Q&A: Wasfi Kani, CBE

Founder of Pimlico Opera and Grange Park Opera

Which politician do you admire most — and why?

I’m a fan of Angela Merkel. As soon as the virus struck she spoke out for the arts: “Artists are not only indispensable, but also vital, especially now.” And 50 billion euros were earmarked for the creative and cultural sectors. By comparison, UK government statements seemed to focus on nail bars.

Which politician do you admire least — and why?

Well, I think I’ve answered that. These days, most politicians have never done a proper job.

Who would you ask to Sunday lunch if all restrictions were lifted?

I’ve not been to a Sunday lunch in the last 20 years. It’s not my thing. The people I love most are those who make me laugh. And with whom I can be my silly self.

What keeps you awake at night?

I’ve been sleeping very well during lockdown but I do have a recurring dream of being destitute and homeless. Perhaps the children of immigrants never shed that fear.

What topic doesn’t get enough media coverage?

The arts. It seems that every week it gets fewer and fewer column inches. Culture has become a dirty word.

If you could give one bit of advice to your young self, what would it be?

It’s all going to be OK. Live it up a bit.

Who’d win in a fight? Donald Trump or Genghis Khan?

Obviously the fight has to be on horseback. And obviously my namesake Genghis wins. In my teens my friends called me Genghis — and it wasn’t because of equestrian talents.

Zoom or telephone?

I only Zoom on special occasions. And I hate the “flatness” of emails. So it’s the telephone for me. Or walking round to someone’s house and knocking on the door. In lockdown you know they will be at home.

Kickboxing or meditation?

I’m 64. Crazy question.

British or European?

I’m a brown person. I often receive messages (usually in capital letters) saying “Go home Paki.” So it is next to impossible to feel British.

What simple pleasure do you rate most highly?

Nature. Every jot of it. We all try so hard and yet it seems so easy for nature.

Are you for lockdown, or less locked?

The anti-lockdowners are loonies and selfish. They need to go to work in a hospital.

If you could spend lockdown anywhere, where would you go?

I’d find a hut in Ostia Antica and scratch around every inch of it. It’s a massive site that nobody goes to.

What one measure would you take to help the environment?

Make it the law that people must repair things rather than throw them away.

What is the most useful thing you’ve ever learned?

My mother taught me to use a sewing machine and how to wallpaper.

What one person has had the most influence in your life?

Probably my mother who told me that I have to work harder than everyone else and be top of the class.

What is your fondest childhood memory?

Looking after my hamster, Sugar. He had a personality.

Who would you appoint as your spiritual guru?

Cardinal Basil Hume.

If you could appoint a world king or queen, who would it be?

Joanna Lumley. She’s very, very clever and kind and entertaining and gracious. Actually she is beyond a queen — she is an Empress.

What have you learned about yourself during the lockdowns?

That doing things slowly is more pleasurable than “rush, rush, rush.” And I’ve realised how much I miss exploring the world. I rather took it for granted.


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