Foreign correspondent and editor of 30 years standing witnessed events in world's troublespots from Chechnya to Halabja
Richard Beeston, foreign correspondent and later foreign editor of The Times, has died at the age of 50 after a long battle with cancer.
Known as "Rick", Beeston spent 30 years reporting from troublespots across the globe, beginning his foreign correspondent's career at the age of 21 covering South Africa and the Lebanese civil war.
On joining The Times he had postings in Jerusalem and Moscow, where he reported from the conflict in Chechnya. He was also one of the first reporters on the scene in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja after Saddam Hussein launched a chemical gas attack in which 5,000 died.
As foreign editor, and after his cancer diagnosis, Beeston continued to cover frontline assignments, including reporting from post-Saddam Iraq, Afghanistan and from behind rebel lines in Syria.
John Witherow, acting editor of The Times, announcing his death on Sunday morning, saying he had "fought the constant recurrences of his cancer with dogged courage".
"He often said that just coming into the office kept him going, and he continued to show his sense of humour, superb judgment and love of life right to the end," Witherow wrote in a note to staff.
"He has been one of the great foreign editors of The Times, but more importantly, a truly wonderful human being. Everyone who has seen him in recent days has been struck by his passion for the paper, his calmness, his curiosity about the world and his concern for others".
The Times reported that he died peacefully at his home in west London early on Sunday morning after his wife, Natasha, read him four chapters of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. He leaves Natasha and their two children, Jack and Georgia.Caroline Davies
Between 1961, when London printing started, and 1976, the Guardian was published simultaneously in London and Manchester – where the northern editions, as well as those for Scotland and Ireland, were written, edited and printed. David Bridgman, who has died aged 81, was night editor – in charge of editorial production – for the Guardian in Manchester during the period before simultaneous printing finished in August 1976 with Manchester's closure. He then moved across to the Daily Telegraph in Withy Grove, where he became assistant night editor until Manchester publication also ended in September 1987.
His laidback approach, all humour and charm, was much needed in the 1970s and 1980s as new technology and revised working practices rocked the newspaper industry. Dai, as he was known to colleagues, raised his eyebrows, not his voice. One night at Withy Grove his downtable subs stayed out considerably longer than their normal, modest, 90-minute break after first edition. On their return it was obvious that they'd consumed a beer or two too many. Clearly angry at this, Dai simply said "Go home" and produced the later editions by himself. The contrite subs never cared to tax his patience again.
Born in Swansea, Dai attended Swansea grammar school and started in journalism as a junior reporter for the South Wales Evening Post. He moved to the Birmingham Post as a subeditor, then on to the Scotsman, before joining the Guardian in 1964. Like many Manchester-based journalists, he had no desire to work in London. Always passionate about cinema, he became a freelance film critic for the Manchester Evening News and for BBC Radio Manchester.
For a few brief months in the summer and autumn of 1988 I was Dai's editor when we launched North West Times, a regional morning broadsheet published from Manchester which lasted just 43 issues. Dai, as night editor, was one of many national newspaper journalists who joined the venture.
In the run-up to the launch Dai, Jim Lewis and I (all ex-Guardian) interviewed a string of highly experienced journalists looking for work after the Manchester closure of the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail. It was a nerve-racking task, but Dai's choices were excellent. NWT's demise had nothing to do with people's skill or commitment: it simply ran out of cash before a market could be established.
Dai retired to live in the Swansea area, but had moved to Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, before his final illness.
He is survived by his second wife, Hazel, and his children, Jill, Madeleine, Patrick and Chris (Kit), from his first marriage, to Janet, which ended in divorce.Robert Waterhouse
ABC’s David Muir is the subject of an AdWeek Q+A. The “World News” weekend anchor talks to Sam Thielman about reporting from Iran, transitioning to the “20/20″ anchor desk and the reason why he looks forward to trips to faraway places:
How does the new agenda compare to what you started off with?
It is sort of an insane schedule, I’ll admit it. Last year I worked every day; there was Tahrir Square and Fukushima, and then the famine in Africa. I thought, “At least this year will be easier,” and then they asked me to take on 20/20.
It does sound like an incredibly packed schedule.
When I hear “13-hour flight,” I get excited, because it’s 13 hours no one can get ahold of you on your BlackBerry.
Do you worry that moving to a more prominent position will keep you chained to the desk?
I think the best anchors out there are the ones who globe trot and who are hungry every day to explore another corner of the world. Once I’m done with one project, I’m already thinking, “What’s the next thing I want to investigate?”
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
I don’t think you’d be sitting here interviewing me if it weren’t for Netflix. In its third season, Breaking Bad got this amazing nitrous-oxide boost of energy and general public awareness because of Netflix. Before binge-watching, someone who identified him- or herself as a fan of a show probably only saw 25 percent of the episodes.
– Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan,talking to New York magazine about his show’s surprising success.
Last night’s “Saturday Night Live” featured a farewell appearance for “Stefon,” played by Bill Hader, who is leaving the show after this season. Stefon, it seems, was leaving “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers for someone new… a prominent TV news anchor.
After the jump, the “SNL” skit about “PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton”
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Melvyn Bragg's latest novel is an insightful, moving tale of ageing and our helplessness in the face of dementia
There's a scene in Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine where the Ryan Gosling character redecorates the room of an old gent in a nursing home, carefully personalising the institutional walls. The old man gapes as his circumscribed world is transformed by this small act of human kindness. I was reminded of this quietly devastating moment when, halfway through Melvyn Bragg's latest novel, the 71-year-old John coaxes his 92-year-old mother into a chorus of the Hokey Cokey. "Their voices rose and the nurse who had stopped outside beckoned a fellow nurse and her patient in a wheelchair to listen." Slowly the song builds momentum: "The audience and the chorus swelled along the corridors of the nursing home as they all sang." After the final Knees bend, arms stretch/ Rah! Rah! Rah! the mother, Mary, comments drily, "'I don't think we can do the legs bit.'" It's funny and sad and touching, like much of this novel about a man losing his mother to dementia.
The story is ripped from raw life – Bragg finished it just before his own mother died in a nursing home. John (from whose perspective much of the tale is told) is an intellectual, his mother a working-class Cumbrian, and the events of the book appear to trace history closely. Bragg should be applauded for choosing the form of a novel – scene of the universal – rather than the predictable particularities of the misery memoir to tell his tale. For it is in the act of imagining what he cannot know that John drags the stories of Mary (his mother) and Grace (his grandmother) out of the commonplace. At the end of the book John – mistakenly – mourns his lack of information about his grandmother's life. "His own ignorance… was such a loss. He would have liked to know her: he would have loved her and she him. How good that would have been. Now he had to make it up." It is here, though, in John's imaginative engagement with the lives of Grace and Mary, that the affective power of the novel lies.
