THE PODCAST,
my life in seven charms
THE PODCAST,
my life in seven charms
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Lucia van der Post

Luxury columnist, editor of Country and Townhouse Great British Brands and founding editor of The Financial Times 'How to Spend It'.

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Annoushka Ducas:
Today, I'm at home in London where I'm delighted to be meeting Lucia van der Post. I think of her as the original tastemaker and influencer, Dorien of luxury, the creative force behind The Financial Times' How to Spend It Magazine, and curator of beautiful things. So Lucia, I'm really, really thrilled that you agreed to do this. Thank you so much. If anybody knows about luxury, and jewellery, and all things beautiful, you do.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, your first charm, I think it's called a cape urchin or a-

Lucia van der Post:
A sea urchin.

Annoushka Ducas:
... a sea urchin. When I looked up sea urchin, because I wasn't sure whether it was going to be black with spikes.

Lucia van der Post:
It's a beautiful aqua marine green.

Annoushka Ducas:
And I would like to use something like chrysophrase or fluorite.

Lucia van der Post:
That would be a perfect colour.

Annoushka Ducas:
It'd be a perfect colour, wouldn't it?

Lucia van der Post:
Chrysophrase, yes, so soft.

Annoushka Ducas:
And then highlighted with little brown diamonds, which are all those little knobbly bits on the top. And also, the thing about shells like that is, if you hold them up to your ear... I haven't done it with a cape urchin, but I'd be interested, when you hold it up to your ear, would you hear anything like you do on shells and things like that?

Lucia van der Post:
I don't remember that and the one that I still have is framed in a little sort of portrait of a beach in Cape Town. It has a little skeleton of a fish and the sea urchin shell. I saw it in a shop in Cape Town and it so reminded me of the many happy, happy days I'd spent on Clifton Beach as a child. Also, when I grew up, things were very difficult. My father was reported missing, presumed dead in the war, so we were very poor, but being in Cape Town, somehow all your pleasures were free, the sun, the sea, the mountain, picnics. It was a wonderful place to grow up. I remember heavenly days on the beach.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yes, I bet. So, growing up without your father around, was it just you?

Lucia van der Post:
I had an older brother, but when my father was presumed dead, an uncle took care of his education and decided to send him to Michaelhouse. It was the kind of Eton of South Africa.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, you growing up was really you with your mother.

Lucia van der Post:
With my mother, yes that's right.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, it was a bit like being an only child.

Lucia van der Post:
It was.

Annoushka Ducas:
I know. I'm an only child so I know what that's like but your relationship with your mother must've been incredibly close.

Lucia van der Post:
It was, but life was very difficult for her because she had not been brought up to earn a living. Girls in those days weren't educated properly, so she couldn't earn much of a living. She had worked as a secretary and then, she sent me to boarding school because it was too difficult to work and have me roaming around after school unsupervised.

Annoushka Ducas:
Absolutely. Did you enjoy boarding school?

Lucia van der Post:
Loved boarding school.

Annoushka Ducas:
Were there lots of friends around?

Lucia van der Post:
There were because I made lots of school friends and we had one particular family that was very close, who I often stayed with, where it was a ritual that we always had Sunday evening suppers on Clifton Beach. We'd have sandwiches and it was famous for watching the sun go down. We thought that was lovely.

Annoushka Ducas:
The simple pleasure.

Lucia van der Post:
Yes, that's right.

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, the simple pleasures are still the best pleasures actually, aren't they?

Lucia van der Post:
Many of the simple things have gone like clean rivers.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yes.

Lucia van der Post:
And seas that are unpolluted and all those things that I had in South Africa as a child.

Annoushka Ducas:
That we all took for-

Lucia van der Post:
Took for granted.

Annoushka Ducas:
Totally took for granted. One of the things I love, Lucia, you talk in your book I think, about Christmas with your mother and your memories of Christmas and wrapping presents for her.

Lucia van der Post:
I suppose, what sparked me off was that I get so immensely irritated with people that go on about the cooking and the presents and my thought, having grown up... Christmases were quite lonely for us and I always think it's such a pleasure to have so many people to buy presents for and so many people to cook for, and one of the things I said in my book is that, if you told anybody in the third world that people were complaining when they had money to buy presents, houses to house people, food to feed them, and they were complaining about it-

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah, how embarrassing.

Lucia van der Post:
You would think, how spoiled.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yes, how spoiled. Absolutely.

Lucia van der Post:
And I just relish it. I only have two children but they have each married and they have children, and I love nothing more than having them all, and the more to cook for, the better.

