Four lives that have been anything but still

Isla Blair at the 2011 Lennoxlove Book Festival, Haddington, Scotland, November 5, 2011.
Isla Blair at the 2011 Lennoxlove Book Festival, Haddington, Scotland, November 5, 2011.
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NOSTALGIA, it is often joked, is a thing of the past.

But literary memoirs, especially when frankly and entertainingly penned by experts in their field, continue to be voraciously lapped up by readers.

Jeremy Vine

Jeremy Vine

The Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival, which takes place in Melrose from June 14 to 17, will host four household names who have laid themselves bare in new books reflecting extraordinary and very different lives: Prue Leith, Jeremy Vine, Tam Dalyell and Isla Blair.

In Relish: My Life on a Plate, the memoir of Leith, a grande dame of British cooking, unfolds at an incredible pace – through her 13-year affair with the husband of her mother’s best friend (whom she ultimately married) to becoming a formidable judge on BBC television’s Great British Menu.

South African-born Leith, who started her first company supplying business lunches (later branded Leith’s Good Food) in 1960 and opened her Michelin-starred restaurant a decade later, talks about business and personal tragedy in a tone that brooks no nonsense: a quality that has seen her flourish in what is still a tough, male-dominated business.

As well as many cookery books, including her seminal Cookery Bible, Leith has written five novels and received many honours, including the Veuve Cliquot Businesswoman of the Year in 1990 – three years before she sold the Leith Group, which had a turnover of £15million – along with 11 honorary degrees and fellowships from UK universities. She was appointed an OBE in 1989 and a CBE in 2010.

Leith will discuss Relish: My Life on a Plate in the main festival marquee in Harmony Gardens on Thursday, June 14 at 7.30pm.

Listeners to Radio 2’s lunchtime show, which has a daily audience of six million, are likely to ensure that Jeremy Vine’s appearance in Harmony Gardens (Friday, June 15 at 9pm), will be one of the hottest tickets at the festival.

In his new autobiography, It’s All News to Me, the older brother of quickfire comic Tim Vine looks back over a career from the very first day he arrived at Broadcasting House – the fateful Black Monday of 1987.

He recounts his big break as a Today programme reporter when he was fired at by a sniper early in the war in Bosnia; he walks the reader through the corridors of 1990s Westminister as a political correspondent dealing with the likes of Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson; he reflects on the steep learning curve that was his posting as African correspondent at the turn of the millennium; and tells of his return to the UK where he was dubbed “Paxman’s mini-me” on Newsnight.

Tam Dalyell, former backbench Politcian and writer of the book The Importance of being Awkward at The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011.  Picture taken 17/08/2011''Credit Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures

Tam Dalyell, former backbench Politcian and writer of the book The Importance of being Awkward at The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011. Picture taken 17/08/2011''Credit Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures

Written in Vine’s unmistakably lively and self-deprecating voice, the memoir paints a vivid picture of a quarter of a century at the BBC and focuses on our obsession with the news – how and why it happens – and the real life stories versus the media’s desire to shape them.

When veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell retired as Father of the House of Commons in 2005, the chamber lost not only one of its more colourful and outspoken politicians, but also one of the most principled members.

The 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict is a timely reminder of Dalyell’s harrying of Margeret Thathcer over the sinking of the Belgrano. He railed against the Gulf War of 1990 and became an outspoken critic of his own party’s leader, Tony Blair, for the latter’s decision as Prime Minister to invade Iraq in 2003.

He also argued fiercely against military action in Kosovo and remains a leading figure in the attempt to uncover the truth about the Lockerbie bombing.

The Importance of Being Awkward is an apt title for Dalyell’s memoirs, which he began writing after 43 years as an MP for West Lothian and (from 1983) Linlithgow. Dalyell is no stranger to the Borders, having cut his political teeth unsuccessfully fighting the 1959 General Election in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles before taking West Lothian in 1962.

He will be in the main festival marquee on Sunday, June 17, at 3pm to talk about the book, which is based on personal papers as well as official documents, many of which were only recently declassified. Described by critics as “insightful, witty and urbane”, it offers a unique perspective on many of the key moments in Britain’s political life over the last 50 years.

The actress Isla Blair has already received plaudits for her remarkable autobiography

A Tiger’s Wedding (My Childhood in Exile), the book having been shortlisted for the prestigious Sheridan Morley Prize.

In conversation with her husband, the actor Julian Glover, Blair will be in the Scottish Borders Brewery Marquee on Sunday, June 17, at 4.45pm to talk about the moving and uplifting story of her childhood in India and her separation from her parents.

Born in Bangalore near the end of the Raj, Blair grew up on a tea plantation managed by her father, spending her early years in the verdant hills of Kerala with her beloved older sister Fiona.

The book tells how this idyll abrupty ended when, believing they were doing the best by their daughters, her parents sent the girls “home” to boarding school.

“Home” for five-year-old Isla was cold, gloomy, post-war Scotland: a land of liberty bodices, chilblains and dank drizzly days.

Blair writes lyrically of her beloved India and stoically of her boarding school days before charting her move into London in the swinging sixties when she trained at RADA alongside the likes of Anthony Hopkins.

She found overnight fame as Philia in A Funny Thing Happended on the Way to the Forum with Frankie Howerd and went on to star in many productions with the RSC, the Old Vic and the National Theatre.