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Downton Abbey’s creator, Julian Fellowes, described Christopher Ward’s book about his grandfather, a violinist in Titanic’s band, as ‘a heart-breaking story, beautifully told.’ While researching his family’s history, Ward uncovered the scandal of the aftermath of the sinking: the fate of the 1,200 men, women and children who didn’t make it into a lifeboat and were never seen again. His young grandfather, one of the few recovered, is buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Once Fleet Street’s youngest editor, now a best-selling author, Ward is a former UK Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund and co-founder of the digital content agency, Redwood. His book, an international best-seller, was dramatised by the Discovery Channel. Ward, who has spoken at more than twenty book festivals, hosted a Titanic memorial concert in Yokohama last year for 500 schoolchildren to mark Japan’s Marine Day. He lives by the sea in the Scottish Borders.
He gives lectures on the three subjects he knows best – the sinking of the Titanic, researching your family history - and the media.
1. Titanic: the Aftermath: Christopher Ward’s grandfather Jock Hume was a violinist in the Titanic's band. With his seven fellow musicians, the young Scotsman continued playing on deck until they were swept into the ice cold water of the North Atlantic, joining 1,500 men, women and children in the sea. More than a thousand were never seen again. What happened to them? Ward told the human story of the aftermath in his best-selling book, And The Band Played On, the subject of a Discovery TV documentary. He identifies uncomfortable parallels with contemporary corporate life: the cover-ups after a catastrophe, how leaders are rewarded for failure, how no one at the top takes responsibility or ever says sorry. This, says Ward, is why the world’s fascination with the Titanic tragedy continues to grow with time. Ward illustrates his lecture with dramatic photographs of the recovery of bodies by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett and its return to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where his grandfather is buried.
2. Who Do You Think You Are? Brace yourself for some surprises when you research your family’s history: Family skeletons don’t come much bigger than the one that tumbled on top of the Archbishop of Canterbury when he discovered his father was not his biological father. Ward discusses the pleasures and pitfalls of researching one’s family history, having discovered a few dark secrets about his own grandfather: Jock Hume, a young musician in the Titanic’s band, who died when the ship went down. Ward shares tips and short cuts learned on the heart-breaking trail that ended in a graveyard in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He thought there was nothing left to find out about his family – until a chance encounter with a young pianist at a girls’ school concert in the Caribbean. Ward reveals his pleasure in being welcomed into a branch of the family he never knew existed – and his sorrow that his mother died never knowing that she had a Jamaican half brother the other side of the Atlantic.
3. Titanic movies: the facts and the fiction. Twenty years after its premier, James Cameron’s epic movie, Titanic, remains the second biggest box office success of all time. Titanic author and former Fleet Street editor Christopher Ward explains the reasons behind its popularity and compares it to the fifteen – yes fifteen – other major feature films about the Titanic. The very first was screened in theatres in New York just one month after the sinking. Its leading lady? A young actress who survived the disaster.
During the war, Hitler commissioned a propaganda film of the disaster to discredit Britain’s shipbuilding and navigational skills and mock the British class system. The Fuhrer didn’t like the result, the director was hanged and the film canned. Using original footage from these and several other Titanic films, Ward picks his favourite from the top two: A Night To Remember, starring Kenneth More, and Cameron’s classic Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
4. How to Survive a Disaster: We live in a world where the unexpected can happen to any of us at any time - and does. There is of course no surviving a catastrophe like the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, yet from most disasters a lucky few people always walk away unhurt. But is it always luck that saves them? Christopher Ward argues that it is our response in the seconds following a disaster that determines our chances of survival. The instant recognition of danger and our immediate reaction to it defines the difference between life and death. Drawing from survivor stories – from the Titanic to the attacks on the World Trade Centre, from school shootings in America to the terrorist atrocities in Europe – Ward identifies common factors among those who lived and those who died and provides advice that might one day save our own lives.
5. Titanic's Secret Sisters: If the Titanic hadn’t hit an iceberg and sunk on its maiden voyage, we would never have heard about her. We would however have heard about Titanic’s identical ‘unsinkable’ sister ship Olympic, launched a year earlier in 1911 by the White Star Line. Olympic had a long and successful life as a passenger liner, sailing more than a million miles. She also had a heroic war, transporting 200,000 Canadian troops to and from the battlefront in Europe and sinking two U-boats by ramming them.
Ward describes the shameful downfall of the White Star Line, which lost a third identical ‘sister’, Britannic, before she had carried a single passenger. Requisitioned as a hospital ship in 1914, Britannic hit a mine in Greek waters and went to the bottom in less than an hour.
Ward challenges popular conspiracy theories that it was Olympic and not Titanic that sank, their identities having been switched just before sailing as part of a gigantic insurance scam. He also lists the current top ten conspiracy theories, not all of them so mad, but all of them fuelled on the Internet by paranoids and obsessive compulsives.
6. The Royal Family's love-hate relationship with the media. Since Queen Victoria’s days, the royal family have enjoyed a stormy relationship with the media, each ruthlessly exploiting the other. Since Harry met Megan, it has been one long love-in. A historical look at a century of confrontations and cover-ups, from the Abdication to the break-in at Buckingham Palace.