« Desert Island Discs

Kate Ewart-Biggs, Deputy Chief Executive, British Council

2022-08-13 | 🔗
Kate Ewart-Biggs is the deputy chief executive of the British Council, which aims to build connections between the UK and countries worldwide, through education programmes, language learning and cultural activities. Kate was born into a diplomatic family and her early childhood years were spent in France and Belgium. In 1976, when she was eight years old, her father Christopher Ewart-Biggs was appointed British ambassador to Ireland. Two weeks into his new job, he was killed by an IRA landmine. Kate's mother Jane moved the family back to London and began to campaign for peace and reconciliation in Ireland: she became a life peer in 1981. After studying anthropology at university, Kate worked on charity projects for street children in Brazil and South Africa before joining the British Council. Her career has taken her all around the world including postings in Uganda, Tanzania and Indonesia. She lives in London with her daughter. DISC ONE: I Could Have Danced All Night by My Fair Lady Orchestra, My Fair Lady Chorus, Marni Nixon (soprano), André Previn (conductor), Mona Washbourne (played Mrs. Pearce), My Fair Lady Original Motion Picture Cast and Warner Brothers Studio Orchestra DISC TWO: Et Si Tu N’existais Pas by Joe Dassin DISC THREE: Mr Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan DISC FOUR: I Don’t Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats DISC FIVE: Lambada by Kaoma DISC SIX: Namagembe by Madoxx Sematimba DISC SEVEN: I And Love And You by The Avett Brothers DISC EIGHT: American Pie by Don McLean BOOK CHOICE: The Complete Novels of Jane Austen LUXURY ITEM: An asthma inhaler CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Sarah Taylor
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music. Radio broadcasts, hallo unlearn event, and this is the desert island discs. Podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury. They want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island and for right reasons the me It is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. I My castaway this week, Is the deputy ceo of the british council kate you at bakes? She was born in london but describes yourself as a citizen of the world and her international korea has been dedicated to improving lives through culture and learning
the british council, the organization dedicated to building lasting connections, understanding and trust between the uk and other countries through arts, education and the english language. She has the perfect platform for her professional values, though, for her they have a much deeper personal residence when she was just eight years old, her father, a diplomat who had just been appointed the bridge ambassador to ireland was assassinated by the ira, determined to create a positive legacy. Her mother became a problem. Campaigner for peace in ireland. Eventually, earning a place in the house of lords Kate says too. Many on the outside the story of my family was perhaps one of how hope and purpose can transcend tragedy and
in so many ways, but I feel strongly that it is really important to recognise the impact. This kind of loss and trauma reeks on so many across the world who have suffered and ethnic conflicts kate, you, it begs, welcome to desert island discs. Thank you. So much for having me is incredibly exciting to be here, Kate, let's start with the day job, then I think one of the objectives of the british council is to promote british culture, art and education across the What does british mean to you? I suppose the arts and culture, education and the english language version the things that the budget council promotes, are still the things that the world ready once from the uk, so the so much british in all of that in the way that we communicate in brilliant arts and culture. We have such incredible history in order that, but also any kind of modern and up to date of the me brutishness, is that perfect combination of our common history and tradition, but you
we're always evolving where it was thinking about the new thing and we're always trying to keep relevant young people. This huge shift to soft power is one of the big stories of the century. Isn't it I mean apps, as the world's gets more more complicated is, and we see increasing numbers of terrible conflict around the world we see a number of countries actually gonna closing their borders to other countries. I think the work we do in time. giving opportunity to millions of young people around the world to connect to understand each other better, to have the opportunity to improve their skills. We work in over a hundred trees doing exactly that and then the idea, if you've, had an engagement where the british institution There are three language learning whether its remaining smart is from that country are much more likely to want to then trade with that country. Come and visit all live here, or have just a positive relationship, essentially too complicated business.
