I stole the idea of this from the website of a fellow author. At first I worried it seemed a bit vain, but then I started making a list and it's an interesting exercise. (I'd invite you to make your own list – you may surprise yourself.)
So here it is, six things you never knew about me... and I hope there'll be more to add in future…
1) I've touched something that has been on the moon
My father was an engineer who for most of his career worked for RCA, the American electronics giant; at the time it was the tenth biggest company in the world and NASA was a customer. In 1971 he built a factory in Jersey, for the groundbreaking of which the shovel used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to collect the first moon dust was sent over from Philadelphia.
My brother and I (and our Action Men) were allowed to play with it; it was surprisingly flimsy.
2) I played the piano for the King of Sweden
When I was an impecunious cub journalist I supplemented my income by playing the piano in restaurants and bars. One gig was a private dinner party for the King of Sweden at Grosvenor House. He specified that he wanted the music extremely soft so on arrival I found the piano had been stuffed with foam.
3) When I was 14 our house burnt down
Yes, to the ground. While we were away attending my grandmother's funeral, a fire destroyed the family home right down to the foundations. My father blamed my mother for leaving a blow heater on, my mother said it was my father's soldering iron.
Friends' reactions were revealing. Were the dogs OK? Had the tropical fish been saved? What happened to your jewellery/violin/clothes/squash racquet/family photographs? [Note for animal lovers: the dogs were in kennels, the fish were saved by firemen.]
4) I saved a rose from extinction
After watching the Greer Garson weepie Mrs Miniver in 2014, I got it into my head to grow the scented red rose created by MGM to boost the movie. After months of research I traced the last remaining plant to a garden in Germany. You can read the story here (sorry about the paywall). This gorgeous rose is available to order from St Bridget Nurseries in Exeter.
5) I'm an expert on Romanian classical pianist Dinu Lipatti
Lipatti (1917-1950) is 'the pianist's pianist', a transcendant talent whose life was cut tragically short at the age of 33. I've spent years researching his life in Bucharest and Switzerland (read more here – sorry, that paywall again) and championed him for BBC Radio 4's Great Lives (here). You can see a tantalising glimpse of Dinu and his then fiancée at a 1947 Lucerne garden party in a short film I made for Youtube, here. (Film starts at 48.18.)
It is Lipatti's performance of a Mozart piano concerto that Paul Delamare plays in the background during the epilogue of Knife Skills For Beginners.
Note for thriller fans: the pianist was treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma at a Swiss clinic called La Moubra. A very similar establishment is the creepy setting for Sarah Pearse's brilliant The Sanatorium.
5) My grandfather was a spycatcher
William James ('Jim') Skardon (1904-87) was my paternal grandfather, a Met detective who rose to become a crack MI5 interrogator, of whom Philby said: 'The only man I feared was Skardon.'
He was one of the agents who ran Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce) to ground in Germany in 1945 and was instrumental in exposing the Portland Spy Ring and catching atomic spy Klaus Fuchs. In later life he was the victim of attempts to discredit him by Peter 'Spycatcher' Wright, whose memoir was described by the CIA as 'filled with errors, exaggerations, bogus ideas and self-inflation'.
The play Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore is a dramatization of one of my grandfather's investigations; in the film version he is played by Alan Bates.