Diary - Jon Snow

Tony O'Reilly met Frank Longford in the shower after an Ireland <em>v</em> France rugby match. O'Rei

The Cafe de Paris in Piccadilly Circus was the venue for an extraordinary string of performances last week. First, it swarmed with teenagers of all shapes, sizes and sexes. This was Kids Company, made up of youngsters excluded from school, some mothers and fathers of children before their 15th birthdays, others in conflict with the constabulary.

They bounded on to the stage clasping microphones, their music and dance ranging from garage to R&B. After it was all over, tables groaning with silver cups and scrolls were lugged to the stage. There then ensued a most uplifting prize-giving. Huge Afro-Caribbean boys emerged from the half-light to take a prize for returning to school. A demure little white 15-year-old won a prize for being the year's most caring mother. Some had to be called three or four times before they would brave the footlights to share in the celebration of their achievement.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, the power and the glory behind the project, has been scrabbling for money to keep it open. Gordon Brown's spending review has finally delivered her victory - a pot of funding specifically aimed at enabling projects such as hers to win support. Kids Company and its beacon project, under the railway arches in Brixton, deserve not only to be funded, but to be replicated in every city in Britain. Trouble is, there's only one Camila Batmanghelidjh.


The Chancellor was one of the star turns at "Our Barbara". Whose Barbara? Well, to some extent, theirs - the serried ranks of Labour old and new. Neil Kinnock did a sensitive and measured job of chairing Barbara Castle's memorial farewell, but you couldn't help thinking that there were many, many more people who would love to have been there. As it was, the Central Hall, Westminster, had crammed in all of the chairs, but not all of the people. A solid phalanx of lords and MPs packed the centre aisles, and various of the faithful filled the blocks immediately either side. The speeches were superb. Blair, Straw, Glenys Kinnock, Brown and the indefatigable Michael Foot. Each brought something different - even if, in Blair's case, it was an early spin for Barbara in her grave. "I'm not having him speak," she is reported to have whispered somewhere near her deathbed.


But I still found myself coming back to "Whose Barbara?". "Our Barbara", proclaimed the sign above the stage. But she was more than the Labour Party's Barbara. She was Britain's Barbara, and there should have been a much more egalitarian approach to remembering her, one who embraced the legions of pensioners, people of other parties and of none who loved, loathed and loved her again - make-up artists, hairdressers and taxi drivers.


I don't think Lord Longford's head ever encountered a hairdresser. His first memorial lecture was held the day after Barbara's memorial, and it brought together absolutely everyone - from the odd earl to the erstwhile drug-dependent and alcoholic recidivist - and at least one combination of all three. All human life was jammed into Church House. I owe my first job to Frank, so I found myself chairing the event. Somehow fortune had delivered us Cherie Booth, who was trailed around by a potentially contentious lad from the Daily Mail. Undaunted, Cherie delivered a pretty brilliant account of the role of the Human Rights Act in the lives of the victim, the vulnerable, the prisoner and the law. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that she is a class act. Her openness and accessibility afterwards provoked a shockingly reasonable account of the proceedings in the Mail, and absolute delight among the mixed array of Frank's devotees who witnessed it. Undoubtedly, the memory of Frank which stole the show was that of Tony O'Reilly, owner of the Independent: "I first met Lord Longford in the shower after the Ireland v France rugby match in 1956. I was naked, singing lustily with the rest of the team, when a large figure in a black overcoat and Homburg hat joined me in the shower. He talked excitedly about the game. I watched with fascination as the brim of his hat filled up with water, and the water finally cascaded over the edge of his hat like a gigantic fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens. This, I said to myself, is a true Irish rugby supporter."


So to Trinity College, Cambridge, to sit at the feet of the master, Amartya Sen. A blue sky, mown lawns and Bach drifting across from the chapel. Centuries of earlier masters adorn his drawing room. Period furniture, lovely rugs. The only sign of India are the books on the Queen Anne tables. For an hour and a half, I sit in tutorial with him on the window seat. I'm going to India to anchor Channel 4 News from Delhi as part of the channel's "Indian Summer", whose centrepiece is the Test cricket series with India.

Amartya takes me on an incredible voyage through the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party, to Gujarat and Kashmir, from nuclear arms to poverty, from space to call-centres. Somehow this Nobel laureate manages to keep it all on an accessible, human plane. Sen is a man at Nelson Mandela's high table, one of a tiny handful of truly exceptional people of our age. Interestingly, almost all hail from the world we once tried to rule.