The chapters alternate between the present of John's visits to Mary and the past, which is the story of Grace reconstructed by John as a way of reconnecting his mother to her shattered history. As another novel about the ravages of ageing – Samantha Harvey's The Wilderness – reminds us, dementia is about the destruction of narrative, the dissolution of the past. Bragg, through John, is on a quest to recover what went before, to construct an edifice of story against the depredations of the disease: "Mary now lived mostly in the constant present… Her past appeared to be an ocean of unknowing."
Bragg's In Our Time day job casts its shadow across Grace and Mary. Research – whether on the workings of the brain, Wordsworth, or Wycliffe's Bible – is unfurled as if before an audience. John's narrative is sometimes painfully interrogative – the rhetorical questions come with bludgeoning regularity, often in thick clusters, until we feel like an In Our Time guest who has strayed too far from the programme's subject. Even the prose style seems to have the incantatory beat of Bragg's mellifluous radio spiel, with descriptions rendered in rhythmic encyclopaedic lists.
I'd read glowing reviews of Bragg's previous novels and written them off as mere toadying to his eminent Lordship, but there is some fine prose here. When mother and daughter meet by chance there is "a glance of light"; an old man feels his arthritis "as if a sapling were growing inside him, one that could not be rooted out or cut down". With regular echoes of Thomas Hardy, this quiet, unshowy, book proves that novels can tell truths that are deeper and truer than the mere fact of memoir.Alex Preston
CNN is hard at work constructing a brand-new set for “New Day,” the channel’s new morning show, which will debut June 17. CNN senior producer John Griffin tweeted a few photos of the set under construction. So far there isn’t much to see, except for one big design choice: exposed brick. Lots and lots of exposed brick.
While “Today,” “Good Morning America” and “Fox & Friends” rely on glossy studios with large open windows, and “Morning Joe” goes for the contemporary look, there is another morning show that loves itself some exposed brick on the set: “CBS This Morning.” For what its worth, CNN president Jeff Zucker had nothing but praise for “CTM” at the press conference for “New Day” not long ago.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Suzanne Moore leads a phalanx of angry women with a lot to say about the flood of abuse cases, but men have signally failed to rise to the challenge
Andrew Norfolk of the Times picks up the Orwell Prize for his brilliant reporting of the Rochdale grooming case, and all journalists can be proud of that. But what about Rochdale lessons-cum-punditry? The Jimmy Savile aftermath? The abusing horrors of the latest Oxford case? Suzanne Moore in the Guardian says that men – and that means male columnists, too – need to pick up the cudgels of reflection and morality: "Every time dreadful things happen, nice guys say: don't associate this with my gender, don't hate me. This is not good enough."
And you can quietly see what she means. We know what Zoe Williams, Janice Turner, Grace Dent and many more distinguished women have to say about this swamp of male depravity … but Boris Johnson, Simon Jenkins, Matthew Parris, Charles Moore and all haven't exactly risen to the implied challenge. David Aaronovitch has made useful cautionary points about an engulfing hysteria, but never quite confronted what happened – as opposed to the reactions it fuelled. The job of examining the wrongs done to women by men has been left, by and large, to women. The nice, thoughtful guys have looked elsewhere.
Of course it's hard to remotely accept any responsibility for deeds you, personally, find repugnant. Of course there may be less gender perspective to add than Moore supposes. But when Rochdale and Oxford present are lumped in with the long, long trail from the BBC of the 1960s, it's sadly ridiculous for this to become a "women's issue" pursued only by women pundits. Think humanity, then mind the gaps.Peter Preston
In case you haven’t heard, the northeast is beginning to feel the brunt of an invasion, as billions of large insects called cicadas emerge from their underground homes to mate.
There are a few different broods of cicada, and this one last emerged in 1996. NBC’s “Today” helpfully shared a video of co-anchor Matt Lauer–then at WNBC New York–anchoring a newscast on the cicada, and featuring a report from correspondent Pat Battle.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Hiring Ian Katz from the Guardian is brave, but something radical is needed to save a format that starts too late and runs too long
The question – you might call it the £4m question after the Help for Heroes debacle – is whether Newsnight deserves to survive. Not exposing Savile, falsely exposing McAlpine, painfully exposing toxic staff conflicts: constant hubble-bubble for a BBC with toils and troubles already. Why not pension off Paxo and co and abandon late nights on BBC2 (and an average audience far below Guardian readership figures any weekday)? Surely it's just pride and penance that keeps the old jalopy grinding on after 33 years?
Tony Hall, given months to brood, has done the brave thing. He's praised Newsnight, handed it a fresh lease of life and hired a deputy editor of the Guardian, Ian Katz, to run it. Katz wants to lead "once again the world's most intelligent, sophisticated and exciting news programme". Don't say there's a lack of ambition here – though you may, perhaps, be allowed to ponder ways and means.
Newsnight was born in the year Ted Turner launched CNN, the first essay in 24-hour TV news. Tim Berners-Lee, incidentally, was almost a decade away from getting his world wide web up and running. The nature of news has changed utterly over that time. Who needs 35 minutes or more of lengthy film reports and punctiliously balanced political discussions before Jools Holland lifts his piano lid? The essential commentary job of the old Newsnight could be done much better at 7pm, when Jon Snow gets his chance. If 10.30 slots on BBC2 are to hold out hope, then the mix needs a radical stir.
There has to be news – exclusive news you haven't heard reprocessed through the day. There have to be interviews that make headlines the following morning. There have to be correspondents so excellent that you stop what you're doing to follow them. There needs, in short, to be something that Sky, BBC rolling news, C4 and a host of radio shows can't offer. And – oh yes! – it needs to be cheaper, because budgets are down. And – yes! again – please don't make any more costly gaffes: a Newsnight run by an ex-Guardian man is obvious food for some rancid Mail banquet.
So the bravery involved here goes way beyond Hall's office. It plucks a talented newsman from a different medium and gives him a mountain to climb. After James Harding's move from Times to head of news, it makes newsprint and digital experience the dish of the day and the evening. Well, good luck all round. If taking risks is the difference between failure and potential success, then at least the first strides are decisive enough.
And meanwhile, back at the Guardian a very young Katz joined 23 years ago? Some shock, some sucked thumbs. For a decade, Katz has seemed Alan Rusbridger's natural eventual successor as editor-in-chief. Now he's going. Perhaps to return in three or four years? Many would like to think so. But the Guardian, with its quasi-papal method of selecting new editors, makes it very difficult for outsiders – even colleagues once departed – to compete. Journalists vote for the people they're working for at the moment. An outsider can't be secretly offered the job. He or she has to compete in the open.
Who's there in the open now? Insiders beyond radar range in Sydney, Washington DC, New York – but look most closely at who Rusbridger picks to fill Katz's old job. If he or she is intelligent, sophisticated and exciting enough, then punters will know their choice.Peter Preston
Premiership clips and the best of the Bun for £104 a year – but with the everything-must-pay ethos comes a loss of visibility
So now the paywall wars get serious. Subscribe £2 a week from the end of the summer and you can get the Sun online, on tablet or on smartphone with what's called a "suite" of various bargains, including clips from Premiership clashes. Everything digital that comes out of Wapping, in short, will have a price tag – and new overlord Mike Darcey will be facing his first true test. Darcey was the subscription wizard at BSkyB, the obvious man to fulfil Rupert Murdoch's edict that journalism in any medium has to pay. But it won't be a breeze.
