Scientist Lord Robert Winston

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Published: 2 July 2011

Scientist Lord Robert Winston:

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again...I do not become too attached to things.  If I lose something, I simply move on.

The unending quest that drives you on...To keep on learning about all manner of things.

The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions...I’d spend all day skiing alone in the French Alps.  I love the remoteness of the mountains.  I would helicopter to the top of La Vallee Blanche and ski the incredible off-piste decent to Chamonix. I would have dinner there with a bottle of great Burgundy, preferably a La Tache by Romanée-Conti, although that is hard to find these days because the Chinese have bought so much.

The temptation you wish you could resist...I love a really good whiskey, like a 25 year Macallan single malt.  It makes me pleasantly happy and sleepy.

The book that holds an everlasting resonance...Michel de Montaigne’s Book of Essays.  He was a monumentally brilliant French writer in the 16th century whose essays are gems that encapsulate important philosophy.  I urge people to read them.

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day...I would want to understand Farsi so could I eavesdrop on the Iranian government.  It seems to threaten so much we hold dear in the West, so I’d be riveted to understand what its leaders really think about us.

The way fame and fortune has changed you, for better and worse...I am concerned about the whole cult of celebrity.  I don’t think I am famous, but I do get recognized and asked to sign bits of paper. Being well known has enabled me to support more charitable activities, but I am probably more materialistic than I should be.  I am one for extravagance and probably live more expensively and wastefully that I need to.  

The film you can watch time and time again...Fanny and Alexander, directed by Ingmar Bergman.  It is about the world seen through a child’s eyes and is a very human film.  It is five hours long, but is absolutely enchanting and one of the greatest films ever made.   

The person who has influenced you most...Professor John McClure Browne.  He was very important in promoting my research into reproductive biology at Hammersmith hospital in the 1970s.  He died of a stroke in 1978.

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint...I don’t like pies or pints, but I’d have a glass of wine with the Austrian composer Franz Schubert.  He is one of the greatest composers and I’d ask him who he really respected musically.  He was a gregarious person, so he would be good company. 

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child...Treat everybody with a pleasant countenance and think the best of them.  Then you will get the best out of them.

 The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity...I have been into building Gauge One sized model steam engines for 30 years.  Steam trains have personalities and I make them from kits and they go around my garden on a 45mm track.

The prized possession you value above all others...My 1935 Bentley.  It is a two-tone 3.5 litre standard saloon in green and cream.  I had one when I was a student in the 1960s but had to sell it when I was short of money.  I have had this one for a couple of years and it goes beautifully.  It is very docile but will go fast enough to keep up with modern traffic.

The unqualified regret you wish you could amend...Not keeping in touch with old friends and nurturing those human contacts.  I miss not knowing what they are doing with their lives.  

The poem that touches your soul...To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvel, the 17th century British metaphysical poet.  It is a beautiful poem about love and the brevity of human life.

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase... I don’t know what misapprehensions there are of me.  People are complimentary and nice and I don’t get negative reactions.  Maybe they think I am nicer than I really am, but I wouldn’t want to erase that!

The event that altered the course of your life and character...Marrying my wife Lira in 1973.  Marriage alters the course of one’s life more than anything else we do.   

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it...I would shoot Sepp Blatter – preferably painfully, with several shots.  It is shocking how he has managed FIFA and brought a very important international game into utter disrepute.  The culture of cheating and dishonesty in football is spread by the massively bad influence of people like Blatter.  

The song that means most to you...Come in Quest’ora Bruna  – How in the Morning Light – from Verdi’s opera Simone Boccanegra.  It is Verdi writing at his absolute refined best.  The character, Amelia, sings as she watches the dawn over the waters of Venice.  It is a wilting, evocative song that captures the spectacular light of Venice.

The happiest moment you will cherish forever...Leaving St Paul’s School in London when I was 18.  I enjoyed it there but leaving was an extraordinarily interesting moment.  I suddenly felt grown up and, above all, free. (italics)

The saddest time that shook your world...My father’s death when I was nine in 1949.  He was a polymath.  He played the violin and was a championship chess player and was bigger than life.  He died of a brain abscess when he was only 42, having lived a life that most would not achieve at 62.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you...To build a model steam engine that is big enough to pull me around the garden.

The philosophy that underpins your life...Value what you have and do not strive for things you cannot obtain.  That is a sure way to unhappiness.

The order of service at your funeral...Jewish funerals are fairly unshowy affairs.  We do not play music or have much of an order of service, so I don’t really think about my funeral.

The way you want to be remembered...As somebody who valued humanity, children, and our society.

The Plug...Lord Winston appears at the Harrogate Summer Festival on July 7.   For tickets visit