Private Passions podcast

Private Passions

BBC Radio 3

Michael Berkeley's guests share their musical passions and reveal which pieces bring them joy and sustain them through hard times.

300 Episoder

  • Private Passions podcast

    Katherine Parkinson


    Actress, comedian and playwright Katherine Parkinson shares her favourite music with Michael Berkeley. Two years out of drama school and heavily in debt, Katherine Parkinson was offered a part in a new television comedy series The IT Crowd. As all fans of the cult series know, she played Jen, the hopeless boss of two computer geeks – she was the so-called “normal” one. The series ran from 2006 to 2013, with audiences of two million. For Katherine Parkinson, it made her career, winning her a British Comedy Award and a Bafta. Since then Katherine Parkinson has appeared in everything from stage productions of Sophocles and Chekhov to television sci-fi drama Humans as well as Doc Martin and the sitcom The Kennedys. She has also moved into writing: her play about three people sitting for a painter premiered on television during lockdown. Katherine chooses music by John Tavener, George Gershwin and Thomas Tallis, and polyphonic singing she discovered while filming in Georgia. She tells Michael how she tried to channel her inner Cecilia Bartoli during singing lessons at drama school, and how she had to pretend to be good at housework for her Olivier-nominated role in Home, I’m Darling at the National Theatre. And she talks movingly about her affection for her late father-in-law, the actor Trevor Peacock. Producer: Jane Greenwood A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
  • Private Passions podcast

    Dame Stephanie Shirley


    Dame Stephanie Shirley arrived in Britain from Vienna as a five-year-old, without her parents. It was 1939, and she was one of 10,000 Jewish children brought by train on the Kindertransport to escape the Nazis. She went on to become one of the most successful businesswomen of the 20th century; in 1962, working from home, she founded one of the first tech-start-ups: an all-woman software company, Freelance Programmers, which was ultimately valued at almost $3 billion, making seventy of her staff millionaires. Since ‘retiring’, her work has been in philanthropy, with a particular focus on IT and autism – in memory of her son, who had autism, and who died at the age of only 35. She estimates that The Shirley Foundation has given away £67 million, not least for the establishment of three autism charities. She is the author of two books and is frequently asked to give motivational speeches about women in business and her own life story. She says, “I decided to make my life one worth saving”. In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Dame Stephanie Shirley looks back on an extraordinarily dramatic life. She describes the Kindertransport train, with children sleeping on the luggage racks, weeping for their lost families. She tells the story of her early days in business, and how she took on the name “Steve” to be taken more seriously. She also had a tape recording of frantic typing that she used to play during work phone calls, to disguise the fact that she was at home. And she talks movingly about her son’s death and how that changed the direction of her life. Her music choices include Bach, Britten’s ‘Ceremony of Carols’, Dido’s Lament and the ‘Cat Duet’ attributed to Rossini. Produced by Elizabeth Burke A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
  • Private Passions podcast

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    David Nutt


    Professor David Nutt is an expert on drugs, and how they work on the brain. He trained as a psychiatrist, and for almost 50 years his research has focused on new drug treatments for anxiety, depression and addiction. In the late 1980s, at Bristol University, he set up the first unit in Britain to bridge psychiatry and pharmacology. He’s now at Imperial College, where he is Professor of Neuro-psychopharmacology. He has published hundreds of scientific papers and 27 books. All of this makes David Nutt sound like a pillar of the establishment. But the reason most people know his name is that he has repeatedly challenged the government over its policies on illegal drugs and alcohol, arguing, for instance, that it’s more risky to go horse-riding than to take ecstasy. In his words: “no one in a position of authority dares to speak the truth”. But he also stresses “I have repeatedly said that cannabis is not safe”. In conversation with Michael Berkeley, David Nutt looks back on the childhood that gave him the confidence to challenge established opinion. Living on a council estate, he felt out of place at Bristol Grammar School, and was a very anxious child who couldn’t sleep. At night he used to creep to the stairs to hear the Proms drifting up from his father’s radio. Professor Nutt describes fascinating new research into treating depression using the active ingredient of magic mushrooms, and he reveals which music he plays to his patients during these experiments. Music choices include Faure, Nielsen, Grieg and Beethoven – his Seventh Symphony, which David persuaded the crowd to dance to at a New Year’s Eve party. That experiment, he says, was a resounding success. A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3 Produced by Elizabeth Burke
  • Private Passions podcast