The free Bun is a straggler in ABC's unique browser stakes. Just 28.6 million a month, growing at 15.7% a year. The Mirror, on 19.3 million in March, was growing at 56.88%. The little Indy, up to 25.2 million, recorded a 73.7% rate. And, of course, the Mail, Guardian and Telegraph were far ahead. So no great momentum there. Glimpses of football, some of the year, for £104 pa? You can see traces of gold buried amid the peaks of print circulation after you get past 300,000 subscribers. But you can also see a dire shrinkage of digital visibility for no concomitant reward.
Anger as the price of seats for the sold-out Doctor Who concerts go through the roof
The Proms have been described by Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek as the world's largest and most democratic music festival. Running over eight weeks in the summer with a daily programme of orchestral concerts held mainly in the Royal Albert Hall, it is a firm fixture in classical music lovers' diaries.
Yet this year it appears that access to the events is not as democratic as it might be. The Observer has found that large numbers of tickets are being offered on "resale sites" for hundreds of pounds – many times their face value – much to the dismay of the BBC and the Royal Albert Hall, the only official seller.
One unofficial online site is offering seats for the Doctor Who-themed Prom on 14 July for £500, compared with the official flat-rate price of £12. A ticket for the first night on 12 July is offered for £400, against an original value of £38.
It is not just fans of the Proms who will be disappointed this summer. Many events in the coming months have already sold out – including the Rolling Stones' Hyde Park concert – with the only tickets available on websites fetching way above face value. Now campaigners are calling for the government to crack down on the touts.
Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, shadow minister for children and families, wants ticket-touting to be made illegal. "Families and music lovers are missing out on a British institution just so that a few individuals can make a fortune. The government needs to use the upcoming consumer rights bill to take action on touting and put the fans first."
Last weekend the BBC announced that a record 114,000 Proms tickets had sold since booking opened last week, a 17% rise on 2012. The two Doctor Who-themed Proms were the first to be announced as sold out, with special appearances by actor Matt Smith for the programme's 50th anniversary fuelling demand. But Fred Gilroy, a nurse practitioner in Sunderland, was so disappointed over his experience of trying to buy a ticket that he contacted the RAH and his local MP "to advise you of something I found to be quite … unethical".
He said: "At 9am [last Saturday] morning, the BBC Proms tickets went on sale. Two weeks ago I completed my Proms Planner online in order that when the tickets came on sale you [could] merely complete the purchase and pay for the tickets. After 10 minutes online, I was 'number 5,892' in the queue and before very long the tickets I wanted, the Doctor Who Proms, had sold out. My two kids, who are six and four, were both disappointed."
He tried online ticket-brokers and came across one offering a row of four seats for those Proms: "However, the price was £212.76 per ticket. The tickets have a face value of £12. That means someone can book their tickets and sell them at a highly inflated price. I feel, if this is not illegal, it is unethical and should be looked at, possibly capping the amount that someone can profit from further selling event tickets."
He said that this goes against what the Proms stand for and why they were started in the first place – to give music to all at affordable prices.
The RAH told him to try turning up to buy tickets which are made available on the day, but he cannot risk paying to travel from the north-east and staying overnight in London on the off-chance.
The BBC said that it does not use other ticket agents and it is "very difficult to manage unofficial selling".
A spokesman said: "This is an industry-wide, serious problem and we work closely with the RAH to do what we can to prevent it."
The RAH declined to comment, but ticket prices are a sensitive subject. It faced claims last year that two of its trustees profited from selling their debenture-seat tickets at hugely inflated prices. Debenture seats are owned on 999-year leases.
One resale company is Viagogo, which takes 15% of the ticket price from buyers and 10% from sellers.
Steve Roest, its head of European Business Development, said his company provides "a secure platform" where people buy and sell tickets: "We allow anyone to sell on Viagogo, so long as the ticket is valid."Dalya Alberge
On the day the actor bids farewell to her character in the last episode of Shameless, she will open in a very different role in Eugene O'Neill's marathon, Strange Interlude, at the National
Anne-Marie Duff holds out her hand – a shy shake. She is wearing what looks like a child's white vest, jeans and no jewellery. There is nothing to give her away, apart from her face. Even her feet are bare – maroon nail varnish excepted. It is a sunny day – warm upstairs at the Jerwood rehearsal space in south London – and we have two reasons to meet. She is about to star in Strange Interlude at the National, a Eugene O'Neill marathon. And the final episode of Channel 4's Shameless (now in its 11th series) is about to be aired, featuring Fiona – peroxide hair and tarty Gypsy earrings to the fore – taking a last stand. Anne-Marie's range is incredible: Elizabeth I, Margot Fonteyn, Saint Joan, Berenice, John Lennon's mum… and now Nina, complicated, ardent, neurotic war widow. "Interlude", incidentally, misleads. Uncut, the drama is four hours long. Anne-Marie tells me it is one of the plays that made Nicholas Hytner want to be a director. Michael Grandage is another of its champions. I run into Simon Godwin, director of this trimmed version for the Lyttelton and wish him good luck and he laughs, as if acknowledging he may need it.
Anne-Marie is one of those actors who is a chameleon and yet, unmistakably, herself. Her face is uncommonly expressive. It has a wicked gaiety but sorrow comes easily, too. "I am not precious about the way I look. Never having been defined as a great beauty makes that easier." How does she control the detail of what is going on in her face? Here is a test – O'Neill's confounding stage direction to Nina from scene two:
"She appears older than in the previous scene, her face is paler and much thinner… In her fight to regain control over her nerves, she has overstriven after the cool and efficient poise, but she is really in a more highly strung, disorganised state than ever, although she is now more capable of suppressing and concealing it. She remains strikingly handsome and her physical appeal is enhanced by her pallor and the mysterious suggestion about her of hidden experience."
Duff erupts into peels of laughter. "He is like a novelist, O'Neill, isn't he? Our characters are all described forensically at the beginning of these huge scenes. With screenplays, you are advised to ignore stage directions." But she is not about to ignore O'Neill. The trick, she explains, is to rise above literalness and "get the smell of it, breathe it in, see if you can exhale it – that is all you can do". Lashings of white makeup may also be needed to acquire Nina's pallor (Anne-Marie looks as though she spent the Bank holiday weekend in the sun). But the real challenge is to become "more yourself as an actor, visiting every corner". At first she felt unequal to the role, almost turned it down, asked herself: "How can I create this panorama of character? It is not just about charting the years. These people have extraordinary colours that you are trying to find every day in rehearsal. The fluidity of O'Neill's writing is like the ocean – he is obsessed with the sea – it seems to swell in his characters."
