Literary Festival: Mental Health Tik Tok Star, Emotional Pottery Judge and Broadcasting Legend

The Henley Literary Festival once again brought us an amazing line up of stars this year. Here in our first set of reviews, we enjoyed listening to Dr Julie Smith, psychologist turned Tik Tok star, the loveable and emotional judge Keith Brymer Jones from the Great Pottery Throw Down and legendary BBC broadcaster, David Dimbleby.

Dr Julie Smith
Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

Clinical Psychologist turned Tik Tok star Dr Julie Smith gave the audience some simple tips to put in their toolkit to help with mental health.

Dr Julie started her bitesize 60 sec Tik Toks after “a terrible start with videos on YouTube”. Her followers exploded when lockdown hit.  She commented, “Inspiration quotes are all right in the moment.  I wanted people to learn simple things that would make a real difference and it was battle to keep the videos both engaging and educational.” Her book gives helpful tips on self-doubt, fear, stress, grief etc.

Mindfulness to Julie is not all about meditating – crossing your legs and humming in front of a tree.  Julie commented, “Who has got an hour to do nothing and many feel awkward doing this.”  She then got the audience to do a simple breathing exercise which took just five minutes.

Talking about confidence and self esteem Dr Julie said, “You don’t need to work on your self esteem. Focus on what you like about yourself. Confidence cannot grow if not willing to be without it.”

Many people suffer from stress anxiety, Dr Julie commented, “Things from inside and things on the outside affect mental health.  Our brain is constantly taking in the outside world and reacting to it. Our brain will make a judgement and stress is our response so it actually working for us. If we abuse the system that’s when we get in trouble. When we get bogged down basics are so important; nutrition, sleep, exercise and social connection we underestimate.”

Dr Julie’s biggest advice was to put just one of her tips into practice and do it lots of times so that it becomes natural like cleaning your teeth.  Don’t try lots of things at once.

Keith Brymer Jones
Boy in a China Shop

The loveable emotional judge from Channel 4’s The Great Pottery Throw Down, Keith Brymer Jones nearly got the audience crying along with him on Monday night at the Kenton Theatre.

He told the audience of his first epiphany moment when he was given a lump of clay at school aged 11 which first ignited his passion. Keith said, “I had a bloody awful school experience as I have Dyslexia and back in the 80s you were just considered thick.  Pottery gave me an amazing escape and I would go into the pottery room before, during lunchtime and after school.  When I bunked off school I would go to the V&A.”

At a young age Keith surprised the audience by telling them he was an accomplished ballet dancer and auditioned for the Royal Ballet School. With his dance background, Keith was asked would he do Strictly?  Keith replied, It has been talked about but it is filmed at the same time as Pottery Throw Down.  I wouldn’t be adverse to doing it I think it would be fun and keep me fit. Not sure how Marj (his wife) would feel.”

After learning his craft at Harefield pottery, Keith got his big break after starting out on his own when he took a photograph of one his bowls into Heals. He explained, “I got the 134 bus which stopped outside their head office on the Tottenham Court Road and the next day a buyer phoned me up and placed an order for 200 they needed in 2 weeks.  They then kept doubling the orders and the buyer said afterwards, “We’re taking bets to see how many bowls you can actually make.”

How did get his TV break?  In 2015, his business partner Dom said to him, “I’ve been trawling the internet and have you had heard of Adele (he was devoid of any culture himself).  My Uncle has got a mansion like the one in Adele’s video Rolling in the Deep, why don’t we film a spoof of Rolling in Clay with you dressed up as Adele singing. Keith said, “The video went viral and the boss of Love Productions who make The Great British Bake Off and The Sewing Bee were looking at creating a new pottery show. He thought was a cross-dressing nutter and didn’t even know I was a potter!  I said I didn’t want to do car-crash TV, I wanted to show off pottery as an art. He convinced me after a few glasses of wine.” His stardom has meant that Keith has some celebrity fans including Brad Pitt.