    Meg Rosoff


    Meg Rosoff waited until she was 45 to write her first novel, How I Live Now, the story of a passionate love affair between young teenage cousins, set against the background of apocalyptic war. It changed her life, selling a million copies and becoming a film starring Saoirse Ronan. She gave up a series of unfulfilling jobs in advertising and reinvented herself as a writer. Over the last 16 years she’s published eight more novels, as well as eight books for younger readers, including four about McTavish the rescue dog. She’s won numerous awards, including the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award - half a million Pounds, the biggest prize in children’s literature. In Private Passions, she talks to Michael Berkeley about the ways in which she’s reinvented her life over the years. First, there was the decision to come to England from New York and begin a new life here; then, after the tragic early death of her sister, there was the decision to become a writer. It didn’t begin well; she decided to write a book about ponies aimed at teenaged girls, but no publisher would touch it – it was far too sexy. Finding her voice as a writer took a while, and has led Meg Rosoff to think about “voice” in relation to musicians and composers too. Music choices include Bach’s B Minor Mass; “London Calling” by the Clash; Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, and Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3 Produced by Elizabeth Burke
  • Private Passions podcast

    Valentina Harris


    Over the last 40 years, Valentina Harris has done more than anyone else to convince the British public that there is a lot more to Italian food than pizza and Spaghetti Bolognese. Her television series and her more-than-50 books have brought her passion for Italian food, wine and culture to a huge audience. She tells Michael Berkeley about her childhood in Tuscany, choosing a romantic song by Georgio Gabor for her aristocratic Italian mother and Stravinsky for her father, who taught her to speak English without a trace of an accent. We hear music from the great gourmet Pavarotti, and a celebration of Italian food by Rossini. Valentina describes her horror of tinned spaghetti on toast when she arrived in England in the 1970s, and shares her tips for using up Christmas leftovers, Italian-style. Producer: Jane Greenwood A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
  • Private Passions podcast

    John Cleese


    John Cleese has been making us laugh for more than 50 years. Back in the 1970s, he became a comedy legend in Monty Python and in Fawlty Towers, and he now has a second generation of fans, discovering for themselves his unique combination of surreal humour, verbal pyrotechnics and farce. So much so that even now, as he enters his eighties, John Cleese is recognised in the street all across the world. With almost six million Twitter followers, his is still a powerful voice, mocking those in power and generally trying to stir things up a bit. This programme was recorded while John was in Britain for a couple of weeks, over from LA to work on the script for the musical version of A Fish Called Wanda. In conversation with Michael Berkeley, he looks back on his childhood in Weston-super-Mare and the physical awkwardness that made him stand out from an early age – “six feet of chewed string”, as one of his teachers remarked. He remembers his fateful early decision not to be a lawyer but to try comedy instead. And he shares what he’s learned about the strange unconscious process of creativity. Music choices include Tchaikovsky, Scott Joplin and John Williams, as well as comedy sketches by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore – and John's favourite sketch from his own career, a double-act with Rowan Atkinson, “Beekeeping”. Produced by Elizabeth Burke A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
  • Private Passions podcast

