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Private Passions


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

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


London, United Kingdom




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




George Szirtes

George Szirtes arrived in Britain at the age of eight, wearing only one shoe. It was 1956, and as the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest, George and his family fled on foot across the border to Austria, eventually ending up (with many others) as refugees in London. It was such a hasty journey that one of his shoes got lost on the way. From a very early age, he wanted to be a poet – and he has certainly fulfilled that ambition over the last forty years, publishing close to 20 books of...


Camilla Pang

Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of eight, Camilla Pang struggled to understand the world around her; in fact, she asked her mother if there was an instruction manual for humans that could help. Twenty years on – after taking her PhD in biochemistry and embarking on a career as a scientist – Camilla has herself has written that manual. She’s called it “Explaining Humans” and it won the Royal Society Prize in 2020 for the best science book . A highly original blend of...


Margaret Heffernan

The writer and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan shares her lifelong passion for classical music with Michael Berkeley and describes how we can best prepare for an unpredictable future. Born in Texas, raised in Holland and educated in Britain, Margaret Heffernan has had a hugely varied career – she’s been a high profile entrepreneur and the CEO of multimedia technology companies in America; she’s written plays and spent 13 years as a BBC producer; she’s a Professor of Practice at the...


James Shapiro

James Shapiro is one of the world’s great Shakespeare scholars. A professor of English at Columbia University in New York, he is the author of seven major books, including the bestsellers "1599" and "1606", each of which zoomed in on one year, immersing us in Elizabethan and Jacobean culture and politics. His latest book is “Shakespeare in a Divided America”, an intriguing study of how the bard has been staged – and fought over – on his side of the Atlantic. But Professor Shapiro describes...


Kieran Hodgson

Kieran Hodgson tells Michael Berkeley how he turned his lifelong obsession with Mahler, and his own struggle to write a symphony, into comedy gold. Fortunately for us Kieran put aside an early ambition to become a train driver and has instead forged a career as one of our most entertaining actors, writers and comedians. He’s won awards and accolades at Edinburgh for shows on the unlikely subjects of school French exchanges, British politics in the 1970s – and his obsession with late-Romantic...


Sister Teresa Keswick

Nearly forty years ago Teresa Keswick exchanged her career as a London lawyer for life as a nun in an enclosed and largely silent Carmelite monastery in Norfolk. She’s devoted her life to prayer and work and has become a highly skilled embroiderer. Since 2014 she’s written a regular column for The Oldie magazine. In a special programme for Easter Day, Sister Teresa shares her fascinating life story and the music she loves with Michael Berkeley. Teresa tells Michael about her initial...


Bill Browder

Bill Browder describes himself as Vladimir Putin’s number one enemy. When Putin came to power, Browder was the most successful international businessman in Moscow, seizing the opportunities offered by the collapse of communism to build up a multi-billion-pound investment fund. But then he uncovered what he calls serious corruption at various state-backed companies. In 2005, he was detained by the authorities and was kicked out of Russia. His tax adviser Sergei Magnitsky was arrested, and...


James Rebanks

The shepherd and writer James Rebanks shares his favourite music with Michael Berkeley and describes how he is restoring the balance of nature on his Lake District hill farm. James Rebanks’s family have lived and farmed in Cumbria for over six hundred years. His grandfather taught him to work their land in the old-fashioned way, but by the time James took over from his father, modern industrial methods and economic pressures had made hill farming almost impossible. James has told the story...


Sean Scully

Dublin-born artist Sean Scully is known worldwide for his abstract paintings of blocks and stripes of bold colour. You can see his work in the Tate, the Guggenheim, and the National Gallery of Ireland, among many other prestigious collections. He was brought up in what he describes as “abject poverty” and his paintings now fetch more than a million pounds; he and his wife and son fly back and forth between two homes, one south of Munich and one in New York. In conversation with Michael...


Caroline Bird

Caroline Bird was only fifteen when she had her first collection of poems published; she’s been writing since she was eight, hiding in the corner behind her bunk beds at home. This was in Leeds, where Caroline was brought up, the daughter of playwright Michael Birch and theatre director Jude Kelly. She’s now published six collections of poetry, along with a clutch of plays for theatre and radio. Her latest poetry sequence “The Air Year” was awarded the prestigious Forward Prize for the best...


