally moving.
Midday on Tuesday. To the New Horizon Youth Centre near King's Cross for our monthly meeting of the management council, which I chair. It's a day centre for vulnerable and homeless young people. We talk of finance and gangs--the former remains tough but survivable. As to the latter, "Not many gangs round here," I venture. I come and go from the centre by bike, oblivious to the tensions in the streets around me.
The youth centre workers correct me. "We have one gang to the north, one to the south, and then there's the Kilburn Crew out to the west." Gangs are about identity, family even, for often deeply insecure, isolated youngsters who yearn for community and get it at the blade of a knife or worse.
That afternoon, I cycle over to the Noel Coward Theatre to interview Judi Dench, who is starring in her first post-Skyfall West End play--Peter and Alice. We squash our camera kit into the little rococo withdrawing room at the back of the theatre, all gold, blue and mirrored. Tricky to film without spotting one of the cameras in one of the mirrors. Dame Judi is an extraordinarily jolly yet formidable presence. At once apparently stern and then breaking out into a completely infectious laugh.
We get on like a house on fire as we discuss this real-life fantasy in which the "Alice" of Alice in Wonderland, at 80, meets the man who inspired Peter Pan, who is 30. Dame Judi is the most versatile and eclectic actress, game for any challenge. I suggest that if Danny Boyle were to make a film of his stunning opening of the Olympic Games, and should they need an old queen to chuck out of a helicopter, she'd be up for it. "Oh yes," she chimes, "you bet!"
Hans's solo mission
Wednesday. To the Frontline Club straight after the news, to chair a debate about lessons learned ten years after the invasion of Iraq.
I first visited the country in 1980 during the harrowing trench warfare that characterised the Iran/Iraq war in which a million people died. Twenty years later, we transmitted Channel 4 News from Baghdad for a week before the invasion. …