JONATHAN AITKEN ON THATCHER

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival at Queens Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival at Queens Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken spent over an hour regaling the large audience in the Great Hall at Queen’s with his insights into the political career of the late Margaret Thatcher. But perhaps more interesting were his anecdotes about the family life of the Thatchers, based mainly upon his three year relationship with Carol Thatcher in the 1970s.

Stephen Walker interviewed Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher

Stephen Walker interviewed Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher

BBC reporter Stephen Walker guided him expertly through his 700-page book,  Margaret Thatcher: Power And Personality, published by  Bloomsbury Continuum. This is one of the shorter works on the former Prime Minister and is some 200 pages less than Volume One of Charles Moore’s authorised biography ‘Not for Turning’, published after her death in April.

Margaret Thatcher by Jonathan Aitken Photo: © Michael Fisher

Margaret Thatcher by Jonathan Aitken Photo: © Michael Fisher

Extracts from Aitken’s work have already been serialised in the Daily Mail and if you want some idea of the stories the former Conservative MP told in Belfast on Sunday, fresh from appearances in Ilkley and Guildford, then you can read them here and here.

Audience at the Great Hall in Queen's University Photo: © Michael Fisher

Audience at the Great Hall in Queen’s University Photo: © Michael Fisher

From his first meeting with Margaret Thatcher when she was a junior shadow minister in the mid 1960s, during her time as leader of the Opposition when he was a close family friend, and as a Member of Parliament throughout her years in power, Aitken had a special insight into many of the public and private happenings in the life of the woman dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’.

Jonathan Aitken with his books Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken with his books Photo: © Michael Fisher

Aitken told the festival audience that in her heart Mrs T was a unionist but her head told her that a political arrangement over Ireland was worth pursuing and this led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement in November 1985. Just a few months after surviving the IRA Brighton bomb during the Conservative party conference in October 1984, she set up a back channel for contacts with the Sinn Féin leadership. Central to reaching the Agreement was the relationship between Robert Armstrong, her Cabinet Secretary and his Irish counterpart Dermot Nally.

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival at Queen's  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival at Queen’s Photo: © Michael Fisher

From his unique vantage point, Aitken shed new light on many crucial episodes of Thatcherism, including her ousting of Ted Heath, her battles with her Cabinet, the Falklands War, the Miners’ Strike, and the build up to the plotting within the Conservative Party that brought about her downfall. In this biography, Aitken has used material from his own diaries and a wealth of extensive research including ninety interviews with statesmen like Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger and Lord Carrington to many of her No.10 private secretaries and personal friends. His book conveys a fascinating portrait of the most influential political leader of post-war Britain, who was liked by many but also loathed especially by republicans in Northern Ireland because of her stance over the hunger strikers.

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jonathan Aitken at the Belfast Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher

Aitken has written a dozen books. In 1997 he lost his Parliamentary seat. Then he faced a charge of perjury and perverting the course of justice, and in 1999 was jailed for 18 months. He tells an interesting story about the time he left prison and soon afterwards received a welcome invitation to join Denis Thatcher for lunch at his London club.

Looking at Aitken’s own life story is also interesting. He was born in Dublin and Taoiseach Éamonn de Valera attended his christening in 1942. Aged four, he was admitted to Cappagh hospital for treatment for tuberculosis and spent a few years there in the care of the nuns as an in-patient until the age of seven when he was able to rejoin his parents in England (Wikipedia).

One of Jonathan’s twin daughters, Victoria, flew over from London to hear his talk and this was her first visit to Belfast. I hope she got to see Wish, the new face of the city, created specially for the festival, as she departed from the City airport.

BELFAST FESTIVAL: CRIMEA SQUARE

Crimea Square Photo: Belfast Festival

Crimea Square Photo: Belfast Festival

It’s festival time again in Belfast as the long-established Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s gets underway. The large public art project WISH has been officially unveiled by the artist Jorge Rodríguez–Gerada at the 11 acre site beside the Titanic Centre. The new face for Belfast on the old face of the city can be viewed from the centre (viewing opportunities now closed) or from W5 at specific times during the festival and to book a free ticket, register here (W5).

Wish by Jorge Rodríguez–Gerada Photo: Belfast Festival

Wish by Jorge Rodríguez–Gerada Photo: Belfast Festival

This evening, the opening concert takes place at the Waterfront Hall with the internationally acclaimed tenor José Carreras and Irish soprano Celine Byrne from County Kildare. As a volunteer with the festival, I will be attending the preview night of Crimea Square, which presents the story of the Shankill Road from 1912 until the present day, using film, performance and sound.

Populated by some of the Shankill’s greatest characters, this production covers major events from the signing of the Ulster Covenant up to and beyond the Shankill Road bombing in October 1993.

Using a unique combination of especially commissioned sound scape and film, the era of the cinema will be brought back to the Spectrum Centre (old Stadium Cinema) through the use of large screens recalling the Shankill of old, using a mix of professional and community actors.