The one that you're and tat the organization did come in for some criticism. Last december, along with the government, a hundred people working in afghanistan who helped to deliver some of the teaching programmes haven't been allocated to safety here in the uk have an update first, you know where we had a large number of both staff directly contractor staff on people who had worked with us on a contract, so they taught in english class or they been part of one of our programmes working with young people, so we called them kind contractors they weren't direct starve. All of them were eligible, well for the resettlement scheme, so they've been coming out and cianci is offensively. Our staff came out straight away. The second tranche of contract is about one hundred and fifty, them and all of their families have been able to get I don't know, there's a remaining about two hundred who are parts of the new government scheme, so they will be prioritize within that it'll take a bit of time and it has taken time, but we have not flinch from all responsibilities to
and have cut directly in touch with them and have been really really concerned about their welfare, because you know they have been at direct risk of intimidation and violence from the taliban will kill you so here to share your music choices with us. So let's make start with your first. What are we going to hear? This is a bit of a cheesy choice, both its I could have dance all night from the musical, my fair lady, and the reason I've chosen, this isn't my daughter who's. Now. Seventeen was absolutely crazy about musicals from the age of about eighteen months. She wouldn't watch cartoons. Ever she just watched endless endless musicals, and this was one of her very favorite. She said call it my fair haired, lady and she loved this song and we danced to it from a very young age and as a working mother, I ina at times struggled to give her enough attention. When I get home from work, there's a busy phone. As you know, your attention is always on other things, all through her life. I have put down my
and when I got home and we have dance together in the kitchen, so this was our first dance together I could have done the I could have done still night soon by Monty dixon. From the my fair lady, film soundtrack, so Kate, you at big's, you were the youngest of three children born to christopher and jane your It was a diplomats and your early years were spent in brussels and then in paris, where at the time he was second in command. What you have about your childhood there
I remember as an incredibly happy time foot of kind of life and people and we were by- and went french schools, do you remember even at a very young age thinking. This is pretty good. Is that normal? I don't know, but I remember thinking was grey. I've seen lost photos of your father and he could such data, the very smart seeds- and this really memorable, smoked glass. Monica lots of father was he. I can I would tell whether what I remember about him is what I really remember whether it was stories about him. You know, I think he was a very, very clever intellectual man very funny, but I remember mostly with me that he was a system of gentle figure he design an injury at the battle of EL alamein. Did he tell you what happened here? He did so he was of total pacifists. He didn't want to go and fight. He was also,
really really an athletic and uncoordinated. So he went off to santa what she absolutely hated and ended up in this battle main and after about half an hour, He got a bit of shrapnel in his eye, so was wounded eyes. Basing clotel pains he crawled under an army vehicle, this line that outfit petrified aged eighteen new responsible for these men, but miss ways what was happening to them and then he could feel is it a body beside him and then this little voice going not me yeah. He then realized that he was lying next to an italian. You know his enemy and they just apparently lay that together until the battle had finished and from friends by the end of it. And after that, thankfully, for him he went into desk jobs as a result of his injury, and I think it made his with. ass if his views even stronger and he wanted to join a career where he can make a difference in the world. I think in a different way in a diplomatic way was issued a perfect korea for him ready will he had to extraordinary power.
Some. I want to ask all about your mother, but we ve got to make time for this next disk. First, what's gonna vacates! This is a french sample, show that some unease is seeking, existed PA and it's all about. You know Would you do if the person that you'd out doesn't exist in the world- and this is one of my mother's favorite songs and she used to play- is all the time when we were driving and she had a really cool triumph stag and we quite often used to do long journeys through france, where we live she would always be playing this, and it makes me think of her. But also as a bit of an hour in it, and that she would have been playing this song before she knew tat. She was going to lose the person that she didn't think she could live without. What book, asia the best man,
The thanks. Dawson, the sun and a sea tune existed path. So kate, you pigs the summer of nineteen. Seventy six, your father start a new appointment. He became Britain's ambassador to ireland. Now, two weeks later, he and colleagues were killed. And I are a bomb you would just eight years old at the time what your memories have got day. I don't remember much afterwards, but I remember the day ready, while so my mother had gone the night before to london to buy some things for the house. We'd only be nigh two weeks and I'm in making outline thinking. You know who's around sorts of things like padded into his room unspent the morning with him choose is tat. I humming breakfast within a member,