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, aren't they lucky enough to enjoy some hospitality. And you obviously love entertaining and love cooking-

Lucia van der Post:
It's a very South African of you invite people into your house. That's what they're for.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, staying in South Africa, that brings me to your second charm. Do you pronounce this the protea flower? It's the national flower of South Africa.

Lucia van der Post:
It's the national flower of South Africa, yes.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'd seen it as a kind of carved rose quartz in the middle for the bud that's not quite out, and then I'd seen it as pink sapphires, and then a yellow gold stem and moving leaves, but tell me a bit more about why you've chosen this charm.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, if I were choosing for non-sentimental and totally objective reasons, I don't think it would be my favourite flower, but it's for all the sentimental connotations. Cape Town Mountain is covered with protea. When you live away from the country of your birth, you feel rather more sentimental about it, I think, than if you actually live in it. So, it's rather for sentimental reasons. I don't think it's the most beautiful of flowers but it's certainly a very strong, resilient flower, which is what I think all my pioneering family had to be to survive. I often think they left Holland, and they had no idea what they were going to find and there were no telephones, no quick flight home if you got sick or anything.

Annoushka Ducas:
Why did they leave Holland?

Lucia van der Post:
Rumour is that there was some minor financial scandal in the background.

Annoushka Ducas:
Right, but the natural place for them to go was obviously Africa.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, South Africa. I suppose the Dutch. Cape Dutch, the colonizers were on their to the West Indies. It started as a refreshment station for the boats going to the West Indies, which Holland owned. People got scurvy if they didn't have fresh fruit and vegetables, and they started a small colony there to grow the fresh fruits and vegetables, so the ships on the way to the West Indies could fill up.

Annoushka Ducas:
That's so fascinating. What a lesson in history. I didn't know that.

Lucia van der Post:
That's how it started. And then of course, it grew from there. I don't know if you've ever been. It's an astonishingly beautiful country.

Annoushka Ducas:
I've never been to Cape Town.

Lucia van der Post:
Particularly, the cape area, the vineyard... well, now filled with vineyards and beautiful mountains and rivers. It's very beautiful.

Annoushka Ducas:
You were at university in Cape Town, weren't you?

Lucia van der Post:
Yes, I was.

Annoushka Ducas:
Tell me about that. That must've been fascinating to be growing up and becoming grown up, if you like, in the world of apartheid.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, I'd been to the most terrible school. They educated you to be kept in swimming pools and tennis courts by rich, white men. They didn't educate you to earn your own living and I didn't do very well in school because I was so uninterested in anything that was being taught, but Cape Town University was wonderful. The most wonderful teachers and there, I actually buckled down, and got a first because it was so interesting and so wonderful.

Annoushka Ducas:
What did you study?

Lucia van der Post:
English and Political Philosophy.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'd love to know more about what South Africa was like then in that time.

Lucia van der Post:
One of my very, very poignant memories is, Cape Town, you must remember, was slightly separate from the rest of South Africa. It's much less Africanized. We had a population of what you call Cape Coloureds who were mixed white and African, and white and Hottentot, and white and Bushman. They were mixed, and they were called Cape Coloureds and they under the apartheid regime where everybody was categorized, you were white, Cape Coloureds, African or black or Indian, and they had a separate designation. There was a special voting row for the Cape Coloureds they got the vote long before blacks did. So, I grew up with Cape Coloureds. I was very cultured from an African culture, but it sort of dawned on me, I'm afraid, very slowly, how unfair society was. Because I lived in a white society, I didn't see how the blacks or the Cape Coloureds lived. It dawned on me very gradually.

Annoushka Ducas:
At university?

Lucia van der Post:
No, before. I was sent to live, because family things were difficult, with an aunt and uncle for three years, my last three years at school, who lived in Durban, and I could remember the idiocies of people's attitude to race. They had a Zulu cook, and the Zulu cook was allowed to cook the meat course but for some reason, his hands were too contaminated to be allowed to cook the pudding course. So my aunt and myself and my cousin would do the pudding course.

Annoushka Ducas:
How bizarre.

Lucia van der Post:
Somebody related it very much to soviet thinking. In order to make it work, it's based on a lot of idiotic premises.

Annoushka Ducas:
In terms of the way it kind of shaped you intellectually and politically, was that something that really happened at university or?

Lucia van der Post:
No, I think it began to happen before. My aunts, in spite of the way they treated their Zulu servants, joined something called The Black Sash, which was a movement of white women who used to protest. They used to go and stand outside the city halls and wear black sashes, and we used to go and join them, and this was all our form of protest. I can't quite remember what else we did. They must have done something else, but that's all I remember.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, after university, it was a three years university-

Lucia van der Post:
Yes.