Duff almost turned down Shameless, too. This seems to be typical of her. She is careful and carefree – such a mixture. It was her mother who swung it, in the end, saying Paul Abbott's script rang true because "it is about what people have when they don't have anything except laughter, sex and the stars". Or, as Shameless's Frank rephrases it, addressing us from jail: "It is the boredom that gets you. You miss the simple things – drugs and alcohol…"
Duff grew up in Hayes, west London. Her parents are from rural Donegal. Her father was a painter and decorator, her mother worked in a shoe shop. "They taught me many things. Most of all that it is vital in life just to turn up." How does she mean? "To turn up for people, to be present, to have the conversation. This has emboldened me, given me greater empathy." As she says this, her arms are folded and she has a resigned look – sad but in a funny way. She hopes, in time, to pass this "great lesson" on to her three-year-old son. His name is Brendan – after her father.
It is a subject that tends to be treated as if it were a non-issue but I want to know whether it has been difficult to move from one class to another? "My parents were of a generation of Irish people who came here because there was nothing there – out of necessity they came to England. They weren't able to fulfil their dreams." She describes growing up with no sense of "entitlement" – in one sense an advantage. "I knew if I wanted to do this for a living, I really had to pursue it. When I was auditioning for drama schools, the girls around me were from very different backgrounds. I remember thinking, 'Should I lie about my family?'"
She is 42 now, and looking back sees "a tomboy – androgynous until I was 19. Desperately shy. The only confidence I had was in drama." She had been at a comprehensive school in the 80s, "deeply affected by the state of the country: kids weren't interested in politics or the arts". And she adds: "If you had questioned me about anything to do with boys… I was a virgin when I went to drama school [the Drama Centre in north London]. I was naive with the self-righteousness of youth." What about? "It's biological, isn't it? You think you know everything."
The Drama Centre was run by Christopher Fettes and Yat Malmgren – "brilliant but terrifying men". It was a "masochistic" but "exciting" time. "It put me through my paces. I toughened up. I was by no means the star of the year. It taught me to be resourceful, to go away and do the work myself. Invaluable." She points out that it is easier to become an actor from a working-class background than, say, a barrister because "acting is a sublimely egalitarian world". What's more: "I don't feel I've left my parents behind because of the sort of family I come from."
It helps to be married to James McAvoy. They met on Shameless's council estate 10 years ago (he played Steve – he and Fiona had to make passionate love against a Formica worktop). But he comes from a similar family: "Very encouraging and working class." As a result, neither of them has had to suffer "anger or confusion". But it is not a non-issue for her and sometimes it is a joke. She recalls a funny conversation with actor Robert Carlyle, also from a working-class background: "We were laughing, the two of us, saying, 'Just think: our children know what Parma ham is.'"
Anne-Marie Duff has a keen critical intelligence – plenty of sense and sensibility. But she has learned to be careful what she says – and reads – about herself. She avoids reviews: "It is better not to look at them; it is like reading someone's diary. What you think about me is none of my business. It's important to keep faith in the project you are working on." And then there is the question of what she says in public about herself. "My husband has an extraordinary ability to receive a lot of exposure and still maintain a sense of self without giving anything away. I think it's very powerful."
She talks eloquently about how "judgmental" our culture is, deploring its casual cruelty – especially online. She wonders: "How on earth do you teach your child not to be spiteful in the playground when online you can say whatever you like?" She is "no fan" of celebrity culture. She talks, too, about autograph hunters, commenting that it is a racket. (I check later: a photo signed by Duff – as Fiona – can be bought for £24 on eBay).
We talk about the insecurity of her profession. "It comes in waves. I bumped into Olivia Colman recently. She's riding high – she's a brilliant actor and one of the nicest people I have ever worked with [on Jimmy McGovern's Accused]. She said, 'I'm worried I will never work again', which I thought was hysterical." It is important to "be grateful and keep going". She adds: "Nothing is more diminishing than trying to control success or hold on to things."
How does she let go – relax? What would be an ideal holiday? "Right now, as a working mum: Four Seasons, Bali! No, actually, my favourite would always be a muddy tent holiday. Don't get me wrong: there is nothing more delightful than a dirty martini by the pool but I like being in nature." She would pick New Zealand because "there are no natural predators there". She goes off into another of her peals of laughter.
She believes she has changed now she is in her 40s: "I didn't really inhabit myself until I was in my 30s. And motherhood is an epic event. You can't help but be altered by it – and it is important to be." She understands better with age that "just because you feel something, that feeling isn't always the priority. I guess that is being an adult, isn't it?" The ways she lives have changed, too. "Pre-baby, I was a real yoga bunny." Can she still bend in every direction? "I'm pretty loose…" More laughter. But she doesn't officially exercise now. No time – acting is sport enough, alongside running after Brendan. "But I'm always dancing in my kitchen. And I love to sing. I've always sung. My father was a lovely singer. Always sang Jim Reeves at parties. I sing to my boy and he sings too."
Spark – spirit – is the key to Duff. She illuminates even the darkest roles. (She giggles about being cast as demented women like Edith Duchemin in BBC2's Parade's End – and hushes me before we can joke about whether this is typecasting. "She was bonkers, wasn't she? Like a mad racehorse.") As to spirit, she comments: "I am a sanguine individual. Most people are having a difficult time at the moment but still get up in the morning… As a species, we thrive. And I am interested in that ability to thrive. Things have to be about hope. On stage you need to convey hope or you'll lose an audience.
It is too soon to say how this will apply to Nina, but already the role is taking possession of her "as if drawing the calcium out of my bones". It is what director Howard Davies described as Duff's way of "throwing herself on parts as if bruising herself on them". She suggests she is "still that 19-year-old masochist that goes, 'F-ing great.'" And meanwhile, offstage, how much acting is involved just in being herself? "You know what? I can only be who I am."
Strange Interlude is at the Lyttelton, London SE1 from 28 May. The final episode of Shameless is on C4 on 28 MayKate Kellaway
If you write about Tumblr as a business, you are required to note that Tumblr has a lot of porn.
How much porn? You’ll have to make something up, because the only people who know much porn the blogging service hosts work at the blogging service, and they don’t offer up a number.
But let’s stipulate, for argument’s sake, that there is indeed a lot of porn on Tumblr — in fact, the company’s terms of service make a point of saying it’s ok with “not suitable for work” stuff.
Which means there are a lot of pages on Tumblr that advertisers won’t go near. Like “Girls in Yoga Pants“, where the image at the top of this post came from (yes, that’s a tame one).
So why isn’t that an issue for Yahoo, which is very close to spending $1.1 billion on the company?
Here it’s important to pay attention to the way Tumblr actually works — or more precisely, the two ways it works.
Tumblr offers tools to make simple blog pages, which anyone with a Web browser can see. So you don’t have to sign up for Tumblr to check out We Want Porn, but Comscore will count you as one of the service’s 117 million monthly users.
