United Kingdom

Tom Stoppard reveals he hasn't read his acclaimed biography

It is a highly acclaimed biography of Britain's greatest living playwright that was written with his full co-operation.

But the subject of the book – Sir Tom Stoppard – yesterday said he has not read it properly because he considers it 'radioactive'.

The 83-year-old has only dipped into Dame Hermione Lee's work – Tom Stoppard: A Life, published last year – as a memory aid for himself.

During a conversation with Dame Hermione in front of an audience at the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival, he said: 'On a few occasions since the book was published, I had to turn to Hermione's book to find out something about myself.

Sir Tom Stoppard – yesterday said he has not read Dame Hermione Lee's biography of him properly because he considers it 'radioactive'. Pictured: Sir Tom with his wife Sabrina Guinness

'I would be filling in a form and if it said "grandmother's maiden name" I'd think, "Oh God, I don't know, what did Hermione write?" So in that sort of rather trivial way it has been useful.

'I would say to [Dame Hermione], "I'm sorry, but your book is still radioactive as far as I'm concerned" so I haven't really got into the book in a way a normal reader would open it and read it and so forth. 

'I have read many books since Hermione's book was published – but not hers.'

Sir Tom also spoke of how his latest – and possibly last – play Leopoldstadt, which is set among the Jewish community of Vienna in the first half of the 20th century and follows the lives of a family who had fled the pogroms, relates to his own life.

The 83-year-old has only dipped into Dame Hermione Lee's work – Tom Stoppard: A Life, published last year – as a memory aid for himself

Czech-born to Jewish parents, Sir Tom spent his early years in Singapore until the Japanese invasion. 

His father stayed on and drowned trying to escape in 1942, while Sir Tom went to India with his mother and brother, then to England when he was eight. He found out in later life that close relatives died in the Holocaust.

Yesterday Sir Tom told the festival audience in Wiltshire he did not know why he had waited so long to add an autobiographical element to one of his plays but added: 'I'm rather glad I did because once I'd written this play I wasn't sure that there was anything I'd want to write about after this.'

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