going downstairs with him and who do not wanting him to go. I went outside supply with the son of the driver who was drive. and then we were playing outside, and we heard this big bang and we just kind of looked each other. Gonna be carried on playing and then, after that, it just got very old sooner people in the house, my brother and sister were behaving really weirdly. Nobody tell you what is going on. I knew there was something off and I thought my The died because she was away. He knows that was the sooner natural things I was she must have died. I took myself outside in writing round the kind of front driveway? Oh, my bike and this whole cavalcade of black cause came up the drive and my mother goes out of the first one. She looked pretty desperate and she pitch me open we went inside and all the people who work in the house all the kind of their and everybody was crying, kind of new and that momently he die. Nobody really had to tell me just a catastrophic thing to happen
the family and your poor mom, but also hugely incredibly sense, if political moment and she had to choose in the middle of all of that kind of personal grief and shock, how to react to it and what she did next was general extraordinary, so your mother, Jane, she chose to speak and she did this tv broadcasts from your living room just days after his death and Instead of talking about her loss and anger, she spoke by peace. She talked about, Reconciliation is such a powerful piece of television all these years later, as an I don't know how do you reflect on her choices and and what she had to say in that interview and just her ability to do it in circumstances like that three little children completely devastated. She just didn't want that to be this terrible waste of Man had sought strong values and ideals, and he had gone swollen to try and make things better to try
build a better relationship between britain nod and to try and bring. You can make a contribution to peace and reconciliation. She often told about that? That was the only way there wasn't another way and and that's kind of what I grew up with it never occurred to me to blame anybody. Wasn't it happened and it was a big deal, but actually because it was a big deal. My mother had a platform to try and do something positive out of it, and she was given that platform, so it was pretty grim if I'm on this and we have gained a new schools having not ready prepared for that, and it was hot. It was. In quite grey. I remember it just suddenly going from a very colorful life to a pretty grey life, Kate we're going to take a minute for the music disc number three. What are we going to hear said? his bob dylan MR tambourine man on our chosen this because I have to have a bob Dylan saw.
Well because I have grown up with him. My mother loved him and played his songs all the time in the car, and then my brother, who is just such a lovely lovely man, was also huge bob dylan in I remember him. He had this room at the back of the house and always be music coming out of. Is it sort of paul my soul. I suppose I love his lugubrious voice and also the lyrics every time he listened. you learn something new, so it's, MR tambourine man, I the song for me, I'm not leaving Nobody is going to do I miss that marine song for me in the am on an in I dylan
and mister savareen man. So Kate, you a pig's, tell me more about your mom jane. She do. Support, your father and his diplomatic career and she actually wrote a book about it and pay pack and follow. Can you explain that title to be a little bit payback and follows what diplomatic wives used to do? Usually the man in those days will get posted to a new place and the wife was left to pay all the bills. Pat, and follow that with the job, effective task, yeah and then host all of the the parties I can imagine taking place in in the residence once you arrived, but she could not. She was born to be at that promotes wife, particularly in paris. She was very glamorous and very beautiful and just love, talking people and engaging with people and had already good sense of flowers
everywhere, loved the organizing of it soon as she was brilliant at it, and that contrast must have made it all the more difficult after your father's death so achieves this young widow and three children to look after. How did she support you all she left school at sixteen and she was a secretary basically, so she'd had lots and lots of different jobs. I think she was always really good at them and I think she had worked at the savoy club I am temporarily before she married my father said they gave her a job and she did that sort of interior design forbid, because she was really good at that and then she
and on the kind of lectured tool says she would go to the women's institute groups and talk about being a life of a diplomat, and that would pay a little bit of money and they pay her train ticket and she do a full round the country to these talks and then, alongside that, she did all the peace campaigning. She did end up with a host in the house of lords. She'd also started doing other things, so she was the president, unicef, UK, for example. She started really thinking about women and children rights, so she got appointed to the house of lords as a labour peer life peer and she absolutely loved it and worked her socks off her sadness and trauma.
made her very restless, I suppose I should have darkness- would descend if she was too still almost man. She never really want to be at home. That might she was our lot with people doing stuff, so I think she was driven to be active and to be contributing, and if she wasn't that's, when the darkness would descend a bit, I remember varies very clearly a before life and an off that I and I spent the rest of my life, trying desperately not to have a sense of regret. That was ingrained in me very young and that's not positive things have so young. I think how good are you integrating those two now dig at moments of your life. You know ass it as an adult, your right to life and the choices that you ve made that allow you to to bring those to the.