Tumblr’s core users, though, log in to the service, and subscribe to different Tumblogs, which they view on a “dashboard” – the equivalent of Twitter and Facebook’s newsfeeds.
Not coincidentally, these are also the only people that Tumblr is showing ads to, either via “radar” ads that promote tumblr pages alongside users’ dashboards, or “spotlight” ads that promote Tumblr pages in a directory of suggested acounts.
To spell that out: Tumblr’s advertisers don’t have to worry about their stuff showing up on blogs like We Want Porn. At worst, it’s possible that they’ll end up advertising to a user whose dashboard includes posts from We Want Porn. But in general, they ought to be pretty well insulated from that stuff.
By the same token, if Yahoo wanted to, it could end up scrubbing Tumblr of porn, and losing a lot of users and views — but it probably wouldn’t lose much in the way of monetizable users. Unless it turns out that the majority of Tumblr’s core users have signed on exclusively to use porn.
So: Problem? Sure. But it doesn’t look like a costly one.
The BBC inquisitor was honoured for his dissection of George Entwistle. But why do DGs put themselves through it?
John Humphrys wins the "radio journalism of the year" prize for, inter alia, his masterly dismemberment of George Entwistle on the morning before poor George and his director generalship disappeared into the long night of trust disavowal. Admirable, eh? No BBC mandarin too mighty to escape a Humphing good towsing. You don't get much more independent and award-worthy than that.
Which is what the judges obviously thought. Any alternative? Just, perhaps, that it's slightly odd to bestow such accolades for unseating a boss who hadn't done anything much wrong except fail to get a grip on swift-moving events in his earliest weeks in office – and that the Humphrys dissection technique, honed over decades, is a formidable weapon when used against seasoned politicians or suspected villains, but somehow seems out of place deployed against the newly appointed leader of the BBC (and thus of JH). Did Tony Hall get an equivalent going-over? Not quite: but he hadn't done anything yet.
Is it part of the director general's job description, from Thompson to Entwistle to Hall, to offer yourself for a ritual flaying on the Today programme? Perhaps that's valiant independence, to be saluted. But perhaps it's a bizarre in-house ritual, taken a splutter too far.
■ The New York Post and the New York Daily News both lose staff and money. Cue easy merger talk.
But the Post is a Manhattan creature, while the News rules across the East River in the Bronx and Queens. They are, in sum, totally different, with totally different bases and audiences. Cue decline and death, alas, rather than facile fixes.Peter Preston
Well before the actress fought stigma by announcing that she had undergone the operation, she had worked to publicise the horrors of the Bosnian war
An article written by Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie provoked headlines around the world when she chose "not to keep my story private" and revealed she had undergone a double mastectomy to lower her risk of breast cancer, which was high due to her genetic inheritance. The impassioned letter, published in the New York Times, did not fit the stereotypical celebrity image. But Jolie's act of extraordinary courage didn't seem out of character at all to me. I already knew from my own experience that she was a woman of tremendous strength, focus and perseverance.
In the spring of 2010 I was working in Bosnia, tracking the movements of a war criminal not yet caught by the international criminal court, when I heard that Angelina Jolie was in nearby Foca. This was not the kind of place for one of the most famous women in the world to be roaming. It is an eastern Bosnian town with connotations of evil, since it was the scene of some of the most gruesome war crimes of the 1992-95 war. It is still an unpleasant place to be. Jolie was there with her partner, Brad Pitt, scouting for locations for her directorial debut. It was to be a film about the rape camps during the Bosnian war, and she had written the script.
Over the next few days the Bosnian press – sensitive at the best of times to depictions of their heartbreaking three-and-half-year war – had a field day. They leaked the news that Jolie's plot was about a Bosnian Serb commander running a rape camp, akin to the Foca camps, and a beautiful Bosnian Muslim woman who falls in love with him. But this is not the plot of In the Land of Blood and Honey, not by a long shot.
I read more, and realised that the film was trying to show how, before the war, cultural and ethnic divides were practically non-existent in the former Yugoslavia, and how Jolie wanted to portray a country shattered by conflict. But still, I went to see my first screening of the film in a defensive mood: I was waiting to pick it apart with a fine-tooth comb. It seemed obscene to me that Hollywood stars should get their hands into the Bosnian conflict, which was still raw, still bleeding. It had broken my heart in two, and I was only a reporter.
I remember emerging from Jolie's film for the first time on a cold winter morning, stunned. My first thought was that I needed a whisky. I don't drink whisky and it was only 11am. The scenes were so realistic, so close to the war that I had lived with, so emotional, I excused myself and went home to ruminate and eventually cry. My two colleagues did go out and down that whisky.
I've since watched Blood and Honey three more times, each time having more respect for Jolie's attention to detail and her determination to get everything right. As a veteran reporter from the Bosnian war, I went into the screening room a cynic, and emerged wondering how a woman who was 17 at the time of the war, and who admits she knew nothing about it at the time, could put her finger so clearly on such a complicated conflict.
When I met Jolie some time later, shortly before the release of her film, I was equally amazed at her knowledge of the region, and the care she had put into acquiring skills to direct an entirely Bosnian cast, some of whom did not speak English. She had studied and read books on the Balkans like a diligent schoolgirl, taken notes, enrolled in a course in humanitarian law. She filmed Blood and Honey twice, once in Bosnian, once in English. She cast the actors to perfection: from the young, cheeky and tragic soldiers, the defenders of Sarajevo, to the leading lady who opens the film as a young woman and ends it scarred and emotionally battered by war – and her Serb lover.
Most important to me was the background of Sarajevo, a city that means so much to me. And while Blood and Honey is a bleak story, it is also a love story about a city that never fell, that never sank to its knees.
She used actors who had been through the war, actors who had lost family, actors who wore their older brothers' uniforms. She was intensely sensitive to other's reactions, and as she later told me she spent a lot of time listening to people. She knew in some ways she was taking on an impossible task and she wanted to be prepared.
By the time Blood and Honey came out, Jolie had been working at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) as a special envoy for nearly a decade. She had seen her share of horror and not through a jeep's rear window. Jolie was a traveller who put on a backpack and took a torch and rain gear, who drove on bumpy roads like the rest of us. She listened to people in the same way – with empathy and compassion – as Audrey Hepburn did in her role at the UN decades before.
Jolie's desire to capture the Bosnian war on film came out of her direct experience of working with refugees. She wanted to make a film that would recount the horror of the war that took place in the last decade of the 20th century in a city three hours' flight from London, and how it eroded Bosnian society. She wanted to show how the multi-ethnic culture had been destroyed (as Syria's is being destroyed, right now). She wanted to show how war came home to families – to women, to children.
The details in Blood and Honey were things that perhaps no one else would notice. But for a small group of us who reported the war and remained loyal to the country that once was Bosnia, they were important: the black war humour; the longing for cigarettes and fresh fruit; even the love story at its core.
