LONDON (Reuters) - I didn’t go to work expecting to tell someone they had won a Nobel Prize.
Less than an hour after the Swedish Academy announced Doris Lessing was this year’s Nobel Literature prize winner the novelist came home in a London taxi and looked astonished at the small press gaggle outside her house.
It was clear she had not heard the news.
Reuters was the only TV crew on the scene on Thursday morning and there were few other reporters on hand.
I sensed that if I played this right, I could be the one to inform her and the video would get worldwide play. But the 87-year-old author was struggling to open the taxi door.
Tethered to the camera by a microphone, I was in an awkward position: if I helped her out of the cab I’d have to drop the microphone and ruin the soundbite, so I looked at a colleague to my right who took my hint and moved to the door.
The new Nobel laureate was helped out of the cab. If you have seen the video, you will know that I asked her if she had heard the news and when she said no, I shared it with her.
“Oh Christ!” she said in an exasperated tone that I certainly was not expecting.
“It’s been going on now for 30 years, one can’t get more excited than one gets,” she said, referring to the decades of speculation that she would win the prize.
She shooed me away. I realized if I wanted the soundbite, I’d have to work for it.
Lessing’s son, his arm in a sling, walked past carrying an artichoke. He and his mother had been vegetable shopping and missed the phone call from Stockholm.
“Isn’t this a recognition of your life’s work?” I persisted.
“Yes, it is. See, you’ve said it all for me,” the feisty and prolific author responded, turning to head indoors.
A radio journalist asked her to appear on air. She snapped back that she would have to think of something suitable to say.
Clearly she was not going to make it easy.
I managed to get her to turn around when she was half-way up the garden path by asking her if prizes meant anything to her as obviously they were not the reason she wrote books.
“Look I have won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one. I’m delighted to win them all, okay?” she responded testily.
As an afterthought she turned around and mumbled:
“It’s a royal flush.”
She disappeared into her house and we handed the tape to a bike courier. Later she came back out and answered more questions from a throng of reporters.
But when the nightly news programs were aired the moment played was of her learning she had won the prize and comparing it to a “royal flush,” the most valuable hand in poker.
Most news reports are crediting “reporters” for telling Lessing the news but I’ve told my daughter that it was in fact me who informed Doris Lessing she had won the Nobel.
My daughter is 10 months old and does not understand such things, but I know one day she will. It is also something I will remember, even if the newly named Nobel laureate did not seem too fussed.
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