Annoushka Ducas:
But of course, your father came back into your life once you got to London. Was that in the grand plan or what made you decide to do that?

Lucia van der Post:
Well, I think my father and stepmother could see that I was a bit trapped by living alone with my mother. It wasn't a very expansive way to live, and my father had lived in London, and my brother had come to London before me. He was eight years older. And said, "Come and see if you like it," after I finished university. So I came.

Annoushka Ducas:
Excited?

Lucia van der Post:
Very.

Annoushka Ducas:
Excited.

Lucia van der Post:
Very. I needed to get away.

Annoushka Ducas:
But it must've been terribly hard to leave your mother.

Lucia van der Post:
I think it was very hard for her.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah, yeah.

Lucia van der Post:
But I did need to get out of there. My father could see that, and my stepmother. It was very good.

Annoushka Ducas:
So your father, once it had been discovered that he was around, when you were quite-

Lucia van der Post:
Oh, yes. He never came back to my mother, but I remember meeting him, for me, it was the first time.

Annoushka Ducas:
When you were what age?

Lucia van der Post:
10.

Annoushka Ducas:
Goodness. And was he-

Lucia van der Post:
Oh, he was unbelievably glamorous. He was a big war hero because you know, he had been a prisoner of war, and he had been behind the enemy lines, and he had this great story to tell and he was fantastically handsome, and incredibly charismatic. And so, I still remember meeting him for breakfast at this posh Cape Town hotel, but then the sadness of realizing he wasn't coming back. He would come to South Africa twice a year and he would say in the grand hotel in Cape Town, the Mount Nelson.

Annoushka Ducas:
A famous hotel.

Lucia van der Post:
The famous hotel, and I would always go along for lunches or breakfast or whatever.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah, so actually, going to England was hugely exciting to get to know him a bit better presumably.

Lucia van der Post:
Exactly. Exactly.

Annoushka Ducas:
Presumably, you came on a boat, did you?

Lucia van der Post:
Yes, wonderful, because I was traveling alone and my father paid, he said I had to travel first class.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh, wonderful.

Lucia van der Post:
Yeah, it was absolutely wonderful. The Union-Castle boats were glorious.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, you got on this boat all alone in your first class cabin, so not that bad.

Lucia van der Post:
No, very nice.

Annoushka Ducas:
They give you luxury there, I feel.

Lucia van der Post:
Absolutely. No, it was wonderful.

Annoushka Ducas:
So then, you arrived in London and your father met you off the boat?

Lucia van der Post:
He did, but what I do remember is the very first night, they were going to dinner with Princess Margaret.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh, right. Goodness, how glamorous.

Lucia van der Post:
So, my brother was to pewter to take me to dinner. I remember that sort of thinking, oh, it's my first night in London and-

Annoushka Ducas:
Princess Margaret's more important than you were. I can see that's actually quite [inaudible 00:14:27]-

Lucia van der Post:
Well, on the other hand, I can see their point of view, too. She's going to be here a long time, we're going to have lots of dinners with her.

Annoushka Ducas:
And how did they know Princess Margaret?

Lucia van der Post:
My father by then had begun to become famous. His book, I remember, he'd been all over the Cape Town papers when he came back from the war because he was this glamorous war figure, but the first time I remember, was at my school in Durban. One day the Afrikaans teacher, who was always cross with me, she said your name is van der Post and you can't speak Afrikaans. I said, "Well, no. I grew up in Cape Town, and my father's away." She came into the class, she put her hands on her hip, and she said, "So, Madam, I suppose, we'll be riding around in a Rolls Royce now." I looked at her. I didn't know what she was on about. Apparently that day, in the morning paper to been all over, South African author has a bestseller, book club of the month, it's taking the world by storm. I didn't even know he'd written a book.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh God.

Lucia van der Post:
I didn't know what she was talking about.

Annoushka Ducas:
By the time you got to London, you knew he was famous.

Lucia van der Post:
He'd written these two books, particularly The Lost World of the Kalahari. No, first it was Venture to the Interior, that made his name and became a book club choice.

Annoushka Ducas:
Venture to the Interior was about what?

Lucia van der Post:
After the war, he did some work for the Colonial Development Office and he went to explore what they should do with some of the territory that they had, and he went up this mountain, Mlanje, and in the course of it, a young forester who was looking after the forest and lived in a little hut there with his wife and new baby, insisted on coming with them, and after about six days, a huge fog was coming in over the mountains from Mozambique. It has a special name. I've forgotten what it's called. And they were freezing cold and they knew they had to get back and this meant they had to cross a river in spate, in flood, and the young forester volunteered to go first and he was tied to stakes and told, "You do not swim. You keep your stake there and you walk." Halfway across, he decided to swim.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh my goodness.

