David Gilmour

A Hello! magazine history of Venice

When Napoleon Bonaparte captured Venice in 1797, he extinguished what had been the most successful regime in the history of the western world. The Venetian Republic had lasted over 1,000 years — longer than ancient Rome — without a revolution, a coup d’état or a successful foreign invasion.  Yet after 1797 it was never to

The Italians who won the war – against us

Italy entered the second world war in circumstances very similar to those in which it signed up for the first. Its leaders waited for nine months after the outbreak until they thought they had identified the winner and extracted promises of territorial rewards. In 1915 they guessed rightly and attacked Austria, their formal ally for

Fun and games — except with mother

The Duke of Edinburgh, a New Zealand typist claimed in 1954, was ‘the best investment that the royal family has made in all its history’. But would she have thought so had she seen him a few days earlier at a ‘crazy’ party where, according to his first cousin Pamela Hicks, he ‘excelled himself, managing

Giving Italy the boot

If a pollster were to ask us which country we thought had produced Europe’s greatest artists, which had built its most beautiful cities and which had provided the world with it finest singers and composers, most of us would put Italy in first or second place.  And if we were asked which country had developed

Humanity on the scrapheap

One night a few years ago in Washington DC, Katherine Boo tripped over an ‘unabridged dictionary’, broke three ribs, punctured a lung and, as she lay on the floor unable to reach a telephone, ‘arrived at a certain clarity’ about her future. With most people — certainly those like Boo with a history of wretched health

‘Viva la muerte!’

The Spanish Holocaust is a book that will give readers nightmares: it gave me two in a single night. Even people who think they have read enough about the Spanish Civil War to feel inured to its horrors will still be appalled by the intensity of the cruelty and repression here revealed. ‘Of the folly

A cult of virility and violence

Mussolini’s brutal sex-addiction makes for dispiriting reading, but provides material for a fine psychological study, says David Gilmour Bunga bunga may be a recent fashion, but adultery for Italian prime ministers has a long history. The first of such statesmen, Count Cavour, had affairs with married women because he was too nervous of being cuckolded

Enterprising Scots

If you wish to see how Scotland changed in the century after the Act of Union (1707), you might visit and compare the two houses in Edinburgh that belong to the National Trust for Scotland. Gladstone’s Land, built for a wealthy merchant in the 17th century, is a six-storey tenement in the old town, a

All these Indias

Some years ago I went to a dinner party in Lucknow, capital of India’s Uttar Pradesh, where the hosts and their guests were Hindus who as children had fled Lahore in 1947 at the time of Partition. A week later I was in Lahore, capital of Pakistan’s Punjab, and found myself in a house where

The lion or the donkey?

Giuseppe Garibaldi must be among the most commemorated secular figures in history. Italian towns invariably have a square or a street named after him, and many contain statues, stations and other sites as well. In Genoa Garibaldi is represented not only by a vast equestrian bronze in front of the Opera but also, in diverse

Beauty and bigotry

When I was a child in the 1950s, I had a delightful book called The Golden Geography which tried to encapsulate every aspect of the globe — its landscape, its climate, its people and their occupations — in a small sketch with a brief caption. From a section called ‘This is Asia’, I learned that

The resurgence of the puritan element

The words ‘fanatic’ and ‘Arabia’ are placed together so often that they almost seem designed for each other. A Syrian friend once asked Charles Doughty, the Victorian explorer, how he could abandon the orchards of Damascus, ‘full of the sweet spring as the garden of God’, and ‘take such journeys into the fanatic Arabia?’ Doughty

A small, bespectacled hero

United Italy was reluctant to honour authentic heroes of its national struggle. Apart from Garibaldi, its squares and street-names — as well as its bronze statues and marble plaques — commemorate incompetent generals, duplicitous statesmen, serial conspirators, an oafish monarch (Victor Emmanuel) and a number of crazy young patriots who dashed off to Calabria (or

Prickles and thorns

One of the oddest forms of contemporary masochism is our passion for surveys that reveal how ignorant and stupid we have become. Scarcely a week goes by without the publication of some poll telling us how many schoolchildren believe that Churchill was victorious at Waterloo or that Hornblower commanded at Trafalgar. The teaching of traditional