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Friday, April 25, 2008

'I'm just a butterfly'

It's always tricky interviewing a nice man. First, there's the problem that, not being particularly nice oneself, it's hard to know what makes him tick. Then there's the little matter of copy. I interviewed Jonathan Miller once and his enmities could have filled a book. I threw away my list of questions and just watched as the machine gun mowed down a lifetime of enemies. Ferdinand Mount, novelist, journalist, former head of Margaret Thatcher's prime ministerial policy unit, former editor of the Times Literary Supplement and quintessentially nice man, is going to be harder work. He knows it, too. At one point he apologises for the lack of edge in his answers: "I've said a lot or un-urgent things to you, I think," he says, explaining why these days he prefers writing books to the mock-urgency of the newspaper column. This, though, is partly my fault. I was enjoying reading his new memoir, Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes, so much that I didn't have time to draw up anything like a systematic interview script, and am even more halting and discursive than he is. I console myself with the thought that it can't be any worse than the time in the mid-1960s, recounted in hysterical detail in the book, when he interviewed Edward Heath drunk. (Mount was drunk, that is.) "I didn't realise this was going to be such a superficial interview," the chilly Heath told the journalistic tyro. 'I'm just a butterfly'


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