Bedtime stories, wedding fever and a tale of hope from the tsunami

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind is a distant memory of a conversation in the newsroom on Christmas Day: what would be the big stories in the year ahead? The best and brightest of the BBC (OK, OK, those of us who drew the short straw and were in that day) could only think of the royal wedding. None of us had any idea that, by the time William and Kate's nuptials arrived, we would have covered two revolutions, four attempted revolutions, two international military interventions (there is some overlap here) and a tsunami.

So, after a tumultuous few months, it was with a sense of relief that I crossed a new frontier and indulged in a kinder, gentler type of broadcasting. Given that no one in my family has been remotely interested in my appearances on Newsnight or the Ten O'Clock News, I jumped at the chance to be part of a different Bedtime Hour - one with a reliable, forgiving and deeply loyal audience.

Yes, nothing beats the kudos of reading the bedtime story on CBeebies, whether at the school gates, with fellow presenters ("How did you manage it?"), or at home, where my stock has risen considerably. The icing on the cake was ending with the time-honoured "And now it's time for you to go to bed", feeling I was doing my bit for my fellow frazzled parents.

Memorable marriages
We now seem to be in the midst of wedding fever - and not just on these shores. American interest in our royal family is well documented, but BBC World News was besieged with interest from around the globe from the moment of the engagement.

We've now broadened our coverage to look at extreme weddings around the world - including Tajikistan, where legislation is in place to limit how big a bash you can throw for your daughter. It's not the only country to be concerned - Pakistan brought in a similar rule some time ago. And at a family wedding last year, I was very taken with the approach of my cousin and his wife, who had their wedding list with a Pakistani children's charity. (Perhaps that's where Wills and Kate got the idea.)

Ahead of 29 April, I have been recording episodes of Witness for the BBC World Service, on other weddings that have caught the public imagination over the years. We started with the Beckhams (I'd forgotten about the thrones), moving on to the King of Bechuanaland (whose queen was Ruth from Blackheath), Wallis and Edward (whose best man was called "Fruity"), and then Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly. Turns out the price of Kelly's early release from her MGM contract was not only exclusive TV rights to the wedding, but also studio involvement in managing the ceremony, right down to designing the dress.

Cairo stories
Planning is well under way for my next project - a two-part BBC2 series on the Arab revolutions. Fascinating subject, and a chance to revisit Cairo, which captivated me when I was there during Mubarak's final days in February.

Judging from a Frontline Club discussion I hosted for the novelist Ahdaf Soueif the other day, there is still plenty of appetite for the story behind those remarkable scenes in Tahrir Square. Soueif herself is one of those rare authors every bit as good with the spoken word as the written, and wonderful at giving a sense of place. Years before I experienced the real Cairo, it existed in my head, thanks to her novel In the Eye of the Sun. Wish we could take her on the road with us.

The year of coalition
Speaking of books, as the anniversary of the election approaches, I've enjoyed David Laws's 22 Days in May, an eyewitness account of last year's coalition negotiations. Given the outcome of those talks, it's hardly surprising he paints a more favourable picture of the Tory negotiators than of Labour's. Yet some of the descriptions are memorable, including what Laws remembers as a collective look of horror from Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman at one of his suggestions: "as if a rather unpleasant odour had assaulted their senses".

Another small miracle Japan
Quite the opposite emotion for us as we made it to our favourite local Japanese restaurant. It was the first time we'd been in since the tsunami and, thankfully, all the staff's relatives in Japan were safe. They told us the economic impact of the disaster was clear to them even here in London - not just in the fish they were no longer able to source, but in disrupted supplies of products such as sake.

There was more of the long, slow road to recovery in Japan the following night at the Ten O'Clock News when I watched a report on the lost teenage swimming team of Rikuzentakata. Two girls survived after being swept into a storeroom where the water kept rising before finally, miraculously, stopping just six inches below the ceiling. Even after a month of shattering images from Japan, this one will stay with me.

The batsman's off
As parents of three boys, we always knew sport was going to be a big part of our lives, but I am thankful for the fact that spring means Sunday mornings are now spent watching them play cricket rather than muddy games of football. And while I would do almost anything to avoid having to play football, I am not averse to a bit of family cricket, and have not (so far) disgraced myself, although my eldest did take me to task for crooking my arm while bowling. My style has since been corrected.

However, I am sorry to report that there is a lot of work to do in teaching our young cricketers how to be good sportsmen. So far, every wicket taken in our family games has ended with the player concerned walking off in tears, or, worse, threatening to punch someone. I suppose I should be thankful - no one has (as yet) done a Wayne Rooney.

Mishal Husain is a BBC News and BBC World News presenter

This article first appeared in the 25 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Easter special

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.