Lucia van der Post:
And he was swept away.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh my goodness.

Lucia van der Post:
And the body was never found.

Annoushka Ducas:
And his wife and baby were left.

Lucia van der Post:
And my father had to... he went over all these hills and dales and gorges, to get to the foresters cottage to report what had happened. He did that in the course of about 12 hours, which was normally an incredibly journey.

Annoushka Ducas:
A trek, yeah.

Lucia van der Post:
But that tragedy is the centre of the book and it's called Venture to the Interior because it's the venture into the interior or Africa, and venture into the interior of oneself. So, it was a psychological, a double exploration if you like, of the external world and the internal world.

Annoushka Ducas:
And then the second book was...

Lucia van der Post:
Called The Lost World of the Kalahari. And that was the Bushman. He went in search of an original Bushman tribe, and he finds them, and he made films which were shown on the BBC and you can now, still get them on YouTube. So, when I arrived in England, they were being shown on the BBC, but they look so old-fashioned now. He's very stiff as he stands there talking about it and-

Annoushka Ducas:
It's just a different era.

Lucia van der Post:
It's very black and white and flickering.

Annoushka Ducas:
But just a different era, but extraordinary foresight to have made films about it then.

Lucia van der Post:
At least he's recorded.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'm jumping ahead a little bit because we're just talking about your father now but I think I'm right in thinking that he was a mentor to Prince Charles, and I think I read somewhere that he taught Prince Charles to talk to his plants.

Lucia van der Post:
I don't know about that but you know a lot of gaff has been written about that. I have never forgotten, he did take Prince Charles to the cavalry.

Annoushka Ducas:
He did?

Lucia van der Post:
Yeah, they went and they camped, and a cousin of mine... my father was always very discreet. He would never talk very much. But a cousin of mine who went with them, was camping with them, and he talked to me a little bit about it, and I have never forgotten opening my daily mail. I knew they were in the Kalahari. They didn't know what they were going to do but I opened the daily mail and there was a huge piece by somebody purporting to know everything that was going on. As I write, they are sitting in the Kalahari. They are screaming to the skies. They are bowing down to... I mean, it was a load of tosh. This man, not only didn't know what they were doing, he knew he didn't know. So, my father never told me about that, and I have no idea if it's true. It could've been true. My father had a very poetic, mystical side, and could well have been true but I have no idea if it is or not.

Annoushka Ducas:
Am I right in thinking he became godfather to Prince William?

Lucia van der Post:
Prince William, yes. What I think my father offered, something that Prince Charles' family didn't, which was my father was the most charismatic man, I think, that I've met. He could talk and charm the birds out of the trees. I had an email just the other day from somebody... my father broke a hip one on his way to South Africa, and he ended up in a clinic in South Africa, and I had an email, that just months ago, from somebody who'd been in the same clinic. He'd broken his back and he said, "I was a long-haired uncouth boy," he said who most Afrikaaners hated. He said, your father was just wonderful.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh.

Lucia van der Post:
And it was tended by nuns. He said, every nun was prepared to throw [inaudible 00:20:14]

Annoushka Ducas:
But he was quite a player from what I understand, was he?

Lucia van der Post:
I think he was.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh, he was.

Lucia van der Post:
I think they were all very meaningful. I've known some of them. He didn't just, to use a crude phrase, sleep around.

Annoushka Ducas:
Right.

Lucia van der Post:
No, they were meaningful, but there were quite a few meaningful ones.

Annoushka Ducas:
Quite a few meaningful ones.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, your next charm is an ostrich egg. I was really excited about this ostrich egg because I love really tactile, lovely things, and I actually have a collection of ostrich eggs. Goodness knows why, but I do, in the middle of a table. Oh, I love... because there's so much texture on an ostrich egg that you don't really-

Lucia van der Post:
No, and they're surprisingly sturdy.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah, they really are.

Lucia van der Post:
I've got a collection, too. The first time I went back to South Africa and we took the children, and I went to stay with this same cousin of mine, Chris, who went to the Kalahari. He was always going to the Kalahari. He used to take his children hunting there when you could still hunt, when they were young, and he and his wife gave me an ostrich egg, that had been decorated by the Bushman. And that's one of my most precious possessions. I just loved it because they just used charcoal. Those ghastly painted eggs that you see at the airport are just too hideous for words. This has this plain charcoal graphic on it that the Bushman etch.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'd seen it in light brown diamonds, just all the way around, and all-

Lucia van der Post:
They have a slightly speckled-y thing.

Annoushka Ducas:
They do, don't they? It's not all one color.

