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Rachel Johnson’s Eddie Mair moment in Cambridge

Our glittering literary stars descended on Cambridge this weekend for Wordfest 2013, always a highlight of my year. Using St John’s College as a venue for the first time worked brilliantly – who couldn’t feel inspired and in awe each time we walked across the famous Bridge of Sighs, watching tourists glide by on their punts!

I have summarised a snapshot from some of my highlights, a really hard feat as there were so many.

Rachel Johnson was in for a shock when questions were invited from the floor. Sitting among her polite fans from The Lady magazine was someone clearly determined to embarrass her, and he seized his moment when handed the microphone.

“I hope you don’t think this is an ungentlemanly question, if your brother was here here, I would ask him. Do you agree he is a nasty piece of work?”

The sound of shocked gasps filled the auditorium. But Rachel didn’t need to fumble for words, replying: “No I don’t agree, he couldn’t be nicer.”

Then she quipped that it was “more Eddie Mair”.

I had the impression it was a hard audience for Rachel which failed to warm up, the questions did not come thick and fast and there seemed to be a few awkward moments. I did hope to have a few more laughs too.

In contrast, Deborah Moggach was an outrageous scream from beginning to end and I could have listened to her for hours. Her latest book, Heartbreak Hotel, is set in a B & B in Wales and specialises in ‘courses for divorces’. Now there is an idea! At 64, wearing in her leopard print leggings and tousled blonde hair, she shared her adventures of internet dating with us and everything she said seemed to come very much from the heart.

I managed to catch a word with military historian Antony Beevor after he plugged his book The Second World War. I was interested to know if he thought we could be at threat of a World War 3 following threats of nuclear attacks from North Korea.

He told me: “I don’t think so, I think the Chinese will stop it from going too far. But if North Korea does start firing off missiles, then America will retaliate.”

Let us desperately hope that there will not be a World War 3 for Antony to write about next!

I couldn’t help thinking either that Antony looks very much like Ted Hughes.

I was full of admiration for Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor of Channel 4 News, who described her terrifying escapades reporting and the suffering for victims from war zones, and her latest book, Sandstorm.is based on Gadaffi and Libya.

She was asked about Frank Gardner’s recent programme which showed the BBC security correspondent returning to Saudi Arabia where he was shot and paralysed by Al Qaeda in 2004.

After seeing the programme, Lindsey said she emailed Frank and asked him how he had managed to get such fantastic access to people and places there, and he replied, “Yes, but they did owe me one”

What an amazing man!

Later today I am looking forward to seeing Andrew Wilson as I have avidly been following the newspaper serialisation, Mad Girl’s Love Song, the story of Sylvia Plath’s earlier life before she met Ted Hughes. I anticipate a full house from devotees of this talented couple who once lived in Cambridge and continue to fascinate.



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