x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Winning words

Colin Firth's Bafta speech, real women on the catwalks and the latest literary showdown

Colin Firth accepts his Bafta Award for Best Leading Actor in Tom Ford's A Single Man.
Colin Firth accepts his Bafta Award for Best Leading Actor in Tom Ford's A Single Man.

How random one's life can be at times. Take the actor Colin Firth who has just won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Leading actor for his ­portrayal as a grief-stricken ­professor in A Single Man, directed by the acclaimed fashion designer Tom Ford. Firth was writing an e-mail to Ford explaining why he didn't want to take the role when a repair man arrived to mend his fridge. ­Distracted, he forgot about the ­ e-mail. This gave him a chance to reconsider the part, so now he says he owes his award to the ­anonymous repair man. The Baftas are often seen as ­precursors to the Oscars and ­although James Cameron's blockbusting science-fiction extravaganza Avatar is expected to sweep the Hollywood board next month, it didn't seem to impress the ­British judges. Cameron had to make do with two minor awards as his former wife Kathryn Bigelow made off with the Best ­Director and Best Film titles for her low-budget war drama The Hurt Locker. Just goes to show that big isn't always best.

The fashion industry has never been particularly interested in women who look like women. Designers have always preferred the stick-thin kind, on whom their clothes hang perfectly but who bear little resemblance to the average female. Women starve themselves half to death to get down to sample sizes, usually a size 6 to a size 8. Controversy rages every time a size-zero model looks a bit too anorexic, but the shows go on. Every now and then, however, some brave soul rediscovers womanly curves. The designer Mark Fast is a staunch ­defender of normal-sized women and has, opnce again, used curvy models on the catwalk at London Fashion Week. One of them, Hayley Morley, is 5ft 9in tall and a healthy size 14. She says she has received hundreds of letters from young girls saying thank you for being a more real model. The thing is that Morley has absolutely no intention of making modelling her career and is currently studying for her BSc in investment and finance at university. Wise girl. If she changes her mind she'll be skinnier than a rake by this time next year as the novelty wears off. Remember Sophie Dahl who was heralded as the champion of the curvier girl. She's whippet-thin now.

One of the stars of the forthcoming Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature will be Martin Amis, whose latest novel The Pregnant Widow has just been published, accompanied by a round of interviews in which the author has made some outrageous remark or other. His call for "euthanasia booths on street corners where elderly people can end their lives with a martini and a medal" caused a predictable storm among folk who are clearly unfamiliar with his style and didn't get the irony. Now the literary world is abuzz with a very public war of words between Amis and the feisty veteran broadcaster Anna Ford, whose late husband, the cartoonist Mark Boxer was a close friend of the author. In an open letter to The Guardian newspaper Ford describes Amis as "whingeing and narcissistic", ­accuses him of smoking at the ­bedside of her dying husband and "filling in time" visiting him before he caught a plane. She also says he was a poor godfather to their daughter Claire. An astonished Amis refutes the first two claims, flatly denying that he smoked in Boxer's bedroom and asking "what sane ­person fills in time at a deathbed". He does, ­however, admit that he was a useless godparent, much to his regret but he intends to write to Claire, expressing his regret. He describes Ford's attack as "­ungenerous and self-defeating" and says he still mourns Boxer to this day. The unseemly row will certainly spice up the opening sessions of the festival and it will be interesting to see if Amis gets around to talking about his writing, rather than the avalanche of personal ­attacks he has suffered throughout his life. He has seldom ­managed to resist the opportunity to be ­controversial. His wife, Isabel Fonseca, will also be in Dubai to talk about her first novel, Attachment, about the baggage we acquire in middle age. Talking to her on the telephone recently, the topic of her husband's remarks about ­euthanasia came up. She sighed and said: "Don't they understand he's a satirist."

