My favourite thing

Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, brown-paper packages tied up with string - everyone has their favourite thing. Here, Antonia Fraser, Martin Scorsese, Tina Turner, Max Clifford and others reveal theirs. Compiled by Louise Levene and Scott Hughes

Louise Levene,Scott Hughes
Friday 25 October 1996 23:02

Bamber Gascoigne

My favourite ballerina

I joined the board of the Royal Opera House in September 1988, when Kenneth MacMillan was just starting to notice Darcey Bussell, in the chorus with Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet. It's been fascinating watching her develop and grow within the company. I don't think it's a requirement for a ballerina to be lovely, but I do find her immensely beautiful.

Her beauty is of such a serene kind. It's crazy to say this about someone whose craft is movement, but she has this amazing quality of stillness; even on a crowded stage, your eye is always drawn to her. When she does move, it always seems so incredibly sure. It's a calm based on incredible physical confidence and control, particularly in the Rose Adagio in Sleeping Beauty, that agonising thing that happens almost as soon as the ballerina comes on. It's such a worrying moment, but it's part of the appeal of ballet - that high-wire fear. Whenever I've seen her, she's done it with unbelievable ease. She's never disappointed me, but then I'm a bit of a push-over.

Andrew Davies, screenwriter

My Favourite Opening Paragraph

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee- ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee.Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. (Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

I think that, as somebody who nowadays makes most of their living from adapting novels into screenplays, there's a certain tantalising purity about it. It expresses the part of the novel that can't be translated into another form, that has to be experienced neat or in its pure original. I guess it would be almost impossible to do in a film. You could use a voice-over, but that wouldn't be quite the same. There's a lot of play on the actual sound of the words. It's an exquisitely sensual piece of writing.

I suppose, in a way, I hold it up to myself as a kind of target: if I start getting too big-headed and thinking I'm very good at writing, I look at that and think, "You've got to try a bit harder".

Lolita lives very much in its literary style. You could say the same thing to a lesser extent of Jane Austen. But Jane Austen is a greater novelist than Nabokov - in an odd sort of way, she's got a bigger human range.

The action and the dialogue of Lolita is very much subordinate to the descriptions and the lyricism of the language. It's a very poetic sort of novel and, of all literary forms, poems are the ones that just have to be themselves.

In this book, about the desperate and unwholesome passion of a middle- aged man for a child, the imaginary Lolita he evokes is so much more perfect and fascinating than any 13-year-old child would be - especially to any general reader who's not particularly turned on by a young girl.

He creates an idealised Lolita of the mind, whom we can all fall in love with.

HRH the Queen Mother

The Queen Mother adores Charbonnel and Walker's violet creams.

Tony Benn

My favourite political activity: the public meeting

When I leave the House of Commons, I feel a great sense of relief that I can go back into the real world. That is really what keeps me going. The thing about a public meeting, rather than writing an article, is that when you write an article you've no idea who's going to read it. When you make a speech, it's more interactive, to use the awful jargon. It's a tremendously exciting thing to be cross-examined. It makes you think and clears your mind. A short speech and then an hour of discussions and questions: I enjoy that very much.

I've learned more in public meetings than almost in any other way, really. It shapes your thinking. People tell you things about their lives and problems and ask you what you're going to do about them - auntie can't get a hip operation, granny can't live on the pension, and so on. If I just lived in Westminster, there would be a terrible danger of floating off into a totally imaginary world of knocking copy and hinting and winking. I think the idea that you should be able to hear the arguments has been forgotten. Discussion is the most radical thing in the world, which is why no system ever wants you to talk about anything. They don't want you to get together and come to a conclusion because it may not be the kind of conclusion they like. The censorship of the Internet is very interesting. They say it's paedophilia they're after, but really it's because they don't want free discussion.

The best speeches come out of your own experience. I never use a text at all. Think very, very hard for a long time, then speak what you feel. Some of those women in the miners' strike were absolutely brilliant. They had never made a speech, but then their whole life crumbled around them and they had an opportunity of talking about it. It was unbelievably moving. The idea that speaking is a trick or an artifice you practise is nonsense.

I was heckled once on a very hot night in Bristol, I was in a school room; it was absolutely packed. Someone stood up and I thought he was a heckler and told him to go and find his own meeting. In fact, he was asking to open a window.

Ozwald Boateng, tailor

My favourite jacket is minimal, and always does the job: double-breasted, high-closing, 3-button, with two 7-inch vents and traditional 4-button cuff. In silver or dark grey mohair, with emerald-green lining.

