This column first appeared on Reaction.Life


A Podcast of One’s Own with Julia Gillard

I’ve often wondered how former prime ministers and presidents cope with losing office. How does your brain adjust to being the most powerful person in the country one minute, and then the next minute have literally nothing to do and no decisions to make. An American president has time to prepare for this eventuality and mentally adjust. They also have a planned post presidential life. Not so much for British or Australian prime ministers. The minority choose the time of their own departures, but most are either turfed out of office by the electorate, or in the case of Aussie PMs, usually by their own parties. Julia Gillard was the first female prime minister of Australia and served from 2010 to 2013. She attained office by launching a leadership coup (or ‘spill’ in Australian) against Kevin Rudd. He got his own back by turfing her out three years later, although it was a brief feeling of vindication, because he lost the subsequent election, and Labor has been out of power ever since.

Julia Gillard

Gillard immediately bowed out of active politics and entered the world of academia. She spends a lot of her time in the UK nowadays (she was born in Wales) and runs the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at Kings College, London. She also hosts the podcast ‘A Podcast of One’s Own’. I had thought it was possibly the most arrogant podcast title ever invented. Not being familiar with the writings of Virginia Woolf (can I be forgiven) I hadn’t realised it was a reference to Woolf’s book ‘A Room of One’s Own’, which argues for both a literal and figurative space for female writers within a literary tradition dominated by men. Once I understood that, it enabled me to enjoy the podcast more than I had originally thought I would.

It’s a simple format. She has a guest on each of the fortnightly podcasts – always someone with two X chromosomes, naturally, and they chew the cud over women’s roles in public life. The most recent episode features the former Labour advisor and stand-up comedian, Ayesha Hazarika, now the editor of the London Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary column. Previous guests include Professor Mary Beard, Penny Mordaunt, Hillary Clinton and Cate Blanchett. The guests aren’t all household guests, and it is sometimes the lesser known names who prove to be the most interesting.

Despite the title, the podcast isn’t actually about Gillard. She doesn’t regale us with a host of memories from her time in politics – instead she lets the interview breathe and gives her guest time to speak at length. This works well when she has a guest like Ayesha Hazarika, someone who has the ability to speak on any subject and in an engaging and entertaining manner. However, there was a part of me that wanted to hear more from Gillard, though, given her record, career and insights. She has become one of the world’s leading advocates for women in politics and if it really is a podcast of her own, she needs to let her voice speak a little more loudly.


Royal Documentaries on Channel 5

There’s nothing Channel 5 like more than a documentary on the Royal Family. This week we’ve been treated to “Diana – Her Last Summer”, “William and Kate – Too Good to be True”, “Diana – Queen of Hearts”, “Meghan & Harry – The New Revelations”, “The Queen’s Jewellery – Heirlooms & Legacy” and “Diana – a Mother’s Love”So, six documentaries over three nights. Dear reader, I have watched most of them so you don’t have to. Utter pap, the lot of them. Did I learn anything new? Was I gripped? No. This is wallpaper television and is more suited to afternoons than prime time. All of the documentaries – and I’m being kind in calling them that – are just a mix of archive footage and gobs on sticks trying to impress us with their intimate knowledge of the Royal Family. I mean, would a programme about Princess Diana be complete without contributions from Paul Burrell (pass the sickbag) and Andrew Morton? Clearly not. The sheer vacuity of some of the contributions had to be heard to be believed. I’m clearly missing out. I know a bit about royal matters but could happily outdo most of these commentators and their so-called insights. Too many of them reminded me of Dawn French’s skit of being a royal correspondent on TVam, back in the day. That’s not to say that Channel 5 can’ t make good royal documentaries. They absolutely can. Their programmes about the abdication crisis, George VI and Princess Margaret have been informative and educational. The ones they make on current day royals? Less so.