Previews on Thurs 17 and Fri 18 October. Shows: 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27 October. There will be a talk after the show on Thursday 24 October. Tickets are £10 (concession £8) and can be booked hereBelfastFestival_2012Logo-thumb-540x560-98241

This event continues after the Festival on the following dates: 31st October, 1st November and 2nd November.  There will be a post show talk on 31st October. If you would like to book tickets for one of these performances after the Festival, please contact the Spectrum Centre on 028 9050 4555.

A WISH FOR BELFAST

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada working on the land-art project at Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

Artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada working on the right eye of the project at Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

There has been a lot of talk recently about certain politicians in Northern Ireland drawing lines in the sand over the controversial Maze peace centre project. So it’s great to find an artist at work drawing lines in the sand quite literally as part of a “Wish” for Belfast which will be a major attraction for visitors to the Titanic Quarter next month.

A design for 'Wish' by Jorge-Rodriguez-Gerada Photo: Belfast Festival

A design for ‘Wish’ by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada     Photo: Belfast Festival

Internationally acclaimed Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada is working alongside volunteers and communities from all over the city to create a giant land-art portrait that will transform five acres of land in the Titanic Quarter. The unveiling of this work of art will open the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s on Thursday 17th October.

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada at his land-art project at Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada at his land-art project at Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

During a visit to the Titanic Centre at lunchtime, which I am glad to say was very busy with visitors, I happened to meet Jorge. He was taking a short break from the project to grab a sandwich. I was taking some photographs of the project for this blog. I had been watching him in action earlier from my vantage point in the upper floors of the Titanic building. The first picture shows him (on the right of the group of three)  working on what will be the right eye of the face (left in the second picture). The area of the eye can also be seen in the above picture.

Expectation by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada

Expectation by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada 2009

Rodriguez-Gerada has created poignant land-art portraits all over the world such as this sand painting of President Barack Obama he created in Barcelona in 2009 entitled Expectation. It embodied the immense sense of hope felt by Barack Obama’s supporters following his inauguration and raised a mirror to reflect the source of that hope.

Jorge told me his grandparents were Cuban and he lived there for a time. The biography on his website describes him as a founder of the New York Culture Jamming movement and an innovator in the international urban art scene. Since the late 90´s he has been replacing the faces of cultural icons chosen by advertisers with the faces of anonymous people to question the controls imposed on public space, the role models designated and the type of events that are guarded by the collective memory.

Rodríguez-Gerada´s unique direction was mentioned in Naomi Klein’s book No Logo and was a precursor of the use of anonymous portraits now common in street art. His spectacular interventions are created for the sake of bringing awareness to relevant social issues. His large scale time base works avoid negative impact on the environment, challenge the conformity in contemporary art and allow for a reflection that goes beyond the completion of the piece to focus in its concept, process, and the metaphor that comes forth because of the material chosen.

Bobcats at work spreading the topsoil Photo: © Michael Fisher

Bobcats at work spreading the topsoil Photo: © Michael Fisher

His latest piece represents his first land-art work in the UK or Ireland. The final piece will be created using sand, topsoil and other materials sourced solely from the land. Entitled ‘Wish’, the portrait of an anonymous local child gazing towards the future will represent a new face for Belfast on the old face of the city.

Wish is situated on 11 acres of land (about six times the size of the nearby Odyssey complex) and can be viewed by the public once the festival opens from high up in one of the adjacent buildings on specially escorted tours, as well by walking through the art itself. Visitors flying in and out of George Best Belfast City Airport will also get a bird’s eye view of this transformative contemporary art installation. Jorge tells me that for those taking off (usually heading away from Belfast Lough and towards the city centre), the seats on the right hand side of the plane will offer passengers the best views. I can’t say for sure how it will work out for those landing!

Lunch Break at the site Photo: © Michael Fisher

Lunch Break at the site Photo: © Michael Fisher

Public viewing from W5

At 30 minute intervals between the following times: Thurs 17th 12pm – 3pm Fri 18th 12pm – 3pm Sat 19th 11am – 4pm Sun 20th 1pm – 4pm Mon 21st – Fri 25th 12pm – 3pm Sat 26th 11am – 4pm Sun 27th 1pm – 4pm

If you would like to book a time to view Wish from W5, please click here.

Public viewing from Belfast Met

At 30 minute intervals between the following times: Thurs 17th 12pm – 4pm Fri 18th 12pm – 4pm Sat 19th 10am – 12pm Sun 20th 1pm – closed Mon 21st – Fri 25th 12pm – 4pm Sat 26th 10am – 12pm

If you would like to book a time to view Wish from Belfast Met, please click here.

Public viewing from Titanic Belfast (LIMITED AVAILABILITY) Sat 19 Oct: 11am / 12noon / 1pm / 2pm / 3pm Sun 20 Oct: 11am and 12noon Sat 26 Oct: 11am and 12noon Sun 27 Oct: 11am and 12noon

If you would like to book a time to view Wish from Titanic Belfast, please click here.

Looking towards Belfast Met and SS Nomadic Photo: © Michael Fisher

Looking towards Belfast Met and SS Nomadic Photo: © Michael Fisher