Back in the happy days when I was an investment banker with little time for myself and literally no time for my friends (a boyfriend is out of the question by presumption) one of the peaks of my days was reading The Financial Times in the morning over a cup of coffee and a sandwich (the other peaks being lunch and dinner; I was indeed living the life). I was expected to read it or at least the headlines for work but I did find it interesting and engaging. However, up until two months ago, I never even heard of Lunch with the FT. Understandably as it was a feature of the Weekend FT and weekends were saved for sleeping, drinking and basically imitating some sort of social life.
Lunch with the FT is a permanent fixture of the newspaper since 1994 and since then there have been more than 800 interviews with prominent politicians, scientists, artists, writers, athletes, etc. For the FT’s 125 anniversary the newspaper released Lunch with the FT: 52 Classic Interviews, compiling the best of the best, one interview for each day of the year. The formula is simple: the FT journalist takes the celebrity out to lunch (breakfast or dinner) and pays for it, while conducting a sort of informal interview/conversation. Every interview includes a caricature of the celebrity plus a detailed list of what they actually ate and how much it cost. Lunch with the FT is a delightful insight into Who’s Who in the World, not limiting the interview to the person’s current occupation, but discussing broad subjects – from nuclear war and politics to poetry, literature and personal relationships. Structured as an informal narrative, each interview can be read as a separate short story while waiting in line, travelling in the bus, or simply for enjoyment.
Similarly to the FT, I also had a formula of reading the interviews – before each one I made sure I read a simple biography of the person (Wikipedia thank you very much) as many of the interviewees were pretty alien to me. I can’t possibly go into detail about each and every one of the interviews that impressed me in some way, so I decided to pick a few to illustrate the diversity of people and opinions that the FT has compiled.
Arts: Gavin Ewart
To be honest, before reading the interview with Gavin Ewart, I hadn’t even heard of the 79-year old British poet. While the interview was indeed entertaining and educational, what impressed me the most was the aftermath. The day after the interview, during which Gavin Ewart drank and ate a lot of things his doctors usually forbid, the FT received a call from his wife. She wanted to thank them for the meeting, claiming she hadn’t seen her husband happier in a long time. The next thing she said was the FT wasn’t to feel bad, but her husband died this morning. One of the most memorable encounters of the FT!
Business: Michael O’Leary
The controversial CEO of Ryanair is hated by the entire industry and yet no one can dispute his success. In 2009 Ryanair was the highest valued airline company in the world (after Singapore Airlines) and despite the scandals O’Leary manages to get himself into with competitors and authorities, the success of Ryanair continues. I must admit I am fascinated with the guy. It takes big balls to stand up to the big players in the airline industry and to question the habits of the high-fed travellers. And yet O’Leary does it without even thinking twice. His suggestions range from forbidding big luggage on the airline, to introducing an airplane for standing passengers to charging for the bathroom. Understandably, the Lunch with the FT was a bagel and a coffee from the coffee machine in the Dublin headquarters of the company. O’Leary doesn’t conform to accepted standards, claiming MBA is just a waste of money and employees are not your biggest asset but your biggest cost (they are indeed). There is a rumour that employees are forbidden to charge their phones at work to save on electricity bills. And they are allowed to use the internet for 10 minutes a day, so most tend to choose to spend their lunch break on their desk. Well, you don’t create the most budget airline in the world by carelessly spending money, do you?
Fashion and Lifestyle: Tamara Mellon
The founder and present Chief Creative Officer of Jimmy Choo looks like a trophy wife with her leopard-print silk dress and under the arm of financier Nat Rothschild. And yet looks often lie and in Tamara Mellon’s case they most certainly do. In 2010 she received her OBE from the Queen of England for services to British Fashion and she was named as one of David Cameron’s new global trade envoys. More over, the private equity owned Jimmy Choo has more than 115 stores and is valued close to £500m. Quite a success for a woman who appeared naked on the cover of Interview magazine. Tamara Mellon comes to show that a woman can have it both – looking exceptionally well and yet understanding business and success.
Politics: Angela Merkel
The interview with Angela Merkel was taken back in 2003 when she was merely the chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union and not the most powerful political figure in Germany, and most probably in Europe. Merkel’s solid political stand, her fearlessness in opposing established European power and her stiff hand with which she manages the crisis in Europe, going for more than 5 years now, make her one of the greatest politicians of our time, and maybe ever. The interview in 2003 just marks the strength and qualities of the woman who is set to become one of the main reformers of the EU and the new Europe.
Lunch with the FT is a delightful read, taking a different stance to interviewing celebrities…and aiming to show the qualities that make them human, the controversies that shaped their lives, the fears, the successes and all that comes along with it.