On being different

A couple of exceptional programmes on radio four last week, the first being David Walliams on Desert Island Discs. This is a fantastic format – who hasn’t fantasised about being the guest? Whilst over the years it has gone through phases of being fairly anodyne, now, with Kirsty Young, it makes compelling listening. It’s amazing how she gets her guests to open up.

Each week is practically a masterclass in establishing empathy and conducting an interview. Never more so than with her justly celebrated interview with David Walliams last week, who gave us an extraordinary insight into his life – what it is, being him. I was about to give a link to listen again, but find you can’t listen again. So don’t miss Richard Madeley next week.

But one programme you can listen again to, and I urge you to do so, is the Woman’s Hour interview with Catherine W Hill, which I heard completely by chance driving to a meeting.

A truly remarkable person who survived Auschwitz and went on to become, as Radio 4 puts it,  the ‘doyenne of Canadian style’ championing designers such as  Versace and Armani in her influential boutique ‘Chez Catherine.’

Asked what made her successful, she replied

‘You have to have the right product, you have to fall in love with it, you have to enjoy it and you have to give something … the most important thing a person can have is empathy, and curiosity … When I opened the store I never thought about how much money I might make, I thought about what can I achieve? How can I be different?

I am looking forward to reading her book, which is in draft at the moment, titled, brilliantly,  ‘Dressing The Wound.’

As it happens, being different was also one of the topics in media life coach Joanne Mallon’s newsletter last week:

When you are in business for yourself, it stands to reason that you will be passionate about what you do. Otherwise you’d go and do something much easier like get a real job, right?

Sometimes it can be a short sharp thunk in the head to realise that not everyone shares your passion. And when it comes to media interviews, really no one cares about what you do. They care about the results. They’re interested in your story – where does that passion come from? What differentiates you from everyone else in the same business as you? Why did you choose that particular niche instead of another one?

Hone in on what it is that makes you different, and you are on your way to discovering what makes you news.

Happily here, now, in the west we are in a place where difference can (generally) be celebrated. What’s different is what makes us news – but in a good way.

Catherine Hill trod a fine line when she gave in to the impulse to tear a strip from the bottom of her camp uniform and wear it as a scarf. It made her stand out: a risky business in Aushwitz, that brought her to the attention of the prison guards. As it happened, the action probably saved her life, but it could so easily have been different.

Which (almost) connects with today’s news story that MI5 kept the enigmatic and brilliant photographer Lee Miller under surveillance for 15 years, and a good excuse (if one were needed) to feature one of my favourite photographs – of Lee Miller in Hitler’s bath, Munich 1945:


Read article by Antony Penrose, her son, in the timesonline here

The photo can be seen in larger format at http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/1631_lee_miller/popGallery.php?id=3

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