One subject often discussed when personalities are interviewed, is who would make the perfect dinner guest. Which notable people, past or present, would make your ideal evening, around the convivial setting of a dining table. Of course, almost everyone will have a different guest list. Some may choose attractive stars, others inventive geniuses. Many might want to discuss things with the great thinkers and philosophers, or even the most reviled characters from history, just to see what they were really like. You might decide to invite a famous chat-show host, a person who has interviewed everyone of note during your lifetime, or prefer to meet the famous names of antiquity, and discover their real story.
For my dinner party, I have imagined a table set for six people. As one of them will have to be me, I have thought long and hard about the five guests who will join me. It will be a long evening, with many courses, appropriate wines and liqueurs, and will hopefully generate an insight into these people, and give me a chance to be entertained, and possibly amazed, by their wit, their motives, or their experiences. I have chosen from the worlds of Art, literature, the film industry, a politician, and an historical character of great personal interest to me. I did consider some others, such as Josef Stalin, but decided that I had to stick with those who could speak English, as translators would have made proceedings too cumbersome.
So, here is my guest list, I hope that it proves to be a successful evening.
Samuel Pepys. From 1660, for almost ten years, Pepys kept a diary, detailing his life in the centre of the City of London. He lived through fascinating and dramatic times. He was witness to a devastating outbreak of Plague, as well as the near destruction of the city, by the Great Fire of 1666. A man who was well-educated and of some influence, Pepys eventually became chief secretary to the Royal Navy, and served two monarchs, Charles ll, and James ll. As well as featuring the monumental events, Pepys diaries also discuss the everyday, and mundane issues that preoccupied a gentleman in the 17th Century. Arguments with his wife, medical complaints, and the quality of hair used in wigs, fashionable at the time. I am certain that his first-hand recollections of this period would make his contribution to the evening unforgettable.
Charles Dickens. I had considered Oscar Wilde for this seat, but Dickens won out, for his ability to relate his tales of working-class life and conditions in early Victorian London. Almost two hundred years after Pepys, London had grown in both area and population, and would have been largely unrecogniseable to the diarist. You may or may not be aware, but Dickens did not enjoy a privileged start in life. Not long after his family moved to London in 1822, his father was sent into the Debtors’ Prison, Marshalsea, in South London. The young Dickens had no option but to seek paid work, and found this in a boot-blacking warehouse near the river, where he pasted labels onto jars. The conditions were hard, and wages low. When his father was released, he was sent to school, where the teachers were unforgiving, and lessons long and arduous. He eventually became a reporter, later turning to writing books, novels, serials in magazines, and articles for leading journals. His experiences at work, at school, and seeing his father in prison, were all put to good use, as locations and characters in many of his most famous works. I am sure that he will be able to regale us, with stories of hardship in Victorian times.
Orson Welles. In this blog, and others, I have made no secret of my love for film and cinema. One of my guests had to represent this field, and I can think of none better than Mr Welles. An accomplished raconteur and bon-viveur, married to Rita Hayworth for a time, and also friend and confidante to many of the greatest stars of stage and screen. Not only did he write and direct some of my favourite films, he acted in them too. Whenever I have seen him interviewed, he always comes across as a likeable rogue, with a twinkle in his eye, belying the obvious genius that resides within. His was the first name on my guest list.
Tamara de Lempicka. The only woman at the table this evening, and there not only because she is my favourite artist, but also because of her interesting life story. A painter of portraits in the Art Deco style, her work has long captivated me, and I have some prints of her paintings. She began life in Poland in 1898, and her maiden name was Maria Gorska. At the age of 18, she married Tadeusz Lempicki in St Petersburg, and saw the Russian revolution at first hand, later fleeing to Paris, to settle in the community of Russian emigres there. By the mid 1920’s her work had achieved great popularity, and her unique style was established. She travelled extensively, and lived a flamboyantly independent lifestyle. She indulged in extra-marital affairs, with both men and women, and met many of the famous people of the era. In old age, she retired to live among fellow artists in Mexico, where she died in 1980. This lady could tell us a lot about life between the wars, and what Picasso was like as well. I have no doubt that she will be a guest with a lot to contribute.
Tony Benn. The last place is reserved for one of the great characters of British politics, and the only guest that I have actually met, and spoken to. His is the most recent departure around my table, as he only died this year. Serving in the House of Commons for almost fifty years, he even gave up the chance of being Viscount Stansgate, to remain an M.P. He came from a political family; his own father was an M.P., as were both his grandfathers, and his son carries on the traditon still. He had a varied career in politics, serving as a cabinet minister at times, and falling out of favour on occasion. Despite a relatively privileged upbringing, and a comfortable life, he was very much on the Left of the political spectrum, and was famous for espousing the causes of disgruntled workers, and supporting the trade unionists. When I met him, on several occasions, he was always easy to chat to, a real gentleman, and his passion for politics was always evident. I would like to hear more of his recollections, and his amusing stories of the political machinations during my lifetime. So, here he is, and he can even smoke his beloved pipe. I am sure that Orson will be smoking a cigar anyway.
There you have my ideal dinner party. Nobody who is still alive, you may have noticed. A giant of literature, a fascinating diarist, and the great auteur of film and cinema. An independent woman, with formidable artistic talent, and one of the nicest men to have served as a politician in this country. Looks as if it is going to be an unforgettable night.
Who would you choose to sit around your table? Let me know in the comments.