Tallest man, Hinohara, Paulo Coelho, Cannes, UFO-meter

The Weekly News
Tallest man, Hinohara, Paulo Coelho, Cannes, UFO-meter
2007-04-28 16:19

My book signings can go on for hours, because I meet so many fascinating people that we can’t stop talking. But I don’t think I ever stayed so long in a bookshop that I missed a dinner date with a princess.

Paulo Coelho is in town to launch his latest novel, The Witch Of Portobello. I’m one of the 40 million readers who admire his masterpiece, The Alchemist, which made him one of the most popular South American writers of all time. Princess Michael of Kent is another, and she was looking forward to dining with Paulo the other evening.

Fans intervened. They were queuing out of the shop, down the street, along the embankment and over the river. Every one of them was desperate to meet the master and, as I discovered a few hours later, he is far too charming and considerate to turn any one of them away. So he was forced to call the princess to make his apologies.

The princess called me, to pass on a flattering tidbit — “When I mentioned your name, Paulo said he’d been following your career since the Seventies, and he’s dying to meet you.”

So when Paulo finally escaped the bookshop, which had probably sold more books in a day than it does in the average month, we joined him at Mirabelle in Mayfair. And I was instantly charmed.

He has the impeccably groomed good looks of a Californian guru, but his panache is unmistakeably Brazilian. What really struck me, though, was the quality of his mind. He was deeply proccupied by the problems afflicting the world, and I had the impression that he devotes much of his thought to finding spiritual solutions to the ugly crises we face.

I was reminded of the remarkable Dr Shigeaki Hinohara, who is 96 years old and looks about 50. Paulo and the doctor instinctively share an approach to life: they are both intensely aware of how valuable our thoughts and sensations are.

I met Dr Hinohara, who is perhaps the most loved and respected man in all Japan after the Emperor, in Tokyo when I was there last week to launch my range of jewellery. He told me he’d first become aware of how priceless life was when he was 60, the age I am now: he was flying to a medical conference when his plane was hijacked by Communist revolutionaries wielding Samurai swords.

For four days, the doctor was convinced his life could end at any moment. When he was reprieved, he vowed to spend every minute living as well as he could, and teaching others to do the same.

Naturally I wanted to know his secret. “There are many,” he said. “Have an ambition — mine is to learn to play golf, when I am 100. Drink plenty of red wine… that is essential. And never be afraid to lie about your age!”

I first visited Japan in 1974, on a tour promoted by an energetic visionary named Junichi Yaoi. On the offchance, I dialled his old number, though I hadn’t called it in more than 20 years. He answered on the first ring.

Junichi always had a brilliant project up his sleeve, and he didn’t disappoint me this time — he has invented a UFO-meter.

“It reveals if there are any UFOs in the vicinity,” he explained, switching it on. Nothing happened: the lights stayed off.

“It isn’t working,” I said.

“It works perfectly,” he said, with the calm logic that I heard everywhere in Japan — ”you see, there are no UFOs around tonight!” Then he pressed a button, and all the lights flashed furiously.

“Now what’s it doing?” I asked.

“Detecting aliens. It appears there is a triple-strength alien very close by.” And he gave me a stern look.

Back at our hotel, the Park Royal, I was given a lesson in lateral thinking by the world’s tallest man. His name is Bao Xishun, and he towered above everyone, at 7’9”. Despite his colossal height, he struck me as an unusually humble and graceful man, quietly spoken and very polite.

Bao Xishun was born in Mongolia, to a herdsman’s family, and he speaks no English, but through an interpreter he explained that he had married just three weeks earlier. He’d been lonely for a long time, since the death of his mother, and he’d been placing ads and looking for a partner all over the world — but when he met a saleswoman named Xiang Gonghe, from his hometown of Chifeng, he knew at once that he’d found his soulmate.

I wished them all the happiness in the world, because I know that, whatever the virtues of golf and red wine, it is love that really makes life worth living. And then I was struck by a thought — a honeymoon suite is all very well, but what kind of bed could contain Bao Xishun?

He grinned and held up three fingers. Even a kingsize bed is too short for him, his translator explained… but three kingsize mattresses together are ideal, if he sleeps sideways.

After Tokyo, Shipi and I stopped off in Cannes, to promote worldwide sales of my hit Israeli TV show, The Successor. I knew Sophia Loren owned a home in Cannes, and Brando and Chaplin did too. So the place came as a bit of a disappointment — superficial, plastic and ugly, and incredibly overpriced. A rip-off, in fact: we couldn’t book in for a single night but had to take a room for the week, even though we were just making a 24-hour stop. And the coffee was £8 a cup, and not even very good. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.


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