What moves Keith to tears when judging?  Keith replied, “It’s the person’s ability and struggle to get out what is in their head and want to portray to us and when it is done really well and they show their imagination. When all those boxes are ticked it is something that touches me. Christine’s self portrait in the last series about her breast cancer battle cut the atmosphere with a knife.  The sound man afterwards said, “Mate that’s the Bafta there”.  None of knew this story – it was TV Gold.”

A new series of The Great Pottery Throw Down will be aired in the New Year and Keith hinted that there would be something at Christmas time too.  He’s planning on moving from the Kent coast to a run-down old chapel in Wales where pigeons are currently living in and building a home and his own studio for the first time.

David Dimbleby
Keep Talking

“Terrifying” were the first words that David Dimbleby said when he was asked by interviewer Bryony Gordon what it was like to be at the Henley Literary Festival for his sold out show (500 in the audience) in the Baillie Gifford Marquee at Phyllis Court.  He was only used to a live audience of 150 at BBC Question Time.  He asked whether anyone in the audience had been in the audience at Question Time to which 3 or 4 people raised their hands with one man saying that he hadn’t been able to ask his question.

David claimed to be the oldest broadcaster at 84 saying “I started by TV career at the age of 12 when I was asked to step in on the BBC’s Family Favourites when comedian Ted Ray’s son dropped out at the last minute.”

Election nights are one of David’s favourite things to do.  He exclaimed, “I love doing them.  It’s like being a ringmaster. Its wonderful theatre and I love that you’re flying by your seat of pants.”

David was the first to start to do serious interviews with Prime Ministers and did annual interviews with Mrs Thatcher for Panorama.  He explained, “She was always on guard and very rude.”

He retold the story of when he was interviewing Mrs Thatcher in Washington and she wanted The White House as the backdrop so they sat on a bench.  David explained, “Her image maker didn’t like the angle we were sitting so I took a waste paper basket and turned it upside down which then subsequently fell to the ground.  So I then had to the interview down on my knees. A British tourist saw this and took a photo of me on my knees and sent it to Number 10.  I found out she had seen the photo but never mentioned it.”

Fewer and fewer politicians these days want to sit down for 40 min interview to talk about policies.  They just want to do sound bites.  I think it undermines democracy if politicians won’t agree to do interviews.  Johnson and Truss wouldn’t agree to be interviewed by Andrew Marr.  David’s not sure what he would ask Liz Truss. He said “It takes me a week to come with the right questions.”

David has covered many state occasions over the years.  David commented, “The event speaks for itself you don’t need to keep rabbiting on.  I imagine sitting by myself with a couple of others who are being moved the event. The pictures are what people want to see you, you just say minimal words.  My

His father covered the 1952 Queen’s coronation and “learnt brevity on this occasion”. Talking about the Queen’s funeral, David said, “I had been asking the BBC for a while whether they wanted me to part of the Queen’s funeral.  They rang me up the day after she died.  I was sailing a boat in Devon at the time they said she was not well so I stayed at home that day and they rang and asked me.”

“I went to Windsor on the following Friday and spent the entire weekend there.  The rehearsals were most extraordinary starting at 5am with the entire procession in the dark which was an incredible moving and out of body experience.  A magical moment.”  He joked that he probably wouldn’t know whether he would be involved in the Coronation until the day before too.

David learnt for the first time after the Queen’s funeral that as soon as the live filming has gone out it is the copyright of Buckingham Palace.  He said, “They stated that you can’t use 1345 when Prince George touches his nose or when Eugenie and Beatrice leave St George’s Chapel.  I think it is wrong and it’s not discourteous to question this.”

Asked who his worst interviewee was, David replied, local resident Russell Brand saying “He was a nightmare” and his most frustrating was Nelson Mandela who wouldn’t answer his question about what it had done to him being imprisoned for 27 years.


Photos: Scarlet Page