Mark Radcliffe, broadcaster

My favourite album cover

My favourite is Magazine's 1978 album, Real Life. It's a series of lithographs by Mancunian chanteuse and photographer Linder. I just like the ambivalence of the clown-like faces with their hint of evil. It's playful and threatening at the same time.

It also brings back to me that feeling of adolescent, post-punk isolation, when we went around in long raincoats and floppy fringes, struggling to articulate the horrors of being a middle-class undergraduate on a full grant.

Alice Thomas Ellis, novelist My favourite saint: St Michael the Archangel It's St Michael who's the adversary of Satan. People think it's God, but it's Michael who's the general in that battle. There are lovely pictures of him in armour. There's a prayer to St Michael:

Blessed Michael archangel Defend us in the day of battle Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil May god rebuke him we humbly pray And do thou prince of the heavenly host Send down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits Who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.

I think the Devil is out of his den and roaming the world, and we need a bit of help here. I use the prayer quite frequently. I've just had to review the book about Fred West, and that's when you think of St Michael the Archangel - you've got to rinse ou t your mind with something. St Paul said: "Think on those things that are holy and of good report." We're so inundated with horror, we need somebody on our side, somebody big and strong.

Howard Schuman, playwright My favourite movie scene The opening of The Big Sleep. One of the reasons The Big Sleep has survived so brilliantly is exactly because you can't ever get to the heart of the mystery, which leaves you with the feeling that the corruption of the society that you're seeing on scree n isn't capable of any single explanation. The long opening sequence begins with Philip Marlowe arriving at the Sternwood mansion, his strange encounter with the peculiarly sexy younger sister, and the meeting with the father. It's a brilliant way of bringing an audience into this sinister, comic universe both very economically and with wit. In the scene in the hothouse, you can feel the heat and smell the rotting orchids. It's witty, it's disquieting, and it's a brilliant evocation of corruption - and purely American in its zestful look at the darker side of human nature.

Martin Scorsese My favourite Francis Coppola movie There are certain films in the history of cinema that seem to capture the collective imagination. They become milestones, reference points for all other works before and after. Their virtues rely on masterful storytelling, as well as on the epic scale of their subject matter. The Godfather saga, in its three parts, is one of these creations - a monumental work that has haunted me for years. Constructed like a symphony and directed by a master as a great conductor directs his orchestra, it reaches its highest points of lyricism for me in The Godfather, Part II - my favourite of Francis Ford Coppola's pictures. I admire the ambition of the project, its Shakespearean breadth, its tragic melancholy in its portrayal of the dissolution of the American dream. I admire its use of parallel editing to accentuate the paradoxes of the historical analysis, Gordon Willis's dark-hued photography, the actors' performances, the accuracy of its period reconstruction. It is, particularly, the film within the film, the story of young Vito Corleone and his journey from Sicily to the Lower East Side, that touched me in a deep, personal way. Perhaps I saw a bit of my grandparents in hat journey; perhaps I recognised my old neighbourhood; perhaps I shared the sadness of the dream turning into a nightmare, of the spectacle of the ancient patriarchal family unit trying to survive its own destruction from within. Perhaps all this and m ore - the rituals, the feasts, the music, the minor characters - touched an intimate chord within me. Its use of language is extraordinary. Sicilian dialect becomes more than a secret code for initiates; it is an umbilical cord connected to an archaic society that carries its ancient rules into the New World. By defining us and them, we guarantee our survival. This is why I find Frank Pentangeli - the character played by Michael V. Gazzo - so special in The Godfather, Part II. The way he carries himself, his tone, his language, reveal someone ancient, someone who knows the Old World and sadly witnesses how it has changed. No one knows how to play the tarantella anymore, he complains. His brother's mere presence at the congressional hearings is enough to have him recant as a government witness. It's the Old World, with its unmoveable values, that has suddenly reappeared to remind him of an atavistic code of honour. In The Godfather, Part II, we also witness a different world from the old, crowded neighbourhood. Michael Corleone rules his empire from his fortress-like Lake Tahoe estate. He deals with Batista's Cuba and Las Vegas. He's travelled a long way. His accum ulation of wealth and power has cost him all human ties: wife, children, brother, associates. In fact, he has lost his family, his main reason for accumulating wealth and power to begin with. Unlike the gangsters of the Hollywood movies of the Thirties, he doesn't die but lives on - which seems to be an even greater punishment.

