The historian John Julius Norwich took us on a whistle-stop tour through many of the world’s great cities and it was a charming and informative romp. From early settlements likes Samarkand which grew up on the great human river that was the Silk Road to the birth of the great cities of Europe. We were told of the detailed planning that went into the creation of the city of Washington DC to be something unique and different from the capitals of Europe – President George Washington’s regarded London and Paris as breeding grounds of vice and corruption.
Architecture featured heavily. Barcelona a truly great European city is marred in Norwich’s opinion by the cathedral of the Sagrada Familia “the most creative example ever of egregious bad taste”. Singapore is Disneyland with the death penalty. Norwich told us of his love an admiration for the modern gleaming spires of Chicago but the ‘most’ modern city on the planet is Shanghai. “The modern architecture of Shanghai makes Chicago look like Bath”.
Allegra Huston or ‘Legs’ as her sister Anjelica calls her was at Hay to discuss her autobiographical memoir ‘Love Child’ published last year. Huston was born in London and her mother the American ballerina Enrica Soma was married to John Huston who she Allegra believed to be her father. In fact her biological father was the aristocratic historian John Julius Norwich. What made this session all the more extraordinary was the fact that Norwich was in the audience.
Allegra’s mother died when she was four and her childhood was one lived out of a suitcase. There was the time spent with ‘Dad’ in the “Little House” on the Huston estate in Ireland, and stays with family in Long Island and Mexico.
There were tales of the time spent living with Ryan O’Neal’s, her sister’s boyfriend, and his family. He is the only character in this story for whom Allegra has complete contempt “Ryan O’Neal is frankly an asshole”. Eventually at the age of twelve, she was told of, and introduced to her real father. “I was very lucky in my two fathers …open-hearted generous spirited men” Allegra told the audience at Hay.
Although to her it is not a story about the Hollywood A-list, it is an insight into that world and its insecurities. Perhaps the most poignant moment of all was when Allegra told us that the monogrammed suitcase out of which she lived her young life was also not entirely hers, the A.H. had been put there for her older sister ‘Anjel’.