Anyone who has ever been burgled will know the sickening feeling that it leaves. It's happened to me several times, the first being the night before my university finals when I was fast asleep in my student flat and someone broke in and raided the electricity meter. My shock undoubtedly contributed to my poor showing in that day's exam. Years later, I had just popped out to pick up my daughters from school when a burglar used a credit card to prise open the front door of our house, walked straight up to my bedroom, leaving muddy footprints on the stairs and stole my jewellery box conveniently kept on the bedside table. In it were a signet ring that belonged to my grandfather, a pair of earrings given to me by my husband on the birth of our younger daughter and a Victorian brooch that belonged to a dear friend who had died. It didn't amount to a fortune but they were irreplaceable. Burglaries today are often much more violent than anything I experienced, which is why it is with great relief that I count myself among the 97 per cent of people living in the UAE who feel safe, as revealed in a YouGov survey commissioned by The National. It's a major factor that influences the decision of many people to live here. As one person suggested, people who come here from other countries to work are afraid that if they get into trouble they will be deported. The use of closed-circuit television cameras in the UAE is partly responsible for a feeling of safety, whereas in countries where campaigners make such a big issue of how they impinge upon our human rights, they often deliberately ignore their importance in fighting crime. It's a different story on the roads however. More than three-quarters of people who took part in the survey said they felt unsafe travelling alone in taxis. And the culture of aggressive driving is something that clearly needs to be addressed as a priority.

Shekhar Kapur is so chic. In his dark suit that screamed "stylish label" and those lumpy trainers that are supposed to exercise your calf muscles he ambled into the foyer at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) unannounced and clearly impressed by the buzz of activity. Mothers collecting their offspring from dance classes and workshops at the centre were picking their way around workmen frantically securing the red carpet for a VIP event before the first night of Mahim Junction, the burlesque-style satire directed by Kapur's younger sister Sohaila. In a conspicuous act of brotherly affection, the charismatic director of Academy Award-winning movies such as Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age flew in from Mumbai that morning to support ­Sohaila and to help drum up interest for potential sponsors of Ductac. "As far as she's concerned I'm just a marketing tool," he laughed in his laid-back and self-effacing way. And market he did, skilfully working a room full of sponsors and potential sponsors, shaking hands, having his picture taken and stressing to everyone how important it is for the local community and business people to put their hands in their pockets and fund offbeat and unusual productions that you wouldn't see in mainstream theatres. "It's difficult to equate finance with theatre but you have to. You need financial support if you have ­ambitions for this sort of centre," he said. Mahim Junction, written and produced by Sohaila Kapur, is a satirical look at life through the prism of the 1970s Bollywood movies that the brother and sister adored as youngsters. The director, who started his working life as an accountant because his parents wanted him to have a "proper job", was happy to talk up his little sister at his own expense and told an anecdote about how she took her show to the Edinburgh Fringe around the same time as he was co-producing the musical Bombay Dreams with Andrew Lloyd Webber in London's West End. "She sent me a review from The Scotsman, a highly respected newspaper, that said, 'Never mind that awful thing produced by Lloyd Webber, this is the one you should go and see'. When I saw Andrew at breakfast later that morning the newspaper was on his table and he had noticed the name Kapur and asked me if we were related. Of course I said 'absolutely not'," he said to gales of laughter in the packed Centrepoint Theatre. Kapur, who is eight years older than Sohaila, said their relationship when they were growing up was typical older brother and younger sister. "Older brothers tend to be protective of their sisters and think they know what's best for them but very quickly she got the measure of me and used to blackmail me, threatening to tell our parents if I was seeing a girl, if I didn't do what she wanted," ­Kapur explained. "She did show me the script of Mahim Junction but I soon realised that a theatrical experience was completely different from a cinema experience and she knows how to do that much better than I do. But I think it was important to her that I saw it. The format is not a bit like the original village folk theatre, called nautanki, with its singers and storytellers. Hindi cinema was based on that and it's the only form of cinema that fought off Hollywood." Sohaila herself just smiled when told of her brother's recollections of her childhood blackmailing techniques. "It was just the opposite. He used to try to make me give him my pocket money so he could spend it on girlfriends and he would put dolls and my toys on the overhead fan and threaten to scatter them all over the place and break them so I would get into trouble." Nevertheless she clearly adores her big brother, of whom she is extremely proud. "I think he has attained what very few people in the world could. His imagination is amazingly fertile. He comes up with the darndest of ideas and he makes them work. He has the courage of his convictions and he has proved himself right. "I think it's very sweet of him to come here tonight and I'm truly touched."