Spoilt Victorian child

It was a pleasure to be asked to “say a few words” at the launch of this year’s Museums At Night initiative at the soon-to-reopen Florence Nightingale Museum on the South Bank last night. For more about the excellent, nationwide Museums At Night event, which takes place over the weekend of May 14-16, visit their website – needless to say, there are a lot of sleepovers and candlelit tours and late openings up and down the land, in an effort to get people through the doors of our museums and galleries. I’m very happy to support this, as I love museums and galleries, and, as I said in my speech, I have gazed in wonder at the pre-photographic composition of Las Meninas by Velasquez at the Prado in Madrid; I have stood in awe and experienced the tragedy and suffering in Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia; I have seen the backs of 50 mobile phones being held in the air at the Louvre in Paris (I think the Mona Lisa was behind them, somewhere); but I have also been round the Teddy Bear Museum in Dorchester and been frankly creeped out by the human-sized bears in Victorian costume. (Incidentally, you can see the latter by night over the weekend, too, if you’re in Dorset.) I have been interviewed by Culture 24, who are running the event, on their website.

I went on after former Culture Secretary Chris Smith, or Lord Smith of Finsbury as he is now, who gave an enthusiastic welcome and didn’t use notes, which is always impressive. I did have some notes, but my enthusiasm was just as sincere.

As the event was, like the teddy bears, Victorian-themed, we had Florence Nightingale herself wandering about, listening to people’s hearts with a stethoscope; a close-up Victorian magician, who might well have been the devil, as he really did escape from some handcuffs whose padlocks I had personally locked and checked (he’s called The Great Misto); and I had my portrait cut out by Sarah Goddard of Visage Silhouettes, who is only one of half a dozen silhouettists in this country.

She was very kind to my chin, don’t you think?

So, an unusual way to spend a couple of hours, in a very hot museum in a hospital, sipping wine with at least one Lord (who, incidentally, I buttonholed about 6 Music and he seemed largely in favour of it being saved!) and genial Danny Robins, the writer, presenter and comedian. Thanks to Culture 24 and photographer Charlotte MacPherson for use of the pictures.