In the after together eloping yeah, you know, I think I joined an organization like the british council, because it kind of does that, so the work that we do is all about creating connections to make a more peaceful world. So my career path has enabled me to do that. My other answer to it as a young out was to go abroad to not run away but to travel and to see the world and engage in the well meant it often in many places where people's lives, much tougher than mine, and that kind of helps you know, put it in perspective when a trauma like that happens? You and your very young. There is a sense that uses of looking back all the time and you ve got to force yourself to look forwards and create opportunities for yourself. People around you, and I think my mother did- that really effectively. Actually the always something new coming, but it wasn't easy and I really wasn't easy- it's tough small music. What's next came wine, so am I That's one is the boom town rats. I don't know
one days, and I may I say this because I have an enormous crush on Bob geldof. When I was growing up and I used to pay the song in my room all the time and my kind of early teens. You know, particularly among days when I was really ready, grumpy about going to school, and he lived. Quite near us, where I grew up. Did you ever see him in real life ass? I did. I wouldn't I stopped him, but I have limited. We have this little white dog and I always thought that if I befriended the dog somehow, He would talk to me, but I m already words by still play this. on Monday mornings because I really struggle with sunday evenings in Monday's
the day down so the boon town rats. I would like one days so kate. You would begs you weren't keen on school, especially monday morning, spot you carried on to higher education at studying at where university and you are reading social anthropology and also broadening your horizons, because, as part of that degree, you got to spend a year in Brazil, you were teaching English to kids living on the streets. There tell me a little bit more about that project, yeah many of them and left home because of sexual abuse in the first
as many of them working as prostitutes, and they were living in ready, unimaginable circumstances, but they have is energy. About than streak is often the brave once you ve left home, because it's too bad and they ve gone out and they saw another life for themselves and I and every day all day with these girls, and they would take me everywhere- they went including their they'd, go and visit that boyfriend, some of whom were imprisons. I once when with to them on this prison visit, which was pretty incorrect we got locked into a cell with about six very hardened criminals and the Gaza has left us, and I turned around- and I was quite blonde at the time- may orders light right. We ve been offered up this guy, young twenty year old, blondes girl and spent the next fall How is that I was in there with them basically trying to get to know them, if somebody until I remember somebody had told me that you know if you're, in a difficult situation with a man, you know awesome about their mothers and their sisters and that's what I did. I just sat down
If you're talking say you thought you were going to be assaulted, yeah. Basically, I think I'm going to be gang raped. This is it in the end. They hugged me goodbye and they were calling me that princess and you know, but that was a moment where I thought this is it. I am stupid. I am a stupid english girl, who shouldn't be here, but I absolutely love the experience in it. It led me to want to do that kind of work. So when I left diversity. I got a job in a small ngos working with three children. It ready help. Oil, is put things into perspective and think that actually these has condemned and god icon for my safely world, it's if next escape what are we gonna here and why you taken it with you to the island today. So this is from Brazil times it's cool, I'm lombardo by a group coloma, it was all all the rage. When I was that somebody would grab you and start. Seeing the lombardo with you and it's pretty close up, impersonal and I have no
rhythm in labels what so ever. So I would drag this song, probably one, because somebody would and then the rhythm changes you just getting to grips with it, and then it change is on your light left. It looking can it and we will be laughing at the english guy. He couldn't dance, but I still love this song because it brings back all my memories of the sort of vibrancy and energy in Brazil that I love so much. Sound. Sound bite is that the same applies to style cattle. And land border so Kate, you a big after graduating. You got a job
edition in Jakarta, working for the children's charity. Child hope did you have at that point big plans for what you're going to do with your life. I knew that that's the kind of I want to do I kind of fed into it, rather than having a lifeline to be honest solution figuring. All is the fact just kind of you know a nascent adult, I suppose in early twenties, when very sadly, your mom died of cancer. How did it fact you? It must have been such a shock me. It was awful, I must say, shit, I'd very quickly ass, she was only eighteen months from half ass diagnosis to her dying. So it s just was eyewitness whirlwind, of her being ill, and I suppose I had never read until just before she died really accepted that she was going to die. I just she was such a process. Cousin, she never talks about it. So when he died yeah it was. It was just black again you know- and I I was incredibly-
