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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.




Brian Greene

Brian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York; he’s renowned for his ground-breaking discoveries in superstring theory. But the reason he's well known way beyond the scientific community is that he’s so very good at explaining science to a wide popular audience. He’s written six best-selling books, starting with The Elegant Universe, which explains string theory, and most recently Until the End of Time. In 2008 he and his wife founded the annual...


Andrew O'Hagan

In a moving and personal interview the novelist and journalist Andrew O’Hagan talks to Michael Berkeley about his family and the music that inspires his writing. Andrew O’Hagan grew up on a tough housing estate in north Ayrshire, the son of a cleaner and a carpenter, and the youngest of four boys. He has gone on to become one of our most prolific, vivid and meticulous writers - an essayist and investigative journalist whose subjects have included Julian Assange; the invention of Bitcoin; and...


John Dyson

John Dyson spent 23 years as a judge, moving up through the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and finally becoming Master of the Rolls. He retired as Master of the Rolls three years ago, but he’s back working on international arbitrations, busier than ever; in fact, he presided over the recent decision that the Saracens rugby team were being overpaid. Through it all, the great passion that has sustained him is music. He's an accomplished pianist and took lessons from the...


Chris Watson

Wildlife sound recordist and sound artist Chris Watson talks to Michael Berkeley about how his favourite music is inspired by the natural world. Chris is most famous for his sound recordings for David Attenborough’s television series – for which he’s won BAFTAs – but he’s a musician too. A member of the influential post-punk band Cabaret Voltaire in the late 70s and early 80s, today he’s a sound artist and composer, creating installations around the world. His 2003 release Weather Report,...


Jools Holland

Jools Holland, the king of boogie-woogie piano, reveals his life-long passion for classical music in conversation with Michael Berkeley. The piano is at the heart of everything Jools Holland does. Since he left school at fifteen and joined Squeeze, he - and his piano - have been pretty much constantly on the road, touring with The Jools Holland Big Band, and now his nineteen-piece Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. He also finds time to present a regular Radio 2 show and has made a record-breaking...


Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Schwartz is a master of musicals. He wrote Godspell, Pippin, and The Baker’s Wife; he’s written the lyrics for films such as Pocohontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted - and many others. His musical Wicked, for which he wrote the words and music, has become something of a cult; it opened on Broadway in 2003 and in the West End in 2006, and it’s been running both in New York and in London ever since. He’s received numerous awards – three Oscars, four Grammys – and he’s over...


Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende’s first novel, “The House of the Spirits” catapulted her to literary stardom, and was acclaimed as a classic of Latin American magic realism. That was nearly forty years ago and she’s not stopped writing since: with twenty novels and four volumes of memoir, she’s been translated all over the world and has sold some seventy-four million books. They’re vivid family sagas, with eccentric characters, dramatic reversals, discoveries of lost children, violent death, disease and...


Women Composers Compilation

As part of Radio 3’s celebration of female composers, Michael Berkeley draws together some of his guests who have championed works by women. Turner Prize-winner Helen Cammock introduces the 17th-century Venetian composer Barbara Strozzi, and actor Greta Scacchi tells the story of her discovery of the 18th-century musician and composer Maria Cosway. There is music too by Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century writer, abbess and mystic, who is a role model for scientist Uta Frith; and a...


Piers Gough

Piers Gough co-founded his own architectural practice while he was still at college, at the age of only twenty-two. He made his name during the redevelopment of London’s Docklands, though you can also see his work in Liverpool (the golden “bling bling” building), in Nottingham, where he built a centre for Maggie’s cancer charity, and in Glasgow, where he designed the masterplan for the redevelopment of the Gorbals. He’s won numerous awards for his buildings, not least for his bright-green...


Chibundu Onuzo

Michael Berkeley talks to author Chibundu Onuzo about the challenge of writing novels while studying for her A-levels, and the role of music and faith in her life. At the age of nineteen Chibundu became the youngest female writer ever to be signed by Faber and Faber. She started writing aged ten while growing up in Lagos, Nigeria and was working on her first novel, ‘The Spider King’s Daughter’, while doing her A levels at boarding school in England. It was published while she was still at...