Yes, love. Because as anyone who has lived through war knows, love and war are interlinked on a primitive level, even if one does not want to admit it. Adrenaline, emotions, fear, death, attraction, longing, sadness, love, sorrow, the need to connect with another human being – they all go in the same basket. And somehow, Jolie – who was born and raised in Los Angeles and could have had a career never setting foot in African refugee camps or interviewing women who had been raped in war – got it.
She also had a keen sense that by tackling the Bosnian war she was putting her head in the lion's mouth. She had sent me a note asking me not to judge the film without seeing it, and that we were on "the same side" – meaning the side of the good; the side of the civilians who suffer during time of war, who lose their innocence, their lives, their work, their homes, their dignity.
Her humanitarian work had, in some ways, prepared Jolie for Blood and Honey. I was living in the Ivory Coast in 2002 when she arrived en route to Sierra Leone on one of her first missions. A group of UN friends held a small dinner for her, nothing fancy, at a friend's house. Her Bosnian cast, who were at first shocked to hear that Lara Croft was coming to direct a film about Bosnia, adored her with a fierce loyalty. They were amazed how down to earth, how motherly, how kind, she was to them. Most of all, they appreciated the fact that she did not want to leave the Bosnian war forgotten.
At the New York premiere in December 2011 they were tearful as they described what it was like to work with someone who was so involved with a film that depicted their lives.
Perhaps the proof of her loyalty to the project was that the afternoon following the world premiere in Sarajevo she held a small private lunch for a select group of us who had reported the war, at the Holiday Inn, our old wartime home. She wanted to know what she, and we, could do to move forward from the war, to make Bosnia a better place. "Let's look to the future," she said.
Over cappuccinos and sandwiches, she carefully noted all of our suggestions – from microclimate tomato farms to peace reconciliations – in a little book. I remember thinking what a brilliant listener she was. She asked questions about what concrete work could be done. Her questions were intelligent, razor-sharp. Then Jolie left with Pitt to rejoin their kids in Paris. But not before leaving the most hardcore cynical group of reporters on earth convinced that, once in a while, Hollywood produces the absolute real thing.
Janine di Giovanni is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and the author of Ghosts by Daylight (Bloomsbury). She is writing a book about SyriaJanine di Giovanni
It could be time to rehabilitate of some of Scotland's more colourful characters
There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about Alice Cooper's controversial song I Love the Dead, the last track on his classic 1973 Billion Dollar Babies album. Many have dismissed it merely as an unsophisticated and juvenile attempt to shock by glorifying necrophilia. I, on the other hand, have always thought that it is possessed of far more profound cultural significance.
I love the dead before they're cold,
Their blueing flesh for me to hold.
Cadaver eyes upon me see nothing
The song, I feel, can help those of us who are either contemplating death or who are struggling with the loss of a loved one. Perhaps, too, it gently mocks those who take the business of death and dying far too seriously. As such, Alice's challenging but sensible lyrics would have provided an appropriate soundtrack to a meeting last month of Holyrood's education and culture committee on the regulation of the press. This was the Scottish government's latest desperate attempt to appear relevant in the debate on press regulation post-Leveson. The meeting was simply about adding a couple of splashes of tartan into any royal charter on press regulation decided by Westminster. Under the charter, the Scottish Parliament would, of course, have no say in any amendments to the charter or its dissolution.
And lo, it came to pass that in some Holyrood committee room last month, a cadaver of ministers, MSPs and assorted Scottish newspaper editors spent an entire afternoon, which can never, ever be recovered, deciding to insert an amendment to a royal charter. It will, heretofore, be known as the Alice Cooper clause. This would ensure that "appropriate respect and sensitivity was paid to the recently deceased where the only public interest in them was in the manner of their death, and their near relations".
The clause is utterly meaningless, vapid and open to such wide interpretation that it could become dangerous in the hands of those who will always seek to hinder a free press: politicians, the police and the judiciary.
The amendment is merely a clumsily constructed disguise for what it really is: the beginning of a journey that, if some people get their way, would result in "defamation of the dead" legislation. If Scotland were to become independent, there would be very little to stop such legislation occurring. As things stand, Westminster will simply have a chuckle to itself at the Scots' historic and cultural fascination for matters pertaining to the graveyard.
Nor has this come about because Scottish newspapers have a unique tendency to dance on the graves of the deceased. Dear Lord, no. In fact, the obituary pages of Scotland's two mighty broadsheets are among the finest of their oeuvre. It is simply the result of two stories, written more than 20 years ago, by two of Scotland's finest writers, Jack McLean and Meg Henderson, about events surrounding the playground murder of a schoolgirl by one of her schoolmates in Glasgow's East End.
In attempting to unravel some of the complicated issues surrounding the case, including sentencing policy, each of these writers inadvertently caused distress to the surviving family of the victim. Neither McLean nor Henderson, each of whom is unimpeachable in their journalistic ethics, did anything that could be construed as illegal or unethical. At worst, they were insensitive and possibly wrong-headed.
The sense of outrage of the victim's family may be understandable but what is not is the way that Leveson, Holyrood's culture committee and some Scottish newspaper writers have trashed the reputations of these two fine writers without allowing them the right to defend themselves.
I fear now that civic Scotland's desire to be the greatest wee nation in the world for not offending people (dead or alive) may be about to come to fruition. Soon, we may need to rewrite the standard accounts of the lives and deaths of some of our more colourful and edgy characters and deliver them from rebarbative obituary writers. My top three for revisionism are:
1. Sawney Bean Executed in the 16th century for killing and eating more than 1,000 of his fellow human beings (or human beans, hence the surname). Mr Bean, a native of North Ayrshire, had been an agricultural entrepreneur of some note before he fell upon hard times after being conned by English landowners. He was head of a clan of 48 who would starve if he didn't do something about it and pronto. The product of a Catholic education, he soon became the subject of baseless innuendo linked to the deaths of local mendicants. The ruddy and well-fed faces of his followers in a time of economic privation led to jealousy. The tendency of his relatives to play chess with human heads was merely circumstantial.
2. Ally MacLeod The football manager died a broken man and reviled by the nation following Scotland's failure to reach the last eight of the 1978 World Cup. MacLeod was guilty in the eyes of the nation of displaying those two character traits that were once deemed to be capital offences in Scotland: optimism and a sunny disposition. If Scotland had merely been shite throughout our stay in Argentina, the nation could have forgiven him. MacLeod, though, made the fatal error of coaching his side to a 3-2 win over Holland, the best team in Europe. This sealed his fate because it also made him perverse.
