Entertainment & Arts

Kirsty Young admits to Aung San Suu Kyi Desert Island slip-up

Aung San Suu Kyi Image copyright AP
Image caption Ms Suu Kyi's choice includes a "first", for the show

Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young has revealed she was so overwhelmed by interviewing Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi that she forgot a key question on air.

Young, who had been "swotting for this interview like I was doing an exam", omitted to ask Ms Suu Kyi which of her eight tracks she would save.

Senior producer Nick Springate prompted Young when he "frantically signalled to me by holding up a single finger".

The interview took place in Burma.

It followed six months of negotiations for BBC Radio 4 and took place in December last year at Ms Suu Kyi's home in Naypyidaw.

Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams wrote to the chair of Burma's National League for Democracy to request the interview after hearing Ms Suu Kyi say, while delivering her Nobel Lecture in June, that she listened to Desert Island Discs while living in Oxford.

"It was a well-known programme - for all I know, it still continues," said the Burmese pro-democracy leader, who studied at Oxford University and lived in the UK for 18 years.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Young said her mind had been "busy doing cartwheels of joy"

Young told the Radio Times that she forgot the crucial question because the interview had been "so intense and had such a surreal quality about it" that her "mind was busy doing cartwheels of joy".

Luckily the speedy intervention of Springate saved the day.

There had been a long build-up to the interview, which Young revealed had fallen through several times.

"It wasn't until I was sitting opposite her with a microphone that I actually believed it was going to happen," she said.

Young did not reveal Ms Suu Kyi's musical choices, although they include a "first" for the show. She did say that most of the choices were "for family reasons: connections to her childhood, to her own children".

The politician spoke during the interview about her father - the leader of Burma's struggle for independence in the 50s, who was assassinated when she was just two. She also discussed being raised by her mother.

Ms Suu Kyi met her late husband, academic Michael Aris, in Oxford, and they married in 1971 and had two sons.

'A showstopper'

Having returned to the military state of Burma in 1988 to nurse her mother, she went on to give a speech to crowds of half a million during protests and political unrest.

She was placed under house arrest before Burma's 1990 election. Mr Aris was refused a visa to visit her before he died of terminal cancer in 1999.

The interview includes her feelings about her relationship with him and how they dealt with the Burmese Government's refusal to allow them to see each other.

The political prisoner was not released until shortly after the November 2010 polls that formally ended military rule.

Ms Suu Kyi's party has now rejoined the political process and secured a small presence in Parliament after winning by-elections in April 2012.

Young said: "She speaks very poignantly of the torment she went through. It was emotional torture for her, but she refuses to self-aggrandise and plays down her personal suffering.

"She's been through hell and back and yet she remains a woman of humour, intellect and dignity. She's a showstopper."

Ms Suu Kyi's selection can be heard on BBC Radio 4 at 11.15 GMT on Sunday.

More on this story

Around the BBC