Arts Q&A: Belfast International Arts Festival Artistic Director, Richard Wakely on The Commitments, Nina Simone and Alfred Hitchcock

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, Belfast International Arts Festival artistic director Richard Wakely

Richard Wakely joined Belfast Festival at Queen’s in 2013 as director and set up the new independent festival in 2015

1. When did you think about a career in the arts and what were your first steps into it?

As a student at Queen's University back in the late 70s, I unexpectedly discovered that I was spending more time in the drama studio than at the lecture theatre. From there I went on to work for the legendary duo, Michael Barnes and Betty Craig in the festival box office and at front of house. Everything in life is cyclical, as I now occupy the seat that Michael once occupied.

2. Best gigs you've been to? Ever since inviting Josette Bushell Mingo to bring her virtuoso music theatre work, Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone to the MAC this October, my mind has been full of the great diva's music. I was fortunate to have seen Nina Simone perform live back in 2001 in the south of England. Although frail, her voice and wit were as sharp as ever. Other memorable gigs include Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings at Vicar Street, Dublin, and Eric Bibb, who returns to the Belfast Arts Festival on October 30.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band? Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

4. The record you'd take to a desert island? Tears Of A Clown (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles) – a seminal soul song from one of the great songwriters of his generation. Incomparable and still sounding great to this day.

5. And the book? I'll go for the one I'm currently reading, Ed Vulliamy's When Words Fail: A Life With Music, War and Peace. Using the stories and background to a series famous gigs (including one by Planxty in 1973). Ed, who will talking about his new work at this year's festival, examines the power of music to convey truth and human emotions that no other form of communication can.

6. Top three films? Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, Louis Malle's Ascenseur Pour l'échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold) and Alan Parker's The Commitments.

7. Worst film you've seen? Man Bites Dog, a supposedly black comedy from Belgium – the only film, I've ever walked out on.

8. Favourite authors? Carys Davies and Donna Tart .

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team? We live in Dublin, so the family are big supporters of both the Leinster rugby team and St Vincent's football and hurling teams.

10. Ideal holiday destination? Currently, Berlin.

11. Pet hate? Armchair activists.

12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Grilled sole and green vegetables.

Dessert? Fresh fruit.

Drink? Grapefruit juice – breakfast wouldn't be the same without it.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other? Teerth Chungh, my wife, is easily the most important person in my life. We met in London, where we worked in different theatres and have been together for 27 years.

14. Is there a God? Perhaps.

:: This year's Belfast International Arts Festival continues until November 3. For more info visit

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