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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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.