Lucia van der Post:
It's not smooth. It's not smooth.

Annoushka Ducas:
And it's got this amazing texture.

Lucia van der Post:
Yeah.

Annoushka Ducas:
And I'd love to have it as a locket. I think it should open and have a crack where the chick might come out.

Lucia van der Post:
The Bushman, they first can make a mega omelette but then they keep them, they drill a little hole at the top and they fill them with water.

Annoushka Ducas:
Or do they?

Lucia van der Post:
They use them as water carriers.

Annoushka Ducas:
I had no idea.

Lucia van der Post:
I think.

Annoushka Ducas:
But you chose that really, thinking about your father in the Kalahari.

Lucia van der Post:
The Kalahari's featured largely. I've been to Botswana many times. I love Botswana, and I love particularly, the Kalahari, the desert landscape. There's a low level grasslands, which are very beautiful, and you see a particular bird, a pale chanting goshawk, sitting on top of trees.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh, how divine.

Lucia van der Post:
It's absolutely beautiful. It's not what one imagines as a desert at all.

Annoushka Ducas:
But you've travelled enormously. Whenever I wanted to go somewhere, I've always wanted to call you to say, "Where should we go?" but is Africa still one of your favourite places?

Lucia van der Post:
It never ceases to fascinate me and I suppose, particularly, living a very urban life, I do love those huge skies, the wilderness areas, but it's changing. I read a piece about Tanzania about two years ago now, and I was so shocked by what I saw that I went back to check the population the first time Neil and I went. The first time we went was in 1977. There were 15 million people. Do you know how many there are now in Tanzania? 58.8 million.

Annoushka Ducas:
My goodness. That is absolute staggering.

Lucia van der Post:
It's not no wonder. The habitat is shrinking. People need space. The land can't sustain it.

Annoushka Ducas:
There's less and less-

Lucia van der Post:
There are not enough jobs.

Annoushka Ducas:
That's absolute-

Lucia van der Post:
The population is the real scourge of the disaster hitting the planet.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, your next charm is a punt. Clearly, that was a very important part of your life when you met Neil, your husband.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, I met him after six weeks in this country.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, how did you meet him?

Lucia van der Post:
My stepmother had never had children, and so my stepmother, for reasons, which I found hurtful but now understand, didn't want me living in the house. She didn't want to run a domestic house. She fancied herself as a writer. She wrote in the mornings and at that time, they had a very glamorous social life. Vivien Leigh and Larry Olivier and all these people and then, prince-

Annoushka Ducas:
Princess Margaret.

Lucia van der Post:
They were all part of their circle.

Annoushka Ducas:
Right.

Lucia van der Post:
So, they found a room for me in a house in Carlisle Square, and Neil, whose family were in Scotland, had been in it. He wasn't in it when I arrived, and so, I was alone one Sunday night, and the phone rang, and I'd seen all these letters. They used to come in. They used to say, Captain J. N. Crichton-Miller and I used to think, gosh, that's a really lovely name. And the phone goes one Sunday night and it's Captain J. N. Neil Crichton-Miller. He says, "Is there any post for me?" So, he came around to collect his letters.

Annoushka Ducas:
It was love at first sight, was it?

Lucia van der Post:
Apparently, he went home and said he'd met the girl he was going to marry.

Annoushka Ducas:
And what did you say?

Lucia van der Post:
Well, I'd certainly thought he was pretty nice. I mean, he stood against the window and we talked for about three hours.

Annoushka Ducas:
Three hours? I love that. He just came for the letters. So, that's how you met him but tell me about the punt.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, our first date, he'd just come down... he was very glamorous, he'd come down with a double first and he'd been president of the Cambridge Union, so he was very much a figure.

Annoushka Ducas:
And highly sought after, I imagine.

Lucia van der Post:
A gang of them were all going back for May Ball, so we went back and what I didn't realize how unusual it was, the weather was wonderful. I just thought summers were like that. We went on a punt the next day.

Annoushka Ducas:
Just you and he?

Lucia van der Post:
No, with some of his friends.

Annoushka Ducas:
Right.

Lucia van der Post:
Down the cam, and had picnic lunch. I think down at Grantchester. To a South African, you can imagine how not [inaudible 00:26:41].

Annoushka Ducas:
Quintessential English day, isn't it?

Lucia van der Post:
Exactly.

Annoushka Ducas:
It absolutely is. So, I had imagined this punt using pale blue sapphires for the Cambridge blue, and inside yellow gold but kind of rich, so to look like the planks of Wood.

Lucia van der Post:
[crosstalk 00:26:59]

Annoushka Ducas:
I think that's really important. But my goodness, you've been married a long time now. I'm not sure how many years.

