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10 December 2018updated 21 Sep 2023 4:23pm

The night that changed my life: writers share the cultural encounters that shaped them

Suzanne Moore, Simon Armitage, Musa Okwonga, Olivia Laing and others recall life-changing moments. 

By New Statesman

Read all the pieces in the New Statesman’s “The night that changed my life” series, available now in our Christmas special issue.

Rose Tremain on interviewing her teenage icon: “He is 77 and I am 57. My hands are shaking. My heart is furiously beating.”

Paul Morley on the Sex Pistols’ legendary 1976 gig: “It made me the writer I wanted to be”.

David Hare on a sunlit afternoon with Hitchcock: “we sat all afternoon, eating cold roast beef and baked potatoes and asking him anything we wanted.”

Simon Armitage on David Bowie at the V&A: “The exhibition turned me from a grumpy old man into a weeping 15-year-old boy.”

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Kate Mosse on her first trip to the theatre: “Launched into another world, perfect and bright and different, exciting and confusing.”

Rowan Williams on watching Ivan the Terrible on TV: “it was the start of a lifelong fascination with Russian history, culture and religion.”

Olivia Laing on the cabaret that helped her discover her queer identity: “I’m trans,” I told a friend on the steps outside”.

Alan Johnson on joining the Labour Party: “Three pints with Mick from four doors down was all it took for me to sign up.”

Sarah Hall on seeing Eric Clapton live: “It didn’t make me a rock convert: but it hooked me on live music.”

Simon Callow on his first opera: “I was a 16-year-old schoolboy besotted by classical music but only, so far, on record.”

Musa Okwonga on a game-changing hip-hop night: “On my schoolfriend Nick’s 18th birthday, I learnt what stage presence was”.

Margaret Drabble on Watching Pirandello on TV in 1954: “I felt I was entering the adult world”.

Jon Savage on discovering Aubrey Beardsley: “The exquisite line drawings opening my eyes to art”.

Kevin Barry on watching Paris, Texas with his father: “I could see that he was moved by the story, perhaps uncomfortably so.”

Lavinia Greenlaw on Anni Albers at the Tate: “I left the Albers retrospective feeling a mixture of triumph and rage.”

Jonathan Coe on the premiere of Steve Reich’s Different Trains: “The impact, on me and on everyone else in the hall that night, was overwhelming.”

John Gray on eating ice cream with JG Ballard: “I found that he embodied everything I admired in his work.”

Eimear McBride on Romeo Castellucci’s take on the Divine Comedy: “It was revelatory”.

Philip Hoare on a lifetime shared with David Bowie: “It’s one long performance, one long evening shading into brilliant night.”

Josie Rourke on an all-male As You Like It in Manchester: “I realised that there was such a thing as transcendent performance.”

Frank Cottrell-Boyce on seeing The Pogues by accident: “Their performance showed me that sincerity always beats irony.”

Suzanne Moore on her daughter’s coma: “People think they know about comas but they don’t. It’s not like the films.”

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This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special