I should just admit here and now that the weekly profiles I write for the ‘Living’ section of the Sunday Mail (I spoke to 43 people in 2016) are a kind of emotional vampirism. I can feel it in my bones post-interview, walking to my car or driving to the office after an hour or two of absorbing a stranger’s story: my limbs often tingle with a wayward buzz of excitement, like I’ve just had a double espresso. Pea Horsley, the animal communicator – one of this year’s 43 profiles – was probably right when she claimed that humans are “beings of energy and vibration”; listening to someone (but really listening) is a way of imbibing their energy. Then again she also said that she’d talked to a horse once, and its favourite food was Maltesers.
I don’t mean to suggest that every interview is a communion of astral bodies. Sometimes the energy is withheld, and the feeling is flat; the buzz isn’t there. I won’t name names, but I can think of at least two examples this year when I never felt I’d glimpsed the person behind the polite façade. Coincidentally or not, both came from the world of the theatre – and my general sense is that theatre people do indeed make tricky interviews, just as musicians make delightful interviews and politicians make impossible interviews. It’s probably a case of my own unconscious prejudice prompting a reaction (I emit energy too, after all), but it’s also true that theatre tends to make its practitioners very aware of their energy – it’s the tool of their trade, to be crafted and manipulated – whereas music is more spontaneous. And of course politicians have to watch every word they say.
Enough generalisations. One politician did break the mould in 2016 – the remarkable Janet Zenonos who, at 31, has already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, earned degrees in law and political science, nearly died climbing glaciers in New Zealand and achieved 84 of the 100 ‘life goals’ she listed as a teenager. She survived the Taliban and Hodgkin’s lymphoma – then stood as a candidate in last May’s parliamentary elections, only to lose to big-party candidates whose entire life experience probably consists of chairing sub-committees. (Could there be a more eloquent argument for horizontal voting?) The buzz was strong as I drove back to Nicosia from Janet’s Limassol law office – as indeed it was with another 31-year-old in Limassol, acrobat, dancer and ‘ethical porn’ actor Sasha Krohn who performed at TEDx but also offered me a glimpse of a powerfully attractive character: open, free-spirited, welcoming life as it comes, and moral without being self-righteous.
Energy came in various forms. The bounding energy of James Ker-Lindsay, LSE academic and long-time friend of Cyprus, a wellspring of enthusiasm tinged with post-Brexit blues. The almost unfeasibly languid, laid-back energy of Yalyalwuy Gondarra, part of the indigenous Australian dance troupe Djuki Mala, as I tried (mostly in vain) to extract information about hunting stingrays and mud crabs on a place called Elcho Island. The fearsomely efficient energy of Elena Tanou – in a piece headlined ‘One of the most powerful women in Cyprus’ – who came to the interview armed with a page of talking-points. The dynamic energy of performer/professor (and former Miss Egypt) Leila Saad. The booming, confident energy of mutton-chopped media man Al King, “just a normal bloke that’s been working hard and thinking positively”.
Above all, for some reason, 2016 was the year of the beach for me. I spoke to Sasha Krohn by the sea in Limassol and before that, in July, I travelled to Liopetri, near Ayia Napa – driving past fields of the area’s trademark reddish-brown earth – to meet Kyriacos Kyriacou, one of the year’s most memorable profiles. Kyriacou has been a tetraplegic, paralysed from the neck down, since a diving accident 43 years ago – yet his energy was sunny and humorous, showing off his wife and kids and illustrating how he makes his living as a ‘mouth painter’. “You know, sometimes I think to myself ‘I’m unlucky’,” he mused, thinking back on his life. “But other times I think ‘Ah, don’t be silly. Have a look at what you’ve got. There’s a lot more people worse off than you’.” I had to smile.
Then there was the Saturday in late October when I actually interviewed two subjects: Kitty Anderson, a woman from Iceland who’s also the only ‘intersex’ person I’ve ever met, preceded by Christos Sfikouris, the hypnotist and illusionist known as ‘The Godfather’. Anderson was in Nicosia, Sfikouris at Makronissos Beach (the beach again!) – and they both offered such unique stories, lifestyles so alien to my own, talk of situations so outlandish I didn’t even know they existed. “Everything is energy, not just humans,” said Sfikouris, echoing Pea Horsley, in between talk of levitating objects and reading people’s minds. I walked to the beach after the interview – a warm sunny day, Indian summer – stripped to my trunks and plunged into the crystal-blue waters, tingling with energy.