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Downton Abbey’s creator, Julian Fellowes, described Christopher Ward’s book about his grandfather as ‘a heartbreaking story, beautifully told.’ Once Fleet Street’s youngest editor, now a best-selling author, Christopher is a storyteller whose talks are relevant, often moving, always entertaining.
Things happen to Christopher Ward. They always have. He once, uninvited, knocked on Doris Day’s front door in Beverly Hills and she opened it and invited him in for tea. He interviewed an unknown Austrian bodybuilder who had just won the Mr Universe contest. His name was Arnold Schwarzenegger. As editor of the Daily Express, Christopher broke the story of the break-in at Buckingham Palace when the intruder, Michael Fagan, sat on the Queen’s bed as she spoke calmly to him while she called for a footman to light his cigarette. Somehow, Christopher’s interesting life finds a way into all his talks.
Christopher was Chairman of WWF-UK for six years – that’s the World Wildlife Fund, he insists, not the World Wrestling Federation – and he co-founded Redwood Publishing, developing it from a magazine publisher into Europe’s largest digital content agency today. He is a winner of the British Society of Magazine Editors’ Mark Boxer award for lifetime services to magazine journalism.
Christopher’s book about his grandfather Jock Hume (his mother’s father), who was 21 when he joined the band on the Titanic, was an international best-seller which became a Discovery Channel documentary. Christopher’s lecture on what happened after the Titanic sank – more than a thousand men, women and children were never seen again – has captivated audiences with its modern resonances of corporate negligence and failure to take responsibility. His grandfather’s body was recovered and taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he is buried.
An extraordinary chance encounter recently led to the discovery that his grandfather had fathered a secret child in Jamaica. The revelation united for the first time two families who were unaware of each other’s existence for a hundred years. The Jamaican branch of the family, he discovered, were Windrush immigrants to Britain in the 1960s, the subject of a very personal talk on researching one’s family history.
Christopher is currently writing a book about the Seventies, the subject of his latest lecture. ‘Crazy things happened in the Seventies,’ he says, ‘although by comparison many of them seem normal now, as we are still living with its influences and consequences – including, of course, Brexit’.
Christopher lives in the Scottish Borders and is married to the design writer Nonie Niesewand.
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. Can Britain's Royal Family survive Megxit? When the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles was falling apart, Daily Express editor Christopher Ward, was summoned by the Queen to Buckingham Palace with his fellow Fleet Street editors and asked to ‘give the young couple a break’. And they did. And, during the truce, Charles and Diana continued briefing journalists against each other. The rest is history.
Forty years later, history is repeating itself as Britain’s Royal Family faces an even greater crisis: Diana’s son, Prince Harry and his young American wife, Meghan, have abandoned their lives of royal privilege to escape the limelight. But in this age of celebrity, will they succeed where Princess Diana failed? Ward finds uncomfortable parallels with Prince Harry’s life and that of his great uncle, King Edward, a playboy who renounced the throne to live in exile with the American divorce, Wallace Simpson. Will Britain’s royal family ever recover from this second abdication?