Lucia van der Post:
I'm not going to tell you, but yes.

Annoushka Ducas:
I know you're not going to tell me, but it is a long time.

Lucia van der Post:
It is a long time.

Annoushka Ducas:
And two children and many grandchildren.

Lucia van der Post:
Two children.

Annoushka Ducas:
What I was going to ask you was... I've been married for 30 years and I think I've done pretty well actually, but I want to know what the secret of a truly happy marriage is.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, I don't know about you, but for me, having been the child of divorced parents and not having had a family life, I knew that, that was the one thing I wanted above everything, and I did not want it broken up. So, if I had had to swing from the chandeliers, I would've done it. I did not want a broken family. It'd have been in many ways, a huge loss. When I see my kids with their kids and see what it means to grow up in a really happy family, like you and John with your four, it's a totally different thing from growing up alone with a mother.

Annoushka Ducas:
You and I share that, absolutely. Like you, I knew I didn't want to have one of one. So, your next charm is a pair of skis. The way I visualize these skis, I was going to ask you if you had a particular ski that you liked.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, no. I never owned my own skis. I did own my own boots.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'm wanting to put on the boots. I think they should be in diamonds somehow. There should be lovely diamond clicks that work. I want them to work.

Lucia van der Post:
Oh gosh.

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, that's really important that they work, but we could work out what the colour of the skis going to be if you have a thought of what that might be.

Lucia van der Post:
That's lovely. It's just that it's some of the happiest family's holidays we ever had. We took the children skiing very young and we used to go every year.

Annoushka Ducas:
But who was the skier though, because South Africa, there wasn't a lot of skiing in South Africa?

Lucia van der Post:
Oh no, no. I learned. And I remember, I was inflamed with envy because Neil had only been once. He'd been with the university party and he went skiing up there, where I imagine it was all very glamorous and I was on the nursery slopes, so I thought, I'm going to be there next year, so I just worked like crazy to be up there with him.

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, I know a bit about your skiing. Goodness. Sporty, have you always been sporty because other than skiing, I know you're a very good and very keen tennis player and-

Lucia van der Post:
I'm a rather sad case, I'm very keen.

Annoushka Ducas:
If the ski has anything to [crosstalk 00:29:45]

Lucia van der Post:
No, I'm a better skier than I am a tennis player.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, I'm going to go onto your next charm, which is typewriter, because presumably, before the age of digital, you were absolutely writing on a typewriter.

Lucia van der Post:
Absolutely, and it's sort of part of the nostalgia of Fleet Street, which for me, I worked with Harry Evans. I was on the Sunday Times for five years.

Annoushka Ducas:
Fleet Street, working at the Times at that time, must have been such a fun, exciting place to be.

Lucia van der Post:
It was a glorious time because journalism was changing, the whole cohort of talent had come down from the north. Harry Evans himself and there was that whole thing of The Beatles and there were all this wonderful working class plays I remember like, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and Look Back In Anger, and the whole culture was being churned up and refreshed.

Annoushka Ducas:
Liberated.

Lucia van der Post:
Exactly.

Annoushka Ducas:
Absolutely.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, the Sunday Times was the place to be. It was where every journalist wanted to work, and somebody called Hunter Davis arrived and changed the stereotype of the woman's page, which always had a fashion piece, a cooking piece, an interior design piece, and then a heartthrob piece, ‘I had breast cancer and I survived’ kind of piece.

Annoushka Ducas:
Right. And what did he change it to?

Lucia van der Post:
They weren't just for women. He called them the look pages.

Annoushka Ducas:
Right.

Lucia van der Post:
And then, just as Hunter was leaving and I was feeling pretty miserable because I had so loved working for him. He was such a sort of optimistic, happy person and somebody was coming in who I didn't think I would get on very well with. The phone rang and it was Sheila Black saying that she was leaving The Financial Times and she wrote this page called, How to Spend It, and how would I feel about it.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, that was a complete change actually for you, wasn't it, really?

Lucia van der Post:
A complete, but the great joy of it was that, it was both a joy and the worry was that I was in complete and utter charge. If anything went wrong, it was all my fault.

Annoushka Ducas:
Did you enjoy that?

Lucia van der Post:
I think it took me a little while to find my feet. I think it was quite a new, I realize now, I was thrown in the deep end. Nobody helped me. Nobody came near me. I had to generate the ideas, generate the illustrations, generate everything.

Annoushka Ducas:
And commission other people or were you writing it all?

Lucia van der Post:
In those days, there was usually only one page and I would write it all.

Annoushka Ducas:
Right.