Francis Ford Coppola My favourite Scorsese film I have several favourite Martin Scorsese films, actually - I love Mean Streets, The King of Comedy, Who's That Knocking At My Door? - but Raging Bull stands as his towering achievement. I think it's in this film that he orchestrates all the elements- th e conception, the acting, the images, the style - into something that tells a particular story (of Jake LaMotta) and then goes beyond that. Ultimately, the purpose of art is to illuminate our times and the things that are important to us, and RagingBull does it, seemingly effortlessly, as few films ever attempt, much less do. La Dolce Vita and 812 have those kinds of proportions, and so does Raging Bull. Every performance in it is great because of Marty's use of improvisation within a dramatic structur e. It has spectacular visuals, wonderful use of music and rhythm, beautiful editing - and then those huge, universal human themes. All of us who make films in America are trying to figure out how to swim with the tides that make it possible to be a viable director while still addressing personal feelings in our work. Being a director is kind of like being Christo, the artist. Part of his art is in the wrapped building, but another part is in all he had to go through to bring it off. Even after Raging Bull, nobody was telling Marty, "Hey, here's the money to make whatever movies you're passionate about." If he had been born to a family that had $500 million lying around, he might make a film at that level every year.

Lady Lucinda Lambton My favourite London cemetery If there is life after death, there could be no more interesting company than is gathered at Kensal Green. It's like a tapestry of life, except it's a great web of death. There's Charles Wingfield, who invented lawn tennis, the woman who delivered all of Queen Victoria's children, and George Polgreen Bridgtower, the mulatto violinist to whom the Kreutzer sonata was originally dedicated until Beethoven and he had a quarrel about a girl. The whole of the post office is represented there: Trollope, who introduced the postbox to the British Isles, William Mulready, who designed and invented the pre-paid envelope, and Thomas and Warren de la Rue, who invented the first envelope-folding machine. John Leech, the cartoonist, was at school with Thackeray, and, when they left, they were given their first job by Charles Shirley Brooks, who was editor of Punch. All three are buried in a row. Pure coincidence. I know they're talking to each other.

Peter Blake My favourite colours They're red and green. The green is probably to do with your pastoral. I used to say to students, "Trees are green; skies are blue". I gave them all the basics because once you've got it into your head that the sky is blue, you can make alternatives- if it's a rainy day, the sky is grey, and so on. When I was at art school in 1946, the teachers were great followers of Cezanne, teaching that things weren't these colours. Years later, I wanted to go back to that childish simplicity when you can have a fa vourite colour. I used to wear red pullovers and socks but, as I've got older, I've tended to wear black.

Lady Antonia Fraser My favourite period in history I've always fancied living in the reign of King Charles II, not least because I've always fancied the Merry Monarch himself. He has always seemed to have all the qualities necessary in a benign sovereign: tolerance, good humour, a little dash of cynicism, a great deal of kindliness, plus a real enjoyment of life wherever possible. The fact that he em erged with such a pleasing (if scarcely Puritanical) character is something of a miracle, considering the adversities of his youth, the years of restless, poverty-stricken wandering following the execution of his father, Charles I, in England. Yet the King, who was restored to his English throne on 29 May 1660 (his 30th birthday), was in no way better. One of the reasons I estimate his reign so highly for its agreeable atmosphere is the extraordinary lack of vindictiveness which followed the R estoration. Official vengeance was limited to those who had actually signed the death warrant of Charles I (and a good many of those were dead). Otherwise, King Charles II presided over a society which aimed at reconciliation, expressed in the lack of a sweeping land settlement in favour of returning Royalists. This may have seemed unfair to those who had stood by the King in exile - but it certainly helped England to settle down wonderfully fast after the harsh years of internecine strife. Reconciliation and restoration are two of the themes of the reign. Then there is the novelty - for example, women being allowed on the English stage for the first time. We can never be sure of exactly who the first actress was to tread the boards, althou gh we know the play (described as The Moor of Venice) and we know the part - Desdemona. But we do know that women rapidly took to the opportunities the stage offered for personal freedom and an income of their own (two things not easy to acquire forfema les then). I cannot pretend that my acting talent would have rivalled that of the stars of the day, Anne and Rebecca Marshall, with their dark and stately looks (suitable for Dryden's heroic dramas), or the great Elizabeth Barry, Rochester's protegee, who dominated the Restoration stage from the 1670s onwards. On the other hand, I like to fantasise that I might have caught the King's eye. He, after all, found the cheerful chat of actresses like Nell Gwynn and Moll Davis greatly enlivened court life. Here again, th e King earns one's admiration because he actually liked the company of women, not only their favours, and that was a rare taste among his contemporaries. The night before he died in 1685, Charles II had a supper party at Whitehall. Three old duchesses - Portsmouth, Mazarin and Cleveland - were his guests, who between them had totalled 50 years in what we may call his service. What fidelity! (Of a sort, I suppose, but a very nice sort.) It would be nice to imagine that one might have been among them.

