Thursday, 1 March 2012

Likeably posh

A review of “My Life in Books” with guests Nicky Haslam and Anna Chancellor

“Why do you posh people all know each other?” asked Anne Robinson in last night’s My Life in Books after it was revealed that interior designer Nicky Haslam’s first job was as an employee of actress Anna Chancellor’s father.

Nicky Haslam, Anna Chancellor and Anne Robinson on BBC2's My Life in Books

In this 30-minute show, Anne Robinson, best known as the presenter of The Weakest Link and for her terrifically frank autobiography, Memoirs of an Unfit Mother, takes two personalities through a selection of books that have been particularly relevant to their lives. Previous guests have included Robert Harris, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire DCVO, Alistair Campbell and Giles Coren.

Nicky Haslam pictured with Jemima Khan and Paris Hilton at a party he hosted at Parkstead House in Roehampton in 2008

In this episode, whilst Chancellor regaled viewers with tales about how the “Duckface” moniker she gained in her role as Henrietta in Four Weddings and a Funeral has dominated her career, Haslam wittily answered Robinson’s question about the problems of difficult rooms with the riposte:

“There are ugly features in most rooms… Mostly one’s friends.”

Haslam’s first book was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933), which he chose as it “changed his life.” This story of a “huge American woman who moved to Paris in the 1890s” and her lover, brings to life the Parisian avant-garde of the early 20th century that included Hemingway, Picasso and Matisse. It was plainly an era that Haslam wished he had lived in.

Anna Chancellor as “Duckface” at the altar with Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

In between discussions about Haslam’s time at Eton and meeting the likes of Cole Porter, Greta Garbo and John F. Kennedy, his next option was his friend Jean Howard’s Hollywood: A Photo Memoir (1989). Described by Haslam as containing images of “anyone of interest from the first half of the twentieth century,” this tribute to the golden days of Hollywood, brought on conversation of how photographs should “not litter a room.” With it Robinson asked, “Where should you put them then?” to which Haslam answered: “They’re fine if they’re royal and on the piano.”

Anne Robinson in The Weakest Link

“The only point of life is having a motorbike and wearing Levi’s” was the next quip before Haslam opted for Versailles by Ian Dunlop (1956) because it opens “one’s eyes to everything [in design] having a reason” and that being to “make more light.”

For a final book, Haslam picked A Legacy by Sybille Bedford (1956) as: “his favourite book in the world.” This best friend of Huxley, Haslam argued: “wrote perfect prose” and made him “polish, polish, polish” when producing his own memoirs, Redeeming Features (2009).

I’ll leave the final line with Haslam himself:

“I despair of people who don’t know what they like… They soon learn when they come to me.”

For more on Nicky Haslam and NH Design, go to:


BeckyGoldschmidt said...

Very much enjoyed. Thanks for the link.

Tara said...

I like Anna. She's a brilliant actress.

Roderick McKay said...

Most interesting: good reading material.