Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be in a musical - being a member of the chorus would do. Since I was a child, I have always enjoyed seeing musicals in the West End in London (it is so sad to see the theatres shut down at the moment because of the virus) and I have long dreamt of being up on the stage for one of the big numbers from, say, Guys and Dolls or South Pacific. Sadly, my abilities as a singer, dancer and actor are seriously limited, so it is a dream I will never attain.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have to say my small garden, and within that, my tiny greenhouse. The activity above all others that helps me to rest and relax and the recent addition of a greenhouse – just big enough for me to stand in – has allowed me to indulge this passion even during the winter. During lockdown, my greenhouse and garden have really helped me get through the periods of self-isolation.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Unlike gardening, which didn’t make it into the Top Ten restful activities, as chosen by the respondents in the international Rest Test, which forms the structure for The Art of Rest, having a hot bath came at number 7. I certainly endorse this choice and if, while enjoying a hot bath, I could also be allowed to sip from a glass of chilled white wine I would be as close to perfect happiness as I ever get.
What is your motto?
An expression I learnt as a child from my grandmother would make a good motto, I think. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” If more people stuck by it, social media, for example, would be a much nicer place. On the whole, I am not too bad about abiding by this good advice, especially on social media, though of course I do occasionally lapse in conversation!
How would you like to die?
My husband and I love the Greek myth of Philomen and Baucis. They were a devoted couple who welcomed the god Zeus into their home for the night even though he was disguised as a poor peasant. As a reward for their hospitality they were granted a wish and they chose to die at exactly the same moment as each other so that neither of them would have to grieve for their lost loved one.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
See Answer 1.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Busyness. As the nineteenth century writer Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”. Busyness has become something of a badge of honour, but as I explain in The Art of Rest, we need to start valuing rest as well. This is not a charter for laziness, but a call to look carefully at the rhythms of rest and activity in our lives.
What is your current state of mind?
An uneasy mixture of concerned, happy and hopeful. I do think that the Covid-19 virus and perhaps even more the slow recovery from it is going to impact on the world very negatively for many more months, and even years to come. But I have enjoyed slowing down and the opportunity during lockdown to take long walks around parts of London I’ve never been too. I’ve seen views of my own city from hills that I never knew existed. And I’m lucky to have worked throughout the pandemic on the radio shows I present on global health, such as The Evidence on BBC World Service. Although this means that instead of heading out on my planned book tour, I’m spending hours discussing the virus, I have been privileged to talk to some of the world’s most brilliant scientists who are working all hours in search of treatments and vaccines. Human ingenuity is so impressive that those conversations give me hope that we will eventually get the virus under control and be able to live our lives freely again. And when I can get back to see a show a West End theatre I shall enjoy it more than ever.