Lucia van der Post:
And then, I think I arrived just as the great editor, Gordon Newton, was leaving and Freddie Fisher took over, and Freddie Fisher wanted me to use Clement Freud as a cookery writer, and I was sitting there with a year’s contract under my belt so I felt quite secure, and I said, "I'm afraid I don't like Clement Freud's food at all. I don't want to use Clement Freud." And I had just found somebody called Philippa Davenport. So, I used Philippa Davenport, and after about three months, he came in and said, "My wife just loves Philippa's recipes."

Annoushka Ducas:
Phew. So, How To Spend It, then, was just a page. It was just a page.

Lucia van der Post:
Just a page.

Annoushka Ducas:
As part of The Financial Times.

Lucia van der Post:
On a Saturday. The thinking had been, that during the week, the paper told them how to make money, how to manipulate the-

Annoushka Ducas:
The mainly male audience at that point.

Lucia van der Post:
Yes, but on Saturdays, it went into the home.

Annoushka Ducas:
Right.

Lucia van der Post:
Into a domestic environment where women would read it and where people were interested in domestic things, shopping and clothes and food and all of that.

Annoushka Ducas:
Was that the beginning of talking about all the luxurious, lovely things that we all-

Lucia van der Post:
I didn't think in terms of luxury, really. That, I think, developed much later when How to Spend It had to find a focus, the magazine, but in the early days, I very much never put anything in that I didn't like. So, it was very much my tastes, my interests. Unfortunately, other people began to like them, too.

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, it was truly authentic and people love truly authentic. So, food was a big part of it. What other-

Lucia van der Post:
I didn't write the food. I got Philippa Davenport, who I thought had wonderful taste in food, a certain English elegance about our food, and I would write about... I had children at the time, they were young so, things to do with children. Design, I was very interested in the home, new designers coming up. I was interested in clothes and that world was changing. There was always something to write about. And then, it grew. It was really, The Financial Times was the parish newspaper of the city when I arrived, and then it grew internationally, and became this great big international paper, and I had to become more sophisticated, more global, and more international as that happened. The good luck and the bad luck, was that the powers to be weren't really interested in it. They thought of it as kind of, peripheral thing. They were interested in the world bank and politics, so they let me get on with it, but it meant, you had no... nobody ever said, "Oh, that's great." Nobody ever took any notice or interest.

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, they obviously did because it's grown and grown-

Lucia van der Post:
Well, eventually they began to realize that it gained ads and readers.

Annoushka Ducas:
Of course. Of course. And what it's become is the magazine mainly about luxury and things that people aspire to. This word, this massively overused word, luxury, what does it mean to you?

Lucia van der Post:
Well, I like it using... it's a very overused word. It's become a sort of shorthand for people wanting people to think their things are better than they actually are, very often. They have some cheap cashmere and call it luxury and hope that'll do the job. So, I personally, don't like to use the word very much. It's very interesting, when I had some columns on the Times, when I wrote my introductory article, because I think my column was called Luxury with Lucia, and I wrote my introductory article about what luxury was, I asked a whole lot of people, and almost everybody cited experiences or time. In our western world, we're all very spoiled, aren't we?

Annoushka Ducas:
We are very spoiled.

Lucia van der Post:
I forget what clothes I've got because I've got so many. My mother knew every dress she owned. I do like beautiful things. I suppose the things I do tend to collect, tend to be old. In Africa, I would always try and buy one special thing instead of a mess of tat.

Annoushka Ducas:
And have a memory-

Lucia van der Post:
And have a memory, exactly. So, those are the things I buy now. What I spend my money on now is my tennis lessons, my piano lessons, holiday, restaurants, food...

Annoushka Ducas:
Everything that's memories. Everything that's creating memories.

Annoushka Ducas:
You talked about piano lessons, which brings me neatly onto your final charm, which is a musical note.

Lucia van der Post:
Yeah.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, tell me about that. Why have you chosen a musical note?

Lucia van der Post:
Well, because it's become very important to me. I let the piano... my grandfather founded the South African Orchestras, and so, music, classical, the great Bach and Brahms and Beethoven and Schubert, were always the background Mozart to my life. My mother listened a great deal, and I learned to quite a high level when I was young-

Annoushka Ducas:
At school?

Lucia van der Post:
At school, and then I did one year actually, of a B.Mus. at university, but I found it was impossible to continue because really, B.Mus. is composing, playing, history of music, theory. It was about six different subjects.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh my God.

Lucia van der Post:
So, to make up the one. So, I gave that up. Also, I heard somebody called xdSolomon playing music that I was playing and I thought, "Oh, I'm never going to be able to do that."