Tim Harford

The economist Tim Harford shares his passion for contemporary classical music with Michael Berkeley. Tim Harford has for many years been the Undercover Economist at the Financial Times; he is the author of nine books, and is a familiar voice on Radio 4 as the presenter of More or Less, Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy, and now also How to Vaccinate the World. Tim is on a mission to show us how, if properly investigated and explained, good statistics can help us see things about the...


Rachel Clarke

Rachel Clarke is a doctor who specialises in palliative care. She’s now on the Covid frontline; in March 2020 she moved to Horton General Hospital outside Banbury to care for the most gravely unwell patients on the Covid Wards. She’s the author of three books: the first, about being a junior doctor; the second, which was read on Radio 4, “Dear Life”, about working with the dying, and most recently, “Breath-taking”, which describes in moving detail what it’s been like in hospitals during the...


Jamie Parker

Jamie Parker shot to fame as one of Alan Bennett’s original History Boys – he was the one who played the piano. In this week’s Private Passions he tells Michael Berkeley about the vital role music plays in his life. A decade after The History Boys Jamie took the title role in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the marathon West End and Broadway show which won nine Olivier Awards, including Best Actor for Jamie. In between, he has sung in Sondheim, Gilbert and Sullivan and the Sinatra tribute...


Nadifa Mohamed

Since the publication of her first novel while she was still in her twenties, Nadifa Mohamed has been a writer to watch. Her second novel, The Orchard of Lost Souls, won her the Somerset Maugham Award and gave her a place on the prestigious Granta List of Best Young Novelists. She’s about to publish her third novel, and is also turning it into an opera – a commission from the Royal Opera House. What’s striking in all her work is the epic sweep of her storytelling, which explores themes of...


David 'Kid' Jensen

Michael Berkeley talks to disc jockey David ‘Kid’ Jensen about his career in pop music and his lifelong love of classical music. In 1968 David Jensen left his native Canada to become the youngest member of Radio Luxembourg’s original ‘all live’ line up. He was just 18 – hence his enduring nickname, ‘Kid’. Since then he’s never been off the air, working at Radio 1, Radio 2, Capital Radio, Heart, and picking up five Gold Sony Awards along the way. And for many people of a certain age his...


Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason

Anyone who saw Sheku Kanneh-Mason play the cello at the Royal Wedding, or win BBC Young Musician of the Year at the age of only 17, will realise that he comes from the most extraordinary family. Two of his siblings are also Young Musician finalists, and his older sister, Isata, is a professional pianist. Collectively the seven Kanneh-Mason children make music wherever they are. During lockdown, that was the family home in Nottingham, from which they performed live on Facebook. Michael...


Judith Herrin

On this darkest day of the year, Judith Herrin brings to Private Passions the dazzling gold of medieval icons and mosaics: she has spent a lifetime exploring the history of Byzantium, that thousand-year civilization which led Europe out of the dark ages and into the modern era. She’s one of our greatest historians of the early medieval Mediterranean world, that melting pot of East and West, Christianity, Islam and paganism. She’s worked in Paris, Munich, Istanbul and Princeton, and is...


Alexandra Harris

Michael Berkeley talks to Alexandra Harris, one of the very first Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers, about her passions for landscape, weather and music. As the evenings draw in and the weather gets colder, Alexandra Harris could not be happier. There’s no greater fan of English weather – even the miserable cold, wet variety – so much so that she’s written a book about it – Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English Skies. Alexandra is a Professor of Literature at the University of...


Mike Brearley

Mike Brearley, the former England cricket captain, talks to Michael Berkeley about the wide range of classical music that inspires him. Mike is one of the most successful cricket captains of all time, winning 17 tests for England and losing only four. No one who follows the game will forget the so-called ‘miracle’ of the 1981 Ashes: recalled as captain, Mike galvanised the demoralised team in one of the greatest-ever feats of sporting psychology - and led England to an astonishing 3-1 series...


Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry’s novels are like extraordinary highly coloured dreams - or nightmares. Her bestseller The Essex Serpent features a mythical sea-creature that roams the Blackwater marshes, and the novel that followed, Melmoth, is a terrifying gothic tale with a female ghost who always seems to be just behind you, almost out of sight. In Private Passions, Sarah Perry talks to Michael Berkeley about ghosts and Gothic nightmares, and admits that the ghost in Melmoth haunted her too. She wrote the...