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5 speakers 15 minutes each
Mon 21st Mar 2011
Jacqui Smith became Britain’s first female Home Secretary in 2007 - and the first woman to hold one of the highest offices of state who wasn't called Margaret. Following a successful teaching career, she was elected to Parliament in 1997, became a member of the Treasury Select Committee in 1998 and was appointed a Minister in the Department for Education in 1999. In a ten year Ministerial career, she also served as Minister of State at the Department of Health, as Minister for Industry and the Regions, as Minister for Equality when she was responsible for the Civil Partnerships Act and as Schools Minister (again). Tony Blair appointed her to the Cabinet as Chief Whip in 2006 where she was at the heart of government during the transition from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown. Jacqui left Parliament in 2010 and now works as a consultant and broadcaster.
In the first 90 seconds of the Russian film Mirror (1975), a boy with a speech impediment is cured. He looks up at the matronly therapist and says in fear and wonder: “I can speak.” William Fiennes never forgot those 90 seconds of cinema and he has brought the spirit of that minute and a half to the charity he co-founded with Katie Waldegrave: First Story. The charity runs writing workshops in schools across the country, hoping to encourage that revelatory process of ‘finding one’s own voice.’ Fiennes thinks that we all have our own unique voice, and he quotes Pullman on the importance of discovering it: “Real writing can liberate and strengthen young people’s sense of themselves as almost nothing else can.” William Fiennes is the bestselling author of The Snow Geese and The Music Room.
Patrick French was born in England in 1966 and studied literature at Edinburgh University. He is the author of Younghusband, Liberty or Death and Tibet, Tibet, and is a winner of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the Royal Society of Literature Heinemann Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award. The World Is What It Is, an acclaimed biography of VS Naipaul, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Hawthornden Prize. India: A Portrait, was published in 2011. In it, he gives us an encompassing social, political and economic history of India from partition to the present day. He delves into Indian society and politics and he travels the country’s regions speaking to everyone from the nation’s political leadership to Maoist revolutionaries and mafia dons, from chained quarry workers to self-made billionaire entrepreneurs and technological innovators. It’s an intimate biography of 1.2 billion people.