Several years ago beside the sea in a remote part of Crete I received a text message from Victoria Hislop who was location scouting for a TV series of her dramatic novel, The Island. We met half-an-hour’s drive away in a village taverna with her film director Theo Papadoulakis. 18 months later The Island (To Niso) was broadcast in 26 episodes and had Greece captivated by its story of life in Spinalonga, the island off Crete where people with leprosy, thought to be contagious, were immured from 1903 to 1957. The series premiered in 2010 to record audience ratings and critical acclaim.
What a pleasure, several years later, to welcome Victoria as my guest at a Semple Secrets event on 23 June at The Club at The Ivy.
Semple Secrets appeals to people who have a curious thirst for knowledge, who are curious for new worlds and horizons, who actively seek out why people have a treasured item and the story that lays behind it. A simple proposition that continues to capture the imagination of everyone, particularly women. Over the years we have hosted events with fascinating commentators and innovators including Clare Wilcox from the V&A, Grayson Perry and Louise Court editor of Cosmopolitan magazine.
This time around our event was in aid of Lepra, a charity that has over the last 90 years changed the lives of people affected by disease, poverty and prejudice. MSL has selected its charity associations with care and the evening attracted people who were both intrigued by Victoria as a best-selling author and her role as the Ambassador for Lepra.
As the audience settled at The Club at The Ivy on a warm June evening, Victoria gave us her personal account of The Island. We found out that she had learned to speak Greek, ‘it scares me, but I wanted to speak for myself rather than through a translator,’ and that her novel sprang from a visit to Spinalonga, ‘one of those life-transforming experiences.’ During her research and subsequent filming she met the last surviving person from Spinalonga and she produced a touching photograph of her with Manolis Fountoulakis.
Whenever I host a Semple Secrets I make a point of not discovering beforehand what my guest might reveal as their treasured item. Victoria described being offered a crowd ‘extra’ role in the film and to my surprise took out a plastic wallet containing a piece of latex that was applied to her cheek for the scenes that featured people with different stages of leprosy.
As I held the wallet between my thumb and forefinger and showed it to the audience I admitted that I was a little squeamish. The event allowed me to both support the vital work of Lepra and discuss with an inspiring author her journey towards an immensely successful novel. It reconfirmed my belief that all the work we do at MSL is emotionally and spiritually uplifting, connecting all of us through stories and promoting understanding.
By Maggie Semple