Positive role models… Or how a politician learned from his inspirational parents

Some stories have so much humanity and bravery it seems like they must be a fiction.

I felt that way when I spoke to Peter Hain and his mother.

The Labour minister was well known for his activism in his youth, campaigning against apartheid in his birth country of South Africa, but his awareness and bravery is traceable back to the actions of his parents Ad and Wal Hain.

Ad and Wal by Peter Hain, Biteback Publishing
Ad and Wal by Peter Hain, Biteback Publishing

In his book, Peter details the fight they had with the powers that be in a country where people were judged to be lesser because of the colour of their skin.

To us, it defies logic that the couple were banned from speaking to groups of people, a practice which saw Ad miss a daughter’s birthday party.

We cannot imagine a world where Ad resolved to be in attendance in court to help young black men gain justice after being picked up without their family’s knowledge.

But we are all too aware of the demonisation of people who are different to ourselves, and the book struck me as a real warning of that sort of thinking.

The book is subtitled ‘Values, duty, sacrifice in apartheid South Africa’, but when I spoke to Ad about her experiences, it struck me that there was little in the struggle that Ad and Wal spearheaded that should be seen as ‘duty’, simply because there were many South Africans at the time who didn’t do their ‘duty’ to fight for freedom, merely toeing the party line.

Ad also went to the Nelson Mandela trial which saw him sent to Robben Island, and was proud to mention the affection that the former South African president had expressed for Ad and Wal and their family.

One more piece of the story that’s almost impossible for us to imagine, but to Ad and Wal, it was just part of real life.

Read the piece here

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No more bridezilla… Or why a high-profile bride surprised me

I’ve never dreamed of getting married – it’s just not for me.

But I have often interviewed brides for publications, and let me tell you, they are intense.

Even after the wedding has taken place, they’re keen on evaluating and measuring the success of everything they’ve done – from the table favours to the first dance, the vows to the last.

ringIt’s always been a bit of a crazy world to me, someone who would be much happier spending all that hard-earned cash on a holiday somewhere incredible – finally seeing Petra, or visiting Red Square to see the bright colours of Saint Basil’s in person.

But when I spoke to Karen Paullada from Stella, the bride thing started to make sense.

As an actress in one of the UK’s most loved sitcoms, I expected her to be starry or perhaps have an attitude.

That was wrong for a start – she was funny, kind and very charming.

But also, she was so laid back about her wedding that she made me see it in a whole different light.

“I didn’t understand why everyone was getting so stressed over it all, I thought it was really easy,” she told me.

With the pictures showing that the final event was stylish, modern, and packed with friends and family including Stella writer and comedy queen Ruth Jones, it seems like maybe the low stress approach is the way to go.

In fact, if it’s that much of a breeze, perhaps it’ll catch on.

Read the piece here

An actor’s life… Or how you can get what you want if you try

The world of the actor is a strange one.

Basically existing on a freelance basis, they have an agent casting around for jobs and, if they;re lucky, taking 12% for the privilege, but all too often there will be stretches without work to content with.

Credit: John Rogers/ITV
Credit: John Rogers/ITV

Amy Beth Hayes may have started out in a small Welsh market town, but the Abergavenny girl has wowed TV audiences in everything from Mr Selfridge to Lilyhammer.

Speaking to her about her day job, it was really clear that she enjoyed the work, and it’s obviously something that she’s skilled at.

She decided to appear as Kitty in the ITV drama when she heard that Cardiff-born writer Andrew Davies was penning the series and she says the story lines and characters didn’t disappoint.

What’s interesting about Amy Beth’s background is that, although acting was her dream, she went to Oxford at 18, throwing over an offer of a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

She said that once she was told that Oxford wouldn’t suit her, she was determined to make it work, and so it has.

What a terrific role model she is for young people who want to achieve their dreams – she’s shown that there’s nothing detrimental about taking the road less travelled and yet still ending up on centre stage.

Read the piece here

Family ties… Or the perils of covering emotional stories

I’m not interested in being a parent. Full disclosure. I’ve just… never felt the urge.

But speaking to Welsh filmmaker Amanda Rees, I could imagine adopting any number of kids who needed a home.

For the documentary Finding Mum and Dad which aired on Channel Four this week, Amanda spent time with Connor and Daniel, brothers who had been removed from their parents but were unable to find a permanent home.

She also dealt with seven-year-old Scott in her investigation into ‘adoption parties’, a method being employed to try to place children with a mum and dad of their own.

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As heartbreaking as it must be to want children and not be able to have them, one look at these kids made me feel like there was an answer for everyone – a complete family just waited to be rounded off.

Amanda says that it was difficult because she felt involved in the lives of these little people.

“It was emotionally a real roller coaster. Lots of nights spent thinking about the big picture and considering very deeply what the children’s future would be, and what we could do in any way that could help.”

But when all is said and done, isn’t the journalist’s position just to report and watch?

It calls to mind the nature documentaries where we watch the lion rip apart the blameless gazelle and momentarily gulp back a cry at the inactivity of a sentient being in the face of a trauma so great and bloody that few could stand it.

In this case, I understood completely what Amanda meant. Even as a non-breeder, I’d be hard pushed to view this as purely a job without developing some attachment.

Read the piece here

Timing is everything… Or why Doctor Who press day lacked something unique

Western Mail Week End magazine, November 16 2013
Western Mail Week End magazine, November 16 2013

This weekend sees the unleashing of a piece that’s been while in the making.

The Western Mail Week End magazine is carrying my piece on the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor.

Amongst Whovians, the event has been one of note for many months, and it was pretty high on my calendar as well, as in April I got to go on a press call to the Roath Lock studios on Cardiff.

Although not a Who fan, I appreciated the chance to speak to some of the team behind one of BBC Wales’ biggest successes to date, and it was definitely educational.

Numerous teams of eager journalists – around eight to 12 in each group – were taken round some parts  of the set and then into interview rooms by patient press officers.

We met with Steven Moffat – the series writer and executive producer – as well as current Doctor Matt Smith, his predecessor David Tennant, Jenna-Louise Coleman, who plays Smith’s companion Clara, and Joanna Page, the Mumbles actress famous for Gavin and Stacey, who pops up here as Elizabeth I.

Anyway, more of all that in the feature, which is here. But you understand from the preamble that the whole thing is therefore of some vintage.

The issue for a journalist is that the material is embargoed. Not unusual in and of itself, but the ban on broadcast lapsed on November 12, and, thanks to the publication dates of the magazine, we have sat on the material for four extra days, for our print and online versions to run it concurrently on November 16.

Couple with that the fact that some of the other publications and sites which were party to the set visit appear to have jumped the gun slightly in terms of their release dates and you have a piece by me which is slightly less than exclusive.

Is there any way to get added value out of press days? It always strikes me as strange – we file into the same room and record the same interviews from the same people, so there is bound to be crossover.

Where I have pulled together interviews with those mentioned above into a 3,000 word piece about the phenomenon of Doctor Who after 50 years, some other sites have put up straightforward transcripts of the interviews in questions.

OK, so they’re not adding editorial value, but is that what fans want would rather have, just the words of their heroes?

I have just had a concern that the format isn’t offering the best in terms of content.

For the production company or channel, of course they’re a big bonus – screeds of material appearing across different platforms which is almost pre-vetted en masse as press folk have been in on the chats. But I’m not convinced that best serves the readers.

Any thoughts?