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, you obviously were very talented and-

Lucia van der Post:
I was good. I was good but I was never going to make a soloist.

Annoushka Ducas:
I think I'm right in thinking that you're one of the people in lockdown, who challenged yourself to learning a new piece?

Lucia van der Post:
Yes.

Annoushka Ducas:
Which piece was it?

Lucia van der Post:
There's a wonderful series on Radio 3, where they do composer of the week, and during this year, which was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, Beethoven is composer of the week every other week, and I heard Jonathan Biss in one of these play, the Sonata No.27, Op.90, and I fell in love with the second movement. I just thought it was the most glorious thing I've ever heard, so I've learned that. Glorious.

Annoushka Ducas:
Okay, I will listen to it.

Lucia van der Post:
And it's such a joy to play.

Annoushka Ducas:
well, maybe we'll get you to play it.

Lucia van der Post:
It really is a joy, but I picked it up, the piano three years ago, when we did our basement, and somebody's lent me a Broadwood baby grand, and my grandchildren's piano teacher, she was asked by my son, which he gave me as a Christmas present, three lessons and said, "My God, I'm going to teach this old lady what it's going to be like," she tells me now.

Annoushka Ducas:
Little did she know.

Lucia van der Post:
We fell in love with each other.

Annoushka Ducas:
Little did she know how talented you were going to be.

Lucia van der Post:
We fell in love with each other. She's wonderful.

Annoushka Ducas:
Do you think you've always challenged yourself throughout your life? Is that something that has come from childhood or is that something that's grown?

Lucia van der Post:
What I do think, is that I like doing things well. It's like food. It gives me no pleasure not to do it well. There's no pleasure in it.

Annoushka Ducas:
I think that's probably the answer but I was going to ask you, why you think you've been so successful in your field, because I think it's pretty unusual for one person to be writing for, am I allowed to say 40 years?

Lucia van der Post:
Yeah.

Annoushka Ducas:
For 40 years, for a magazine, for one newspaper or title. It is extraordinary accomplishment.

Lucia van der Post:
There's certainly many greater writers than I am. I think what I did have was that people tapped into my taste and I think I was able to communicate with the reader, which a lot of much cleverer people don't necessarily connect. I think I was able to connect. Trying to think about it.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'm sure that does come back to the being very authentic things that you genuinely like and admire.

Lucia van der Post:
That's true. I never ever did anything that I didn't, and I was very lucky in that respect that I was left alone at the FT. Nobody ever made me do it.

Annoushka Ducas:
Do anything.

Lucia van der Post:
No.

Annoushka Ducas:
But I'm sure that's why anyone I know, who has started a business, they always want Lucia van der Post to write about it. It is the absolute ultimate. So, you've lived an incredibly full life with a wonderful family, grandchildren now. Is it what you imagined your life might have been when you were collecting shells on the beach?

Lucia van der Post:
I think if somebody told me when I was 17, that this was what my life would be now, I would've been very thrilled.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh, well you should be so proud.

Lucia van der Post:
Yeah.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, so proud.

Annoushka Ducas:
Lucia, we've covered your life in seven charms and it's been absolute pleasure to talk to you about it and learn so much about your life. As you know, I would like to make you one charm-

Lucia van der Post:
That's absolutely wonderful.

Annoushka Ducas:
... to say a massive thank you.

Lucia van der Post:
That's really wonderful.

Annoushka Ducas:
And I wonder which charm it will be.

Lucia van der Post:
Goodness gracious me, that's really wonderful. I'm torn between the ostrich egg and the sea urchin. I think maybe the ostrich egg means most to me.

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, I'm really excited to make the ostrich egg because I think it'll be absolutely divine and really tactile, and we're going to make it a locket so you can put something special inside it.


Lucia van der Post:
Well, I think that would be really wonderful, Annoushka. Incredibly generous.

Annoushka Ducas:
When somebody, one of your great grandchildren, finds this seven charm bracelet, what would you like them to imagine that their great grandmother was?

Lucia van der Post:
Well, certainly all my grandchildren, we've taken to Africa on safari. They all know that, as one of them said to me the other day, it was the greatest adventure of his childhood, taking him to Botswana.

Annoushka Ducas:
So, maybe that's what you want them to remember, as an adventurer and traveler.

Lucia van der Post:
Well, somebody who loved them.

Annoushka Ducas:
Somebody who loved them.

Lucia van der Post:
Perfect. Gosh.

Annoushka Ducas:
Thank you so much for listening to My Life in Seven Charms with me Annoushka Ducas. Please do like, review, and subscribe to hear our latest episodes. Thank you to Farley Media for our audio production.


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