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Diary

The new year is little more than a week old and I’ve already broken Personal Resolution Number One

10 January 2007

4:51 PM

10 January 2007

4:51 PM

The new year is little more than a week old and while everybody else is no doubt still righteously munching lettuce leaves, joining gyms and going teetotal, I’ve already broken Personal Resolution Number One: to reduce my carbon footprint. Barely off a Ryanair flight from Provence (where we’d spent New Year in freakishly hot sunshine, proof if ever it were needed of climate change), my boyfriend and I promptly boarded an easyJet plane to Morocco. OK, so I know the likes of Al Gore would have my guts for garters, but it’s a while since I’ve had a holiday and, given that it’s considerably cheaper to fly to Marrakech than get a train to Manchester, I’m afraid I succumbed. The sooner aviation is part of the EU emissions trading scheme the better, because as long as budget airlines operate thus, it’ll remain even easier to break this resolution than it is the gym-going one. A feat indeed.

***

So here I am in chaotic, enchanting Marrakech, an African Muslim city that appears to bear little resemblance to any of either the African or Muslim countries I’ve spent time in. For a place that has apparently produced some of the most vicious anti-Western terrorists of recent years, it feels refreshingly tolerant. In the bustling medina, over the pleasant din of donkeys clopping and cars honking and traders coaxing and tourists cooing, I can hear gnawa musicians, secular Arabic pop songs and djembe drummers all battling it out with the local muezzin. I’ve hardly seen a woman in a veil and yesterday, as I riffled through an Islamic antique shop in the souk, I came across a Torah scroll, beautifully preserved and in ancient Hebrew, jostling among the antique Korans. Strolling round the spiritually tranquil and aesthetically sublime Ben Youssef Medersa, it struck me as desperately sad that the word ‘madrasah’ has come to be synonymous in the West with extremist indoctrination. Just as I’m wondering how we ever got to this point, however, my BlackBerry beeps with a newsflash: two Moroccan journalists have gone on trial accused of defaming Islam, while back in Birmingham Umran Javed has been convicted of incitement to murder. Appearances, it seems, can be deceptive. (By the way, Marrakech is intoxicating in every way except literally. The absence of alcohol even in the touristy nexus that is Jemaa El Fna has made Resolution Number Three comparatively easy to keep. Thank goodness for that.)

***


From the souk to Soho for the launch of Party Animals, a new eight-part BBC series in which I play a political journalist. Having steadfastly refused to settle into any one profession since graduating a few years ago, I’m used to the identity crisis that comes with juggling careers, but I’m still amazed that I was cast to play someone whose job I also — coincidentally — do in real life. There have been some bizarre art-imitating-life moments. The other day I was in Portcullis House talking to a politician for a piece when I bumped into David Cameron (whom I’d interviewed on the eve of his being elected). The following day I found myself in our excellent studio mock-up of Portcullis House, acting the part of a journalist interviewing an actor playing a politician who in no small way resembles the Tory leader himself. And the strangest thing? On both occasions the political issues under discussion were the same. Party Animals may be a fictional drama concerned with the lives and loves of those who work in Westminster, but it’s resoundingly topical to say the least.

***

London is grey and gloomy compared to southern France and northern Africa, but there have been some treats to make up for it. I’m a big fan of Jeremy King and Chris Corbin’s restaurants, and having recently eaten at their fabulous new venture, St Alban, I was delighted when a friend called to say she’d got engaged over Christmas and was having a celebratory breakfast at the Wolseley — breakfasting at the Wolseley being one of my all-time favourite pastimes. Ever since our first peer-wedding in September my friends seem to have been getting engaged with increasing frequency, which all feels terribly grown-up. Still, I can console myself with the equally grown-up fact that I’ve now exchanged contracts on my first flat and am — inshallah — due to complete next week. Hurrah. After months of wrangling and heartache (nobody warned me you could form such strong emotional attachments to a pile of bricks and mortar with your name on it), I will relish not having to deal daily with estate agents — arguably a greater scourge of society than Michael O’Leary and Stelios.

***

Talking of which, I’d love to be able to assure the climate change minister, Ian Pearson, that I’m finally staying put, but it’s to Davos and the World Economic Forum next, where a project I worked on last year for the United Nations World Food Programme is launched on 25 January. The UN, understandably, gets a bad rap for being ineffectual and disorganised and in critical need of reform, but nobody can now deny that its relief efforts are superlative. I hope our initiative, which will enable the private sector to engage more efficiently in humanitarian operations, will further enhance this. Having been a rare supporter of Kofi Annan, despite his weaknesses, I must admit I’m underwhelmed by the prospect of the somewhat bland new Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. But then who am I to judge? As far as I can see, resolutions are infinitely easier to break than they are to make.

***

Party Animals begins on BBC2 on 30 January.


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