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Joan Bakewell © Sukey Parnell

Oxford Literary Festival: Day Seven

Off-beat. invigorating. Vivacious. Jeremy Smith on his seventh day at Oxford Lit Fest with Lucy Lethbridge, Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent and Joan Bakewell
Editor-at-large Jeremy Smith

"What could have been an astonishingly dry talk was actually invigorating, refreshing and hugely entertaining."

Lucy Lethbridge: Spit and Polish

Now this was inspired.

Truly inspired.

Holding a talk entitled Spit and Polish by Lucy Lethbridge in the hallowed chapel of Exeter College - probably one of the most beautiful and jaw-dropping in Oxford.

Certainly this was one destination that is as polished and glistening as Walt Disney could have dreamt up.

So much so in fact, I gave my shoes a little buff-up before settling down for the talk.

Ms Lethbridge went back to the 19th-century British home when it required an army of servants to keep it clean and tidy (obviously, a big house and not an ordinary two up, two down terrace).

She explained that while the way we keep our homes looking good may have changed, there's still much to be gained by going back to the old techniques and skills, such as how to get rid of water marks or heat rings on polished wood and how vinegar could save your life (invaluable...).

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With a bit of social history thrown in as well - as if to ensure the audience got its money's worth - it was a cracking way to start Friday at the festival.

Off-beat, funny and astonishingly, very, very practical (check my cutlery afterwards if proof is needed).

Princess Michael of Kent: Quicksilver: A Novel (Anjou 3)

Well, I might as well come clean straightaway.

I only attended this event because it involved royalty - Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent to be exact.

And I might as well come clean again: I wasn't expecting much (well, anything to be exact).

But there's nothing quite as sobering - and refreshing - as being proved wrong. And on this occasion, you might as well serve me a large slice of crow pie. That's how good she was.

HRH was talking about the third and final volume of her Anjou trilogy, which frankly I've never heard of but might actually pick up later today, so vibrant was her talk.

In short, this story centres on merchant Jacques Couer, a man of humble origins who rises to become a trusted confidante of the Anjou royal family and one of the most powerful figures in 15th century France.

What could have been an astonishingly dry talk was actually invigorating, refreshing and hugely entertaining.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle when it turned out that the 'Royal' pointer, vital for pointing out the borders of France, appeared to have gone missing from the lecturn, but apart from that, it was all rather smooth.

I sat next to HRH's Lady-in-Waiting which was a bit of a thrill for me but clearly a source of huge tension for her.

Still, great 60 minutes. Thanks Ma'am.

Joan Bakewell Stop the Clocks: Thoughts on What I Leave Behind

The ticket price was £12 but frankly that was giving it away.

If it had been three times this or more, it would still have been a steal.

And obviously everyone knew it because the talk was a sell-out long before the festival even started.

It's easy to wax lyrical about an event such as this but that would require too many words and hyperbole.

Better to just shoot from from the hip - it was a privilege.

Veteran broadcaster, journalist and writer Joan Bakewell took to the stage at Oxford's Natural History Museum and simply stole the show.

At 83, and still boasting all the vivacity, smarts and sassiness of someone 50 years her junior, she was relaxed, funny, and deliciously unassuming.

A president of Birbeck College and a Labour peer, she spoke about her life and why her new book Stop The Clocks solidifies the lessons she's learned.

The audience was enthralled and Telegraph interviewer Matthew Stadlen appropriately adroit, ensuring a relaxed but revealing 60 minutes of fascinating observation and comment.

There's not much more to say. Other than the obvious: that this was an unqualified masterclass in spirit and substance...


- Jeremy Smith



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