2009 round-up, part 1
Blue skies, white buildings, classic Cadillacs on the streets, bread and olive oil… I feel like half a century has slipped away and I’m 12 years old again.
But one of my most exciting adventures this year has focused on a tiny island with a population of exactly zero, off the Scottish coast.
It’s called Lamb Island, and I bought it after learning that its mysterious heritage dated back to the pharoahs. Indeed, Lamb is one of three outcrops in the Firth of Forth whose geography exactly mirrors the layout of the Great Pyramids at Giza, leading some investigators to speculate that there are strange and secret links between them. Many historians believe Scotland is named after an Egyptian princess, Scota, who was exiled to northern Britain and whose royal barge anchored at Lamb Island when she first arrived.
My dowser’s instinct tells me there could be ancient and hidden treasure here… but conservationists must not panic, because I respect the natural right of the rare seabirds nesting on my island to keep their home undisturbed.
Another mystery almost became a tragedy, when a contestant on my German series was trapped in a tank of water and came within moments of drowning. Amila was a talented escapologist, but she made a dangerous error — her safety relied on a telepathic message from one of our celebrity guests, and she picked the wrong one.
Amila chose Simon Gosejohann, a huge and controversial star in Germany. Simon knew the combination code to the lock on the lid of the water tank but comedians’ brains are wired up differently to other people’s.
Everything in their mind is upside-down, inside-out and back-to-front. I would never accept the mental impressions I received from a truly individual comic, such as Matt Lucas or David Walliams — they’re just too unusual.
I’m certain that Simon tried to communicate the right combination, but Amila was too inexperienced to decode his signals. Speaking of Matt Lucas, I was delighted to spend a flight to Cannes chatting with him — we were both on our way to Mipcom, the media fair.
All the cutlery on commercial flights is plastic, but I promised to bend a spoon for him when we touched down.
We were both booked into the Hotel Martinez, on the Boulevard de la Croisette, with magnificent views across the bay, and Matt kept me to my promise.
The actor Sky du Mont was another of my celebrity guests in Germany.
His international career includes one of my all-time favourite movies — The Boys From Brazil, which starred Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Mason. “I didn’t play a big part, compared to many movies where I was the leading man,” Sky said. “But to work on a film with three Hollywood legends was irresistible.”
My dear friend David Merlini, the Hungarian escapologist, introduced me to the Formula One mogul Bernie Ecclestone, and we had lunch together at the Carlton Towers.
He is a lovely man — charming, humorous and clever. It’s often the way that super-rich people are the most relaxed and likeable: they can be competitive without being negative or destructive. Bernie is a naturally positive, optimistic guy, and we clicked immediately.
His daughter Tamara joined us for dinner. She told me she is passionately opposed to fur in fashion, and is using her status as a model and TV presenter to back PETA, the campaign for the ethical treatment of animals. She even posed nude for a PETA photoshoot, draped only in an F1 starter’s flag.
She presents Channel Four’s Red Bull Air Race World Series, and I told her of my aerobatic antics in a biplane over Budapest with the stunt champion pilot, Peter Besenyei.
Tamara simply smiled and said it sounded like fun. Any girl who grows up around Grand Prix cars and racing drivers is going to be blase about a little thing like looping the loop in a stunt plane.
Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia, and an icon in the war against apartheid, was one of Nelson Mandela’s most staunch allies. I was proud to welcome him to my home as he campaigned against Aids and to generate support for Zambia’s schools in underprivileged communities.
“It’s hard work, but I cannot allow myself to tire,” this amazing 85-year-old told me. “A generation of Zambian children is relying on us to give them a good education. This is the generation that will build up my country and make it stronger after I am gone. So, you see, I cannot afford to rest yet.”
Kenneth has been a vegetarian since 1954, so it was easy to give him lunch. I haven’t eaten meat since the Seventies, so of course I love meeting octogenarian veggies who look 20 years younger than their age.
When he sat down at my baby grand in the hall, he revealed himself to be a talented pianist. One song he played, a traditional African melody called Shenu Washita Shandi, was so beautiful that it will always stay in my mind.
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