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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.




Michio Kaku

Michael Berkeley’s guest is the theoretical physicist Dr Michio Kaku - without doubt the only guest ever to have built a particle accelerator in their garage while still in high school. After that auspicious start Michio went onto become the co-founder of string theory in the 1970s; a professor at The City University of New York; and one of the world’s most prominent scientists. He is also a great science communicator, so alongside his hundreds of scientific papers, he has written...


Private Passions: Michio Kaku

Michael Berkeley’s guest is the theoretical physicist Dr Michio Kaku.


Carole Boyd

Carole Boyd is an accomplished theatre actress: she has recorded some three hundred audio books, and she does all the female voices in Postman Pat. But all this pales into insignificance compared with the role she has played on radio for thirty-five years, as Archer's character Lynda Snell. More than five million Archers listeners have been listening to her as the snobbish but good-hearted Lynda since she first arrived in Ambridge, in 1986. Lynda is the Archers’ theatre director, putting on...


Veronica O'Keane

One of the things that stands out, over more than 20 years of Private Passions, is the very strong connection between music and memory: as people choose music, which takes them way back, vividly evoking pivotal moments in their lives, it can be deeply emotional. Veronica O’Keane is perfectly placed to explain that response: as a practising psychiatrist, she’s spent many years observing how memory and experience are interwoven, working with patients whose memories are often broken or...


Alastair Campbell

For almost a decade, Alastair Campbell was Tony Blair’s right-hand man, first as Press Secretary and then as Downing Street Director of Communications. He was at the heart of power through the Good Friday Agreement, the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War, which involved him in the greatest controversy. These days he’s a writer and mental health campaigner, and he’s recently published a very frank book, “Living Better: How I learned to survive depression”. In conversation with Michael Berkeley,...


Natalie Haynes

Comedian and classicist Natalie Haynes talks to Michael Berkeley about her favourite music, making the classics funny and the joy of running. Just like the ancient Greek dramatists she loves, Natalie excels in both tragedy and comedy. She has written three novels, which retell stories from Greek myth, and she has had a long-running parallel career as a stand-up comedian, including her hugely popular Radio 4 series, Natalie Haynes Stands up for the Classics. Central to all her work is her...


Anya Hurlbert

If you’ve ever wondered why you love blue and hate the colour khaki, or have spent hours arguing over a colour chart because you and your partner can’t agree on how to paint the bedroom, you’ll be fascinated by Professor Anya Hurlbert. She’s a neuroscientist and a leading researcher into how the brain perceives colour, and why we feel so strongly about it. Brought up in Texas, studying at Princeton and Harvard, she is now Professor of Visual Neuroscience at the University of Newcastle; she’s...


Laura Cumming

The writer and art critic Laura Cumming talks to Michael Berkeley about the music and art she loves and the extraordinary story of her family. Laura has been writing about art for The Observer for more than two decades, but her books suggest that at heart she’s really a detective. All three have unravelled mysteries: a missing Velázquez painting; the inner lives of great artists revealed through their self-portraits; and the secrets and lies which lay behind the kidnap of her mother, aged...


Zandra Rhodes

With her shocking pink hair and extravagantly colourful clothes, Dame Zandra Rhodes has been an instantly recognisable figure on the British fashion scene for more than fifty years. An artist as much as a clothes designer, she tells Michael Berkeley about her experiences dressing everyone from Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana, to Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan. As well as fashion, she has developed a passion for opera, designing productions for San Diego Opera and...


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...