close to her? We had a really brilliant relationship and we will good friend You know I just was so young. It wasn't happening to anybody I'll see not had no parents and anyone who has grown up single parent, your biggest fear is that your remaining solid pattern is gonna, not be the answer. My biggest fair happened effectively and it just missed her so much I felt ankles really because I still very young trying to work out what to do in my life and I just needed you know, and I missed just ha terribly you and I sir cape town, and I was in another budget for street kids for girls again and on then I met some great friends undead. The travelling am I almost such have had a bit of a rebirth, and I learned how to be a young person again cause that's. The other thing is, I felt so ice laser everybody, thou, seest, lies or moving on, and I fell stock in this terrible grief
and I am sure many people experience. That is that you feel stock thompson music number six today this is reggae artists. Are you guys ready, aussies cooled, Maddox us some a timber and the song is not again may and I chose them, is because I've always loved reggae. In fact, we called might all somali ends. I wanted a ugandan artists because eyes bends full incredibly, p years in uganda, my daughter's half ugandan and I feel so privilege to still have this incredible. Action through her and how amazing Malaysia has a big extended family in uganda, who, I feel very, very, very grateful to be in that eyes, because I just such brilliant people- and you know, is given her this here, wonderful extended massive family that I couldn't offer her my soul will always be in uganda. Definitely- and this always reminds me of those days there,
the the wait what about them. Maddox some timber and now again bay, kate. You big z, spent five years, in uganda eu working as director of the british chancellor money or projects. There was a program called connecting classrooms where people's and children from uganda would have exchange programmes with schools in the uk. What we are is when you have something that is ready
to give young people an opportunity to engage and learn with kids from other countries, so they work on joint curriculum projects, so they will be sharing resources. They will be looking at issues like climate change. From the perspective of the uk uganda and it gives them a chance just sort of learn about a different culture, but through very very personal means. Now they to do men with virtual classrooms. There were some visits as part of it son in uganda. We had exchanges of young people going backwards and forwards, and for teachers as well in terms of a professional development for both sides and how did that go what's been long term nor carnival and that the most importantly, raising kids awareness of the world to uk kids would arrive thinking somehow that they would be so disappear.
In some way that they'd have more to offer because our education systems more develops and had many more resources and what they would find it with. The ugandan kiss was incredible commitments: education, ready, bright, kids, very few resources, but my goodness, a commitment to learning undoing well and then the ugandan kids will go back to the uk and Well, we're gonna find the path it swelled here in education and they would find a school, sometimes a behavior so good and will be rudeness tools, teachers which never happens in uganda, and they would come back I now we can see this good things, but this also he's a good about our system too. So, as part of that is breaking down stereotypes, increasing connections between young people, so that they can in a global world. Let's have some or music K. It's? U, seventh choice. What are we going to here and why this is a song by the abbot? Brothers is called I and love, and you and the other
composition of folk rock group from north carolina, and they were my my niece flynn, one of her favorite ban She was really into lots of folk music. She played the banjo and really sadly, flynn died when she was any sixteen a few years ago and she actually met the abbot brothers online and they can resumed into her sitting room and they played her this song and other songs. And then a group of her friends played this song we call her farewell and this ways always make me think of this incredibly inspirational? Truly talents? Young and that we will miss so much three words that being came to say one day
the things he added brothers I and love and you feel late, niece fling caves. You have suffered a tremendous amount of grief in your life. Your sister died from breast cancer a few years ago to, and I know that she and flynn were in treatment at the same time. What's helped you and your family through those difficult times, Oh, you know, I think, there's an element of just having to get through those times when they were both ill. They were very, very difficult, but flynn politically energy for life for the future. She led us through the whole process herself, and she just wants to do that, that she loved doing and she and spot is all unready ready, lead the way
and my brother and sister, nor have now set up this charge. Equal friends bond she's is amazing place in the late districts on it space, the young people who, in treatments for cancer to come and be in this incredibly beautiful place and do music, and creative things are not to be so isolated, because I think cancer is very isolation. And the people who are going through it, but also for the people who are supporting them and you're in the zone, and there are some people in it with you, and you know We ve been blessed with incredible friends who have been in it with us, but when the listen dies or in an own others than you have to kind of adapt to that. So it is about her people around you. I think who who can get it and who are able to kind of hold your hand through its a bit kate, I'm about to cast you away to a solitary life on it, the island. What kind of violent have you got in your minds? I won't you hoping for well nothing. Do it. She I had terrible.