Jonathan Aitken

In a frank and moving interview the priest and former politician Jonathan Aitken talks to Michael Berkeley about the music that has accompanied his rollercoaster life. At one time Jonathan Aitken was widely tipped to be a future Conservative Prime Minister, but his glittering political career came crashing down just over twenty years ago, when he stood in the dock of the Old Bailey to plead guilty to perjury, after a lie he told about the payment of a hotel bill caused the collapse of his...


Ann Wroe

Michael Berkeley talks to the writer Ann Wroe about the inspiration and comfort she finds in music. Ann spends the first 36 hours of each week wrestling with the challenge of distilling the life of a person into just 1000 words – because, for nearly two decades, she has written the weekly obituary for The Economist. The rest of Ann’s week is spent wrestling with biography of an altogether different kind - because she finds the subjects for her books in the shadowy territory where history...


James Thornton

Michael Berkeley talks to the environmental lawyer James Thornton about tackling the climate crisis, about Zen Buddhism and about James's love of the violin. Every day we’re bombarded with more bad news about the climate crisis, deadly air pollution, and our oceans filling up with plastic. So who will save our fragile planet? The UN? Governments? Scientists? Activists? If James Thornton is anything to go by, it might well be lawyers. As the founding CEO of ClientEarth, an international...


William Sieghart

William Sieghart, the founder of the Forward Prizes for poetry and National Poetry Day, talks to Michael Berkeley about the music and poetry he loves. Over the last twenty-five years National Poetry Day has become a popular fixture in the cultural calendar, and it was William’s idea to have permanent poems engraved at the Olympic Park in East London. He’s also the creator of the hugely successful Poetry Pharmacy. At festivals and events, William sits in a tent and people bring him their...


Helen Cammock

Helen Cammock grew up wanting to be a singer, and performed on the folk circuit as a teenager. But then she stopped, and became a social worker for more than ten years. Finally, at the age of 35, she took up photography, went to art school – and she’s never looked back. She’s known now for her richly-layered video installations, which mix film archive, dance and poetry with current interviews, all woven together with music. She is the joint winner of the 2019 Turner Prize; for the first time...


Carlo Rovelli

As we start a new year, our thoughts turn towards the year ahead with all its plans and resolutions. And yet of course it is irrational to make this complete distinction between December and January; in fact, the more you think about it, the more you realise that everything about time is strangely slippery. The slippery nature of time is something that preoccupies Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist who has worked in Italy and the United States and who is currently directing the quantum...


Darcey Bussell

Darcey Bussell became principal dancer of the Royal Ballet at the age of only twenty; she went on to become a household name thanks to her seven years as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, a job she unexpectedly stepped down from earlier this year. In conversation with Michael Berkeley, she looks back at a career which started when, against the wishes of her mother, she went to ballet school at thirteen – and was desperately unhappy, thinking she’d made the worst mistake of her life. Alone,...


Matthew Bourne

As a small child, Matthew Bourne used to put on shows in his parents’ living room in East London; by the age of eight or nine, he was staging musicals for the whole school, co-opting his friends to star in Mary Poppins and Cinderella. (He played an ugly sister.) Fast forward to today and Sir Matthew Bourne is now Britain’s most popular and successful choreographer and director, with a long list of awards for shows including Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Cinderella, The Car Man (based on Carmen),...


David Nott

David Nott is a Welsh consultant surgeon and Professor of Surgery at Imperial College London; for more than twenty-five years he has volunteered as a surgeon in disaster and war zones across the world. He has worked in Sarajevo, Kabul, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Iraq, the Congo, Yemen, Gaza, and, most recently, Syria. Often under fire, in makeshift tents or in rooms with no adequate lighting or machinery or drugs, he has risked his life to save others – operating on people injured by bullets and...


Hannah Rankin

Hannah Rankin grew up on a sheep farm near Loch Lomond. Earlier this year she made history by becoming the first Scottish woman to win a boxing world title when she became the IBO (International Boxing Organisation) super-welterweight champion. She’s recently returned from winning her first big fight in America. But, as she tells Michael Berkeley, she is just as likely to be found in the woodwind section of an orchestra as she is in a boxing ring, because Hannah is also a highly accomplished...