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Thursday, 22 October 2009

David Starkey: Man & Historian



Last month, I went to see a special evening lecture given by the eminent historian David Starkey at the British Library. He had guest curated their exhibition: Henry VIII Man and Monarch. Just before his lecture started, it was announced that he would be signing copies of his books later. As I had also been told that the guidebook to the exhibition was reduced for the evening, I dashed across to the bookshop to buy one. The book was a heavyweight in every sense of the word, weighing in at just under 3 pounds. Consequently, I decide not to bulk buy them as early Christmas presents.

After David Starkey’s lecture, I waited patiently alongside a group of other people, queuing up to have their books signed by him. I was somewhat apprehensive. His history programs are authoritative and, for me at least, highly compelling. However, he can be distinctly provocative off-screen and several of his public remarks have riled me. To my surprise, he turned out to be extremely charming as I listened to him talking to the couple in front of me. When it was my turn, I asked him to sign the book in my name and told him the initial, which he proceeded to do, whilst repeating my instructions in an amused voice. As he wrote, I noticed the beautiful gold intaglio ring on his hand. When I said how much I admired it, he explained that he had bought it as a present for himself to celebrate his first major success on television. I then told him how much I enjoyed his various television programmes and how informative I found them. He thanked me and I decided I was in love. Although I know I would not hold any appeal to Mr Starkey, as I have the “body of a weak and feeble woman,”  if he had but asked me, I would have married him on the spot.

His behaviour was so very different to that of a female historian years earlier, when the British Library had been located within the walls of the British Museum. One evening, I held the heavy doors to the Reading Room open for this woman. She sailed through and let them swing right back on me without either a word of thanks or a backward glance. Whatever else she might have been, I have never subsequently regarded her as being one of Nature’s ladies and I have studiously avoided buying any of her books.