as a child, and I still unless it she says it's a sand insult side would have it did not matter is fine located. Soulless Gallagher is the is the little by tee things I don't want any of that nice. I love the sun and I was great sunbathing? In fact, my friends call me donna kebab when I was younger, so modest rotates luminary would likely got it. So I would love all of this. Son unsuited beautiful. Trees enough chaise. What about the practical side how we use survival skills not terribly over developed. I have to admit, I think, I do quite well as a sweeping stuff away to the I didn't have an itchy place to lie. I could work out how to make her cabin or little kind of structure around me just the bowels I built A foraging biting could get a bit schedule. The rustling I dont, like rustling, zoo nine times, would be proof that would be a problem with one more time before find out. What's your last track, gonna be done there,
an american pie- and I have chosen this because this I love driving. I just love that sense of going some Where anywhere I mean I will drive anywhere and This is a really good driving some cause. It's really ready long and then lyrics ally in every time you listen to you here is something new and something complicated and it was so one unlicensed his favorite songs, and we used to do these long journeys down so frowns with my daughter and her in the back seat she didn't drives, though I did all the driving and they would sit in the back and singing along to this at the tops of their voice. Just crying with laughter cushy was heightened, was even more tone. Deaf than I am said is always makes me. of journeys and her
my the was with me today. de the day that we don't the clean and american pie. So kate, you at Biggs it's time, I'm going to send you away to the island, I'm giving you the bible, the complete works of shakespeare and you can take one of the book. What would you like, while some people might be surprised by this, if they know me, but I'd like to take the complete works of james certain. Ah, I find jane austen, maybe soothing of all the kind of gentleness of the language that really terrible
things that happen in most jane austen books today, and I think I could re read them all over and over again the complete works. Ok, where will allow. well. What about a luxury item on July many people out. There might think that this isn't a luxury item, but for always those asthmatics out. I think they will understand that. I can't go anywhere with why asthma inhaler- and I know it doesn't sound very luxury but having wheezed my way through quite a bit in my life, not anymore, so large. The idea not having my little crotch with me in my blue inhaler would fill impossible, so this is more or less mattocks out there who are will understand- and I spent my life as well as my friends would also confirm, looking for it always losing it and looking for it Well, I mean I don't. I shouldn't really allow you something, that's a practical necessity, but I think, on the basis that so many people have taken medications of one kind or another to the island in the past. I can't refuse
I don't either. So I'm minded to allow that thank you can have it and finally, which one track of the eight that you've shared with us today. Would you save from the waves? If you are too, I think it's going to happen the b. The both did in mid september in man an all time, favor of mine and bob Dylan, an all time favoured kate. You bakes! Thank you very much for letting us here. Your desert discs. Thank you so much for having me the
I hope the kate is happy on a violent and that its more to achieve, for there are more than two thousand does it on a discs programmes in our archive, which you can listen to if you search through BBC sounds their castaways from the world of politics, the arts and science, and it can also hear kate, Victoria, capsule, Bob geldof he's enacting the studio manager for today's programme with sue male. These sisson producer was Christine Pavlovsk iii and the producer with Sarah Taylor. Next time my guest will be the supermodel, Kate moss, the
the J edgar hoover created a man, the f b, I almost fifty years. Nobody should have very powerful position for the length of time. His job was to enforce the law, but he did not always following color was basically creating a secret police find out what is f b. I looked like this is like stasi. An here first hand from the group had an astonishing plan to expose him. We became convinced that the fbi was illegal from BBC radio, for the people versus edgar hoover with me. Emily makers. Listen first on BBC sounds
Transcript generated on 2022-08-16.