Did you know Imran Khan believed he would score a century and take 10 wickets the first time he played a test match? Or that Queen Rania, an MBA from Cairo, finds it the hardest to fight criticism about her when it targets her Palestinian roots? Or that Donald Rumsfeld is unrepentant about the war on Iraq? You did? But surely you didn’t know that former New Zealand PM Helen Clark likes Orange Blossom tea, that Khan relishes kebabs served at a tiny Afghan restaurant in Islamabad or that Rania has a soft corner for cakes!
Lunch With The FT: 52 Classic Interviews is one of the most popular and eagerly anticipated sections of the Financial Times newspaper where every week one of FT’s crack reporters and editors catch up with a celebrity over lunch, breakfast or tea and discuss everything from politics and poetry to nuclear wars and nudity with them over delectable food and wine.
But if you can survive the hunger pangs when you read about what they ate, then each interview makes for delightful reading. Small wonder then that FT has now come out with a collection of these interviews. The book is edited by FT’s editor Lionel Barber. The collection includes interviews with iconic personalities such as Jimmy Carter, Imran Khan, Albert Uderzo, Queen Rania, Dolce & Gabbana, Saif Gaddafi and manyothers.
What perhaps makes this book a must-read is the fact that many, if not all, of the men and women interviewed in the book, are those who we would love to know more about, but may never get a chance to meet, let alone talk to! Most of the featured interviews have an easy, flowing style that manages to show the subjects in flesh and blood, devoid of their starry persona.
For instance, in between teaching his interviewer how to eat kebabs with bare hands, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan talks about terrorism and nationalism in Pakistan and why he feels the US is paranoid about everything Islamic. At another luncheon meet, Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon talks about the furore over her naked portrait in a matter-of-fact manner while ordering a three-course meal, before she switches track to talk about how she made her millions. Or Steve Wozniak who says he wouldn’t mind another bite of Apple while feasting on a rack of ribs!
Admittedly, some interviews fall a little short of expectation. A tete-a-tete with Queen Rania of Jordan raises expectations as the Palestine-born queen starts talking about how she uses her social status to highlight Jordan’s problems to the world. But then, somewhere the story loses its trail and focuses more on how stunning and charming the lady is.
Perhaps the interviewer was bowled over after being kissed thrice on the cheeks by the queen! The chat with former New Zealand PM Helen Clark (she was interviewed when she was PM) however, is thought-provoking, as the labour leader discusses why she did not join the war on Iraq, arguing that New Zealand needs to have its own independent agenda. Readers can also get fantastic insight into the eating habits! Many of the articles have boxes that explain what was consumed during the interview and how much it cost. Almost uniformly, politicians ate less, entertainers ate more and with a few exceptions, elder statesmen limited themselves to tea or sandwiches. But who ran up a bill of close to $200? And who offered the interviewer food from his farm as they discussed peace in the middle of a war-torn country?
A lot many more secrets tumble out of the book as you turn the pages. If we were to borrow a phrase coined by the iconic film critic Roger Ebert who passed away this month, Lunch With The FT gets two thumbs up.