September 18, 2008
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Updates
Greetings from the Mediterranean; yes it’s still hot and dry – on Monday, we saw rain for the first time in a couple of months as we came in to the Greek island of Zakinthos. Not that it seemed to dampen anyone’s spirits much – I think it made some of our British guests almost a bit homesick!
One of the aspects of my job as Entertainment Director that I really enjoy is the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. I know that may sound a bit of a cliché, but our on board enrichment programme called “Cunard Insights” means we have the opportunity to hear from some fascinating lecturers and luminaries. On Queen Victoria alone, I have had the pleasure of introducing many speakers from all walks of life, including Jackie Stewart, Aled Jones, Sylvia Syms, Roy Hattersley, Terry Waite and this week Melvyn Bragg. In fact, to use his correct title, he is really Lord Bragg of Wigton, (a town in west Cumbria in the north west of England). He was made a life peer in 1998 and it’s an aspect of his work he takes seriously. However when I first met him he was very charming and quick to say “please just call me Melvyn Bragg”. He and his wife Cate Haste (an author and TV documentary director and producer for such programmes as “The Churchills” and “Prime Ministers’ Wives”), are on board for our Mediterranean voyage from Rome to Venice and between them offered our guests three lectures.
Melvyn Bragg will be a familiar name for those of you from the United Kingdom as a broadcaster, writer and novelist of nineteen books. He is probably best known for ITV’s “The South Bank Show”, which he has written, edited and produced since 1978. He also presents the Radio 4 weekly programme “In Our Time”, a series where he and his expert guests discuss the history of ideas, and explore subjects in culture and science. Mind you he was happy to admit to our audience that some of the subject areas are sometimes a bit too technical even for him, and this is a man who seems to be overwhelmingly knowledgeable.
Over nearly four decades of pioneering broadcasting Melvyn Bragg is also Controller of Arts for London Weekend Television and president of the National Campaign for the Arts. So it was on that back drop that I interviewed him on our on board TV show, broadcast to guest staterooms every morning and it did remind me a bit of the song “I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince Of Wales” Here I was talking to a man who had, at the last count, interviewed about 1,100 different famous people, but he was a consummate professional, and made my job very easy. He told me how Caroline Mathieson (who heads the Cunard Insights enrichment programme from our Southampton offices), asked if he would like to come on board and he thought “Well, why not?” This seems a good enough reason to me, but he did admit he was slightly nervous having only been at sea for about 2 hours before on a ferry, which he wasn’t sure even counted. When I asked him what the biggest surprise was about being on Queen Victoria, he confessed he hadn’t been sure how he would feel once on board, but marvelled at the space and the ability to “not do” as well as “do”, referring the vast array of activities on offer, where there is no pressure to join in. He remarked he was particularly impressed by the logistics and the operation of the ship, “I was brought up in a pub and it’s a pleasure to see things being done well” he added.
In his first lecture he discussed the English language and its roots in a region called Friesland in northern Holland, from apparently a group of about 100,000 people who migrated to the British Isles in about the 5th century. Amazing when you think that today between two and three billion people speak forms of English and I was amazed to find out that there are more English dialects than there are languages in the world. So I must admit I do feel somewhat self conscious writing this blog, given Melvyn Bragg’s extremely articulate lecture.
A few days later just before we arrived at the small Greek Island of Samos, he opened the floor to his audience inviting questions about the many people he had met in his long career. He talked particularly fondly of Luciano Pavarotti and Liza Minelli amoungst others, not to mention a fantastic impression of Lawrence Olivier, as he described a meeting he had with him and John Osborne in a London restaurant. Sorry you had to be there for that one, but needless to say alcohol was involved! He told some wonderful anecdotes and told a captivated audience that he felt that often truly amazing artists had a remarkable inner self confidence that surpassed their training and background, and of course that’s something you can’t learn.
In between his lectures he’s finding time to relax and enjoy his holiday, and yes even he couldn’t resist the persuasive powers of the Istanbul carpet sellers. So if you have a carpet adorning your hallway which was purchased following umpteen cups of apple tea and a sales pitch to put the very best encyclopedia salesmen to shame, don’t worry you are in good company – I even over heard a guest saying to another “Yes of course I saw Melvyn Bragg looking at one very similar to this you know……..”
Well, that’s it from me this week, but I’ll be back next Thursday, with more news from the Cunard world and I’ll be chatting to David Hamilton (now on Queen Victoria) who many seasoned Cunarders will know as the Hotel Manager on many Cunard ships, including most recently, the QE2. Thanks again for logging on and please do write in, I look forward to receiving your questions, news, views and ideas.
Cheers for now- Alastair