If we lived in normal times, I would be in the middle of a book tour, speaking at literary festivals up and down the country, from Appledore to Ilkley. I had forty odd speaking engagements planned to publicise my book on the decline of public discourse, ‘Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less, Listen More’, which was published last week. Virtually every one of them is now cancelled, the exception being the Appledore Literary Festival in September, which is becoming a ‘Drive-in’ event. Extinction Rebellion will no doubt picket it. The book was supposed to come out at the end of May, but HarperCollins decided to postpone it until shops would reopen. Trouble is, I’m not sure anyone is going into bookshops much nowadays. Amazon is doing a roaring trade, though, but I do worry about the future of many of our independent bookshops if we don’t give them more of our business in the runup to Christmas. Having once been a bookshop owner myself, I sympathise with their plight. As an aside, I am astonished at the number of people who have told me they’ve bought the Audiobook. In the age of the podcast, audiobooks have come into their own. Someone asked if Rick Stein was going to be reading it for me, seeing as he is apparently my ‘soundalike’. I can’t hear it myself, but most weeks I hear from people saying we have identical voices, so it must be true. We are both also bald and own Jack Russells.
The week before last I got a call from The Observer asking if they could interview me about a feature they were planning on male rape. They were basing it around a scene in the series ‘I Will Destroy You’, but they had read the piece in my book about an incident thirty years ago when I was nearly raped in a seedy flat in East London. I did the interview and was the somewhat surprised to see that the published article was only about me and didn’t mention the TV programme at all! Gulp. I decided that I might as well embrace it and talk about it on the radio, so we did a two hour phone-in, talking to survivors of rape and sexual assault. More than 12,000 men are raped each year, but only 1,500 cases ever go to court. The charity SurvivorsUK claim that it takes an average of 26 years for men to talk about their experiences. I then told my partner, John, that the Daily Mail had commissioned me to write an 1,800 word feature. ‘See the can of worms you’ve opened’, he said. ‘Can’t you keep anything private?’ I don’t look at it that way. It’s important for people like me to talk about things like this, because it enables other victims to know they are not alone.
Another victim of Covid is the Edinburgh Fringe. I should have been there doing another run of my ‘All Talk’ shows, where I interview leading figures from the world of politics and the media. I had even lined up Nigel Farage one day, followed by Michel Barnier the next. I do like to cater for every taste… Each Wednesday this month I am taking part in the Edinburgh Digital Fringe, hosting three lunchtime In Conservation interviews as Zoom webinars. There really is an appetite for long form conversational interviews so I’ve lined up David Davis, Alastair Campbell and Gyles Brandreth to entertain the nation. I doubt I’ll get a word in edgeways.
Two weeks ago I finally returned to the LBC studio full time, having spent four months broadcasting my evening show from my bedroom. Technology is a wonderful thing. If I hadn’t been honest with listeners and told them where I was, I doubt they could have told the difference. In more than 90 programmes the line only dropped three times. Unfortunately, one of those times was during our weekly Thursday night mental health hour when a caller was explaining that he felt suicidal. I managed to dial back in within two minutes, but much to my consternation no one had realised I hadn’t been there. The caller had been happily chatting away with my colleague Emma Kenny who has been an absolute inspiration and friend to many of our listeners over the last few months. I truly believe that our mental health hours are the ultimate in public service broadcasting. My Inbox tells me that they have provided many people – even for those who just listen rather than call in – with a lifeline.
The tragedy in Beirut last week will live long in the memory of a country which has had its fair share of traumas over the decades. Back in the early 1990s I visited Beirut to speak at a conference on, believe it or not, transport privatisation. I was told by the British Ambassador when I got there that I was the first Brit to visit since the release from captivity of John McCarthy. Had I known that, I wonder if I would have gone. I was guarded by the SAS during the whole three day trip, and warned not to leave the hotel without informing the British Embassy. I naturally ignored this and was taken on a tour of the city and the Beqaa Valley by one of the conference organisers. Unforgettable. I remember touring the port, which was largely inactive due to the number of ships that had been sunk in the harbour during the civil war. The whole city was one big ruin, but over the years it’s been brought back to life and become the tourist destination it always should have been. However, recent political economic and political turmoil and now the destruction of last week have put paid to this for the time being. The whole world was affected by the scenes of devastation. Even the Israelis were moved to offer humanitarian aid, but this was immediately rebuffed by the Lebanese government. Natch. Why can’t we all just get along, indeed.
Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less, Listen More by Iain Dale is published in hardback by HarperCollins at £12.99. Signed copies from www.politicos.co.uk