Lady Colin Campbell My favourite British quirk (above) I always love the unnaturalness with which most British people behave when they're within 20 yards of a member of the Royal Family. I find it cripplingly funny to see people who, in any other guise or circumstance, would be perfectly confident, become s tiff toadies with unnatural gaits, unnatural postures, unnatural tones of voice, unnatural forms of speech - not to to mention the rubbish that comes out. I remember when I was going to present Joan Collins at a charity premiere of Oklahoma in 1979. I was going to be presenting dear old Joan to Prince and Princess Michael. The way she carried on! Even making me rehearse her curtsey in the dress circle of the theatre. I said, "Joan, this is ridiculous. You must have met royalty hundreds of times before." But she said, "No, no, I must get it absolutely perfect". When she was speaking, it was as if her mouth was full of stewed prunes. She typifies thatwhol e royalty thing, and it cripples me every time.

Tina Turner My favourite song A Change is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke (1963). Sam Cooke had one of the most unique and original singing styles I ever heard. He would have made it on his vocal cords and good looks alone, but as a songwriter he was a pioneer. He genuinely crossed over, th e first black artist/composer to do so, and brought the sound of the church and catchy pop together. For me, A Change is Gonna Come stands out as one of the great songs of all time. I wouldn't consider myself a big fan of blues/R&B - it reminds me of harder times and long, long tours through the segregated South. However, this song is uplifting andhas a positive attitude that to this day sounds contemporary. Its simple mix of gospel and protest song is a mark of genius. The writer is searching out an answer to what life throws, but he knows a change is "gonna come". To me, it has become more than a s ong of change for black Americans in the early Sixties. Far from being a historical piece, it transcends a particular moment in time, and is as potent today as then. Three decades after it was written, the political and, more important the personal,mess age of hope cuts to the core.

Max Clifford, PR My favourite hypocrisy Celebrities on chat shows. You persuade a star to go on some chat show or other and they say, "Oh no. Not that dreadful bastard." Often you've had to literally drag them kicking and screaming into the studio, cajoling or threatending them to get them the re in the first place. Then they'll go on and say, "How lovely it is to see you. You've always been one of my favourites." They can often be quite convincing. It never ceases to make me smile. I don't go to all the cocktail parties because I can't bear the thought of a load of people who can't stand each other being pleasant to one another. I find it obnoxious. They'll say, "How nice it is to see you", and I'll say, "Why do you say that?You can't stand me and I think you're revolting." It's the same with other PRs. I stand up and say that an important part of public relations is lies and deceit. We all know that, but they won't ever admit it. It gives me tremendous pleasure to hear PRssay they don't lie.

Redmond O'Hanlon, explorer and author of Congo Journey My favourite custom My favourite custom tells you how much a man's prepared to do for a woman. It's a custom enjoyed by the Iban in central Borneo. When you're too old to please a woman (ie when you're 25 - at 40 you're an old man), you go down to the river and sit in it until your spear is small. Your Chief Augurer of the Gods, your head man, comes with you and takes a little instrument like a hand-sized bow and arrow. He clamps this across your penis and drives a nail through the glans - remember, there's no anaesthetic. When that's healed, you install a Johnson shear pin (part of an outboard motor) which is like a three-inch nail but blunt at either end.They used to use a small length of wood, but the shear pin was more fashionable. Johnson's couldn't work out why they sold so few motors but thousands and thousands of shear pins. At each end of this you place two little brown balls of wood, and this produces unbearable orgasm by distending the walls of the vagina. You have to go down to the river at least once a month and turn it and turn it so that you loosen it, otherwise it forms a ball of uric acid crystals that can swell up and go sceptic and you die. You're told that almost everybody has had it done, but I've only actually seen it in a museum. Borneo's the only place in the world I've ever been where men go 100 yards to take a pee - they don't want people to know if they've got one or not; only the w omen know. An anthropologist called Tom Harrison once wrote that in his experience it was "very successful", so everyone assumed he'd had one. When he was knocked off his motorbike and killed in 1976, all his colleagues rushed to find out if he really had got one. He hadn't.

Roy Hudd My favourite pantomime dame Jack Tripp, who I've worked with for 10 years. He really gets into the skin of the character. He plays it like a loveable old mum and not some frightening drag act. There's no outrageous make-up or boobs sticking out; he does it like he's doing a play. His costumes are immaculate, and his material is absolutely clean as a whistle, too - it relies on fun rather than innuendo. He's basically very witty and a good ad-libber, which he does without ever stepping out of character. That's not only clever, but ensures the children don't stop believing in him.

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