    Hayley Mills


    In a warm and frank interview Hayley Mills talks to Michael Berkeley about the joys and difficulties of growing up in Hollywood as a child star and about the music that reminds her of her family. Hayley Mills was described by Walt Disney as ‘the greatest movie find in 25 years’. After winning a BAFTA at the age of just 12 in the British crime thriller Tiger Bay alongside her father, John Mills, she was signed up by Disney for a six-movie deal which included The Parent Trap, In Search of the Castaways and Pollyanna - for which she won an Oscar in 1961. In a career spanning more than six decades Hayley Mills has gone on to work all over the world in films, television and on stage, and she has just published a memoir of her early life called Forever Young. She tells Michael why she was unable to collect her Oscar, and about the agonies her parents suffered trying to decide whether or not she should sign with Disney and the pressures of juggling a double life between Hollywood and a chilly English boarding school. And she talks frankly about suffering from bulimia as a teenager, the problem of her mother’s drinking, and how her life changed for ever at the age of 21, when she had to hand over almost all her childhood earnings to the Inland Revenue. A proud mother of two sons and grandmother of five, Hayley Mills chooses music by Tchaikovsky, by Mendelssohn and by Bach, which reminds her of her sister, the actor Juliet Mills; of her mother, the screenwriter Mary Hayley Bell; and of her partner, the actor Firdous Bamji. Producer: Jane Greenwood A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
  • Private Passions podcast

    Iain Sinclair


    Iain Sinclair describes himself as an urban prophet: in book after book, he has walked through London, recording the graffiti, the rubbish, the electric-green scum of a canal, the things you glimpse out of the corner of your eye and perhaps would rather not see. He brings to these pilgrimages many rich layers of reading about the city, interpreting what he sees through the eyes of past writers, particularly William Blake. In fact, he seems always to be walking with ghosts. It’s very hard to categorise his work, which is a rich blend of history, geography, travelogue, poetry, photography, literary criticism – sometimes all within a single book. Among dozens of publications over fifty years, he is probably best known for his walk around the M25, which became a film and a book, “London Orbital”. But in 2019, just before Covid, he embarked on an even more daring journey, to Peru. In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Iain Sinclair talks about the journeys, which have shaped his life, and about how music has inspired those wanderings. Music choices include Stravinsky’s setting of the Dylan Thomas poem “Do not go gentle into that good night”; Mahler’s Eighth Symphony; a song by Britten originally intended for the song-cycle Les Illuminations; and the singing of the Bakaya People from the Central African Republic. Produced by Elizabeth Burke A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
  • Private Passions podcast

    Nick Lane


    Nick Lane is a scientist who peers down microscopes at incredibly small cells in order to ask really big questions. How did life on Earth begin? Why is life the way it is? Why do we have sex? Why do we die? He is Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry at University College London and the Co-Director of UCL’s Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution. He is also the award-winning author of five books, and his next – Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death – is due out in May. Nick Lane tells Michael Berkeley about his youthful ambition to be a violinist and how he funded his biochemistry studies by busking on the streets of London. He explains how his passion for the music of Janacek helped win him a place to study for his PhD, and how he unwound each evening to the sound of the early-twentieth-century American folk and blues musician Lead Belly. Nick Lane still plays the fiddle with his band in pubs and now also busks with his teenage son. He chooses folk music inspired by Handel; Bach played by his hero, the violinist Nathan Milstein; and music by Peter Maxwell Davies that brings back an unforgettable jamming session in a pub in Orkney. Producer: Jane Greenwood A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3
  • Private Passions podcast

    Tamsin Edwards


    In a special edition of Private Passions for COP26, Michael Berkeley talks to Dr Tamsin Edwards about her career as a climate scientist and her lifelong passion for music. As a child, Tamsin wanted to be a concert pianist and she went on to play the clarinet, saxophone and double bass, and to sing in choirs. Music is still a vital part of her life but now she is one of our leading climate scientists, at King’s College London, studying the uncertainties of climate model predictions, particularly in relation to rising sea levels. In 2018 she joined the author team for the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change. Instantly recognizable with her trademark cropped blue hair, she is a passionate science communicator, blogging, writing for newspapers and frequently appearing on radio and television. Tamsin tells Michael how performing music helped her to develop the confidence to speak about science to governments, corporations and the public. We hear part of a Beethoven sonata that brings back memories of the terror she felt playing it for her Grade 8 Piano exam. She chooses music by Liszt for her mother, a concert pianist, and we hear her late father playing the trumpet with his New Orleans jazz band. And Tamsin talks movingly about her debilitating treatment for bowel cancer, paying tribute to the love and support of her partner, the television presenter Dallas Campbell, with piano music by Philip Glass. Producer: Jane Greenwood A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3

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