3. Burke and Hare These two harmless scallywags were executed for the murder of 16 people in the first half of the 19th century. Yet often overlooked is their substantial contribution to medical science in ensuring that Edinburgh's surgeons had a rich source of healthy cadavers to work on. Most of their victims were miscreants who had probably initiated assaults on the two Irishmen because of their religion. This was a time of widespread anti-Catholicism and the two stout Irishmen were probably just defending themselves. Just think, if Holyrood's Dodgy Sectarian Behaviour Among the Lower Orders bill had been passed 200 years earlier, this would never have happened. And Scotland would still be a third-world nation in medical science. Three cheers, then, for the chaps.Kevin McKenna
A fully paid-up member of the rowdy YBA generation in the 90s, the artist made his name with his household gloss-painted life-size door paintings. On the eve of a solo show at Tate Britain, he talks about his agent Jay Jopling, his farm in upstate New York – and why he now confines his excesses to the studio
The basement floor of Gary Hume's expansive east London studio is a large, bright square room full of creative mess and clutter. There are shelves packed with tins of gloss paint, a table covered in plastic containers of the same, and another long table inches deep in discarded pieces of drawing paper and pages torn from magazines. In the centre of the room stand three sculptures: big, thin, wonky, metal wheels, coated in resin and painted in bright colours, which look like they might topple over at any moment. The only things that are pristine and ordered are the dozen or so new paintings hung in a long, neat line around two walls, colours restrained, lines minimal, their aura inordinately calm.
"That's because they're finished," says Hume, a soft-spoken man in paint-splattered workwear, who wears the permanent expression of someone rudely awoken from a nap who has not yet quite gathered his thoughts. "You really wouldn't want to be here when I am still making them," he says, smiling ruefully. "Then, it's all loud music, sweat and swearing. 'Fuck you! Fuck that, you total piece of shit!' The finished paintings may be calm but the process is anything but."
It's a relief to hear this. Hume has a reputation for restraint rather than excess, for steady endeavour rather than tumultuous creativity. He is generally regarded as the quiet man of the YBA generation, though it may be that he just isn't as loud as some of the others. In 2001 he was the first of that generation to be to be elected to the Royal Academy of Arts. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s he eschewed the shock tactics, confrontation and sensationalism of his more famous peers – Damien, Tracey, the Chapmans – for a more measured approach that respected rather then trampled all over the traditional. A minimalist by temperament if not design, his flat, glossy paintings ran counter to the generational thrust towards grandstanding conceptualism. This restraint has stood him in good stead ever since as the youthful bravura of some of his better-known contemporaries has congealed into somethingempty and cliched.
An artist's artist, Hume is about to have a survey show at Tate Britain alongside the older painter, Patrick Caulfield, with whom he shares a formal affinity if only in their shared fondness for flatness rather than perspective. Hume will show just 24 paintings from 20 years of work, one of which – a nod to his breakthrough series of door paintings from 1988 – will be a painted on to the actual doors into the gallery. There are some surprising omissions, though, including his beautifully empty celebrity portraits of Kate Moss, Patsy Kensit and Michael Jackson, which are signature paintings of a sort. This says something about Hume's single-mindedness and quiet, almost contrary self-assurance. "I chose not to put them in," he says, shrugging. "I've got three rooms at the Tate so I can't really do the big mid-life retrospective. I would have liked six rooms, then I probably would have done just that, but as it is I've chosen by instinct. My wife, Georgie [Hopton, also an artist], usually helps me but she was so busy with her own work that I had to do it myself. I didn't want a greatest hits show either so I just went for interesting paintings."
What, for him, constitutes an interesting painting? I would have assumed they were all interesting or else he would have binned them. He thinks about this for some time. "Well, a painting should be tough, it should have muscle, but I have to find some tenderness in it too. There has to be that dynamic."
I wonder, as we peruse the catalogue for his Tate Britain show, whether the selection really shows off his range and his development as an artist? "Not really," he says, matter-of-factly. "If anything, the paintings I chose have more to do with my memory of making them. The problems they presented to me. In that way, they show that I am actually a picture maker. It's important to me that people see that." He pauses for a moment, looking slightly pained. "People constantly describe me as a formalist or even a minimalist, but I'm not really bothered with the rules of painting or the history of painting. My approach is that everything is mine. I take what I can use from wherever and then I forget where I've taken it from. But there is no point me making anything that looks like anyone else's. There is no point in a painting like that existing."
As is often the case with the quiet ones, Hume is both ambitious and driven. Though he is not in the silly-money league of Hirst or Jeff Koons, his paintings fetch upwards of £250,000 at auction, which means he can now divide his time between his house in London and his farm in upstate New York, which he and his wife are travelling to the following day so that they can tend to their vegetable garden. He has long been represented by Jay Jopling at White Cube. "Jay does his job incredibly well," says Hume. "His business is huge and his reach is huge. He runs a very large business and acts accordingly, whereas before he was getting a grand for something and spending 900 quid on the party. It's 1,000 miles from when we first knew each other."
When they first met, Hume was one of the then unknown young artists in Damien Hirst's now legendary Freeze exhibition in a disused warehouse in London Docklands in 1988. Hume showed his door paintings, which were inspired by a Bupa billboard he saw criticising the NHS, and were based on actual ward doors he measured in Barts hospital, east London, then reproduced life-size in gloss on aluminium. Big, red, shiny and flat, they were, he says, a kind of epiphany. "A door is such a paradoxical and generous object. Nothing is more blank and empty. Or more full."
Before the doors, he says, he was just "muddling along, trying to find my way as an artist". Born in 1962, Hume grew up in solidly middle-class Tenterden in Kent, fourth of five siblings. His father was a bit of a rogue who went awol when he was just a baby and his mother worked as an NHS surgery manager to support the family. She loved poetry and put art prints on the wall but he insists that his upbringing engendered no artistic ambitions. They came later out of necessity. "My desire to be an artist really came out of being broke and unemployed and incapable of holding a job down. That's what it was driven by for sure."
A quietly rebellious teenager, Hume left school at 16 with no qualifications and his route to art school was circuitous and dogged. He did odd jobs, including a stint as an assistant film editor in Soho, before studying life drawing at an adult education college in Camden. Then he spent two years doing art at a technical college in London because his lack of qualifications made him ineligible for a foundation course. A one-year stint followed at Liverpool Polytechnic. Unsettled by being out of London, he transferred to Goldsmiths to finish his degree, telling the administration he had to move back for personal reasons. (He was by then already the father of a young son, now 25 and "trying to make it as a photographer in Brooklyn".)
It was a fortuitous move. At Goldsmiths Hume met a bunch of young artists with attitude that included Hirst, Mat Collishaw and Sarah Lucas, who was Hume's girlfriend for seven years. He later described her as "a live wire". When I ask her what he was like back then, she says: "When he first arrived at Goldsmiths in the second year he was coming into a place that was already very cool and self-conscious. He was easily the least self-conscious person there. He started working away in his studio oblivious to what anyone else was doing. I remember seeing these exploding glass panels of blood, and thinking, 'Well, he's a relief.'"
Hume shakes his head and grimaces when I ask him to recall the work he was making then. "It was all loaded with meaning and signifiers and shamanistic moves and God knows what. I was doing what young artists do, which is doing absolutely everything to try and find a style. It was fantastic to make and quite thrilling but none of it was ever mine."
The door paintings changed all that. Blank but loaded, their shiny, flat surfaces caught the eye of contemporary art tastemakers, including an impressed Charles Saatchi, who descended on Freeze with his magpie eye for the new and the zeitgeisty and bought all of them. The fact that they were painted in household gloss on MDF and aluminium was a big talking point at the time, and one that suggested postmodern novelty. But, in fact, Hume had happened on his style and signature. "I have never been keen on making anything that reflects me in any way," he explains. "I don't want the author to be present. And the door paintings freed me from narrative, which is just not my thing. I'm not interested in my story one little bit."
Has he thought about why this might be? Is it more than simply a Warholian fascination with the surface of things? "It probably comes from a desire to feel something rather that say it. Plus, I do have a certain intellectual anxiety that the story I would tell would be too dull. I couldn't trust it to be interesting enough. I prefer to make something much stiller and emptier, where everybody disappears in it. I disappear, the viewer disappears, you don't know what is going on. I don't really want to know what I'm looking at."
This perhaps gets to the nub of the problem that some critics have with Gary Hume's work. Brian Sewell, enemy of conceptualism and all things contemporary, once wrote, "They offer nothing but a moment's glister and demand no contemplation." Hume has become inured to this kind of criticism and speaks confidently these days about the "stillness" and "calmness" he seeks in the finished works, and the huge amount of often complex-to-the-point-of-baffling thought that goes into them. The Tate Britain show includes his odd portrait of the DJ Tony Blackburn as a dark three-leaf clover, and another of German chancellor Angela Merkel as an expanse of green blankness with pale lips and a yellow chin. He says he has grown interested in Germany's renewed economic and political power after its long period of post-war self-questioning and uncertainty, but it is difficult to extrapolate any of that from the almost abstract composition. I pick out a painting at random from the catalogue, an abstract landscape in shiny pink, blue and brown that could, at a push, be a face. It is called The Cradle. "That was me imagining me doing a children's drawing of a child doing a self-portrait in its cradle," he says, and you sense the kind of strange thought process that goes into every work.
Though he never had the public profile of many of his contemporaries, Hume remembers with fondness the mad, bad days of the YBA era. "There was a certain energy, even at the start when we were all poor and living in squats and freezing to death. A camaraderie. Some absolutely empty aspects of the whole thing were inflated by hype but those were also fantastic years, fantastic times." As a painter he must have felt like the odd one out? "No. Not at all. They all liked my work. There was a mutual respect. I very much felt I was part of something, and making pictures within it."
When the YBAs first began to go overground, Lucas remembers, Hume was "not that quiet at all. In fact, he had a slightly belligerent streak that came out when we first started hobnobbing with dealers and gallery owners. We thought of ourselves as on the other side of the fence back then so there was a certain amount of attitude flying about, and Gary would often put those people on the spot. It was all very entertaining."
I ask Hume if he did the whole Groucho Club lost-weekend stuff with Damien and the rest. "Oh yeah, I partied with the best of them. It felt like the top of the world. I wasn't at the top of the top of the world but I was in it, and I was self-confident, and it was exciting." Did the partying ever get in the way of the painting? "Well, I was drinking too much at one point, yeah. The hangovers got bigger and longer. It was all incremental and you didn't even notice it happening. Then you'd suddenly realise you've been drunk for four days. Mad times, really, but brilliant."
As Sarah Lucas acknowledges, "it suddenly seems like a long time ago".
I wonder if Hume still keeps in touch with the YBA crew? "From a distance. I still feel part of my generation but we've grown older and we're all busy with our own work. I don't see Damien socially because he has gone somewhere else. He hangs out with different people. Rich people, I guess. I still see Sarah from time to time but life goes on. I'm in London making work, and she's in Suffolk making work. It's just time passing." He pauses for a moment, suddenly reflective. "I do think you get lonelier and lonelier being an artist as you get older."
And richer too. At least if you are among the lucky few. Hume speaks with some feeling about the many artists of his generation he knows who are "still making work as they approach their 50s and still struggling to survive". Does he ever think that having a lot of money affects the way he makes art? "It hugely affects it in one way," he replies without hesitation, "because it gives you the absolute freedom to make work every day without distraction or worry."
But does it take away the edge, the sense of being an outsider, a bohemian, a misfit? (Even as I ask this, I hear it sounding hopelessly, romantically old-fashioned, but…) He eyes me a little suspiciously, then marshals his thoughts. "Some artists do make money their driving force," he says, refusing to be more specific, "because it's how they define their own success. And I can see why that is because, as an artist, you do your best to make the best work you can but you can't be sure that it's any good, you can only hope it. So whenever someone hands over hard cash there's a sensation of reward. And relief."
Is that still the case now that he is established and financially secure? "If my paintings don't make their prices at auction, I do find it is very depressing. I start thinking that I'm in decline in terms of my cultural relevance. It only lasts for about half a day but it affects you."
We talk about the huge cultural sea change of recent years, in which it seems like art – and even popular culture – are increasingly becoming gentrified zones of exclusion. "I do sometimes look around Hoxton and think London is becoming like Manhattan," he says. "The young, struggling artists will have to leave as prices get more and more prohibitive. There was a disenfranchisement among my generation that made the YBA thing possible but it seems somehow different now. I get the sensation that art school is another career choice now for respectable, responsible students aiming to make lots of money. You do wonder, what will all the wrong people do? Will they just take drugs for a while, then disappear?"
We walk around his studio and look at his new paintings, all made for a forthcoming show in New York. They seem more abstract and complex in their arrangement of lines and colours, so much so that I have to ask him more than once what it is exactly that I am looking at. A big arrangement of circles and squares turns out to be a sniper in close up. Another the shirt and tie of an American chief of police. The series was inspired, he tells me, by a magazine he bought at a deli counter in New York, commemorating the death of Osama Bin Laden. He roots through a pile of papers and uncovers it: a one-off publication called United We Stand. There are pictures of firefighters, policemen, soldiers and members of the public, some grinning and holding up placards celebrating Bin Laden's execution.
"People ask me where I find the starting point for my paintings," he says, grinning, "Well, here is this overwhelming historical moment that is so rich with possibility and I found it right there at the checkout counter along with the Snickers bars and Hello! magazine. You just have to be open to stuff all the time as an artist."
In his own flat, glossy, beautifully empty way, then, Gary Hume is very much a painter of everyday life in all its rich and limitless strangeness.
Gary Hume runs from 5 June to 1 Sept at Tate Britain, London SW1, with a single ticket also covering the Patrick Caulfield exhibition. Members of Extra, the Guardian and Observer membership service, can win one of 100 pairs of tickets to a readers' private view of both exhibitions on Monday 17 June. Join Extra at guardian.co.uk/extraSean O'Hagan