Revel Guest and War Horse
PUBLISHED: 01:06 24 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:06 20 February 2013
Jane Moyle meets Revel Guest whose drive and imagination has steered Steven Spielberg's film of the best-selling children's book, War Horse
Jane Moyle meets Revel Guest whose drive and imagination has steered
Steven Spielbergs film of the best-selling childrens book, War Horse ...
Revel Guest is a woman of many parts. She is chairman of the Hay Festival and an internationally renowned TV documentary producer, and has made more than 150 films, many of which have won awards. She was the first woman producer of Panorama, alongside Richard Dimbleby and Robin Day. She directed biographies of politicians including Harold Macmillan, Hugh Gaitskell and Edward Heath and worked for Jo Grimond, then leader of the Liberal party. She was the youngest Conservative candidate, at the age of 24, for Swansea East. She studied Economics and Philosophy at the LSE in the 1950s and she is a superb horsewoman, having been master of fox hounds of the Golden Valley Hunt for many years. Revel Guest is also a wife, mother and devoted grandmother. Tragically, in November 2010, she lost a grandson to a brain tumour when she was working on the biggest project of her working life, the blockbuster film, War Horse. She is also one of us.
Revel Guest was born on the 14th of September 1931 into a political family, the youngest of four children of Major the Hon. Oscar Guest, MP, landowner of the Cabalva estate, Whitney-on-Wye. Three of her uncles were also MPs and their cousin was Sir Winston Churchill. Her fathers family were founders, during the Industrial Revolution, of Guest Keen Nettlefold, the great Birmingham engineering company. Her great grand-grandmother was Lady Charlotte Guest, translator of Mabinogion, a collection of tales taken from medieval Welsh manuscripts.
Revels home is Cabalva at Whitney-on-Wye, with its magnificent views of Hay Bluff and the River Wye. She and her husband, the American international lawyer Rob Albert, have lived here and in London for 50 years. She looks years younger than her 80 years, trim, upright and calm with a strong, intelligent voice. One gets the impression that nothing surprises her that she has seen it all before, as she probably has.
The old walls of the Guest-Albert home have been the setting for many important meetings, where distinguished luminaries of the Hay Festival come, knowing that long, interesting conversations are likely to take place over a candlelit dinner. Joan Bakewell, Bill Clinton, Colin Thubron and many other famous names have enjoyed the hospitality here.
The story which has brought Revel her own place in the spotlight of the worlds media began 12 years ago, when she fell in love with Michael Morpurgos book, War Horse, as she read it to her grand-daughter Charlotte, then aged eight. Lee Hall, the screen-writer of Billy Elliott, was conducting a master-class at my house after the Hay Festival, she explains. We talked and realised we had a joint passion for the book. We decided to approach Michael with the idea of making a film of his book He was enthusiastic but none of us had enough money to launch it. So we called ourselves the Three Musketeers with the motto one for all and all for one. We had total trust between each other. The trio worked very hard on various draft scripts
and by 2009, it looked as if an all-British film of War Horse was about
to be made.
Suddenly, Michael got a call from Steven Spielbergs long-term producer, saying he wanted to buy the rights. We took a huge gamble, because if we had signed our rights away, it could have been put to the back of Spielbergs queue of films he wanted to make. But so moved was the director by the hit London play of the book, it went to the front of the queue and within six months, shooting started with Matt Milne, the Hereford actor, playing protagonist Alberts best friend.
Fourteen different horses from all over England, play the part of war horse Joey. Revel, British executive producer of the film says: No-one, not even the most expert horse-people realised that they werent the same horse. Each horse had different talents. Topthorn, the beautiful black horse, who died in the film, was trained to do that. To make him close his eyes was far more difficult, but eventually
he did it.
Revel has nothing but praise for Steven Spielberg. He is a genius director. He understands horses and when he said that Joey, was the hero of the film, I knew we had the right man. Any props he wanted, he could have, such was his budget. He has a permanent team who knows exactly what he wants, she says.
The film, with its poignant story of love and loss has enabled Revel and her family to raise money for a charity in the name of her grandson Tom Grahame who, in 2009 at the age five, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. In spite of heroic efforts by his parents and the doctors, Tommy died in December 2010.
Revel says: Tommy was unbelievable. He was an inspiration. My daughter, Corisande, gave herself to him totally and Tommy had a very happy period before he became seriously ill. He never said anything that wasnt original. If you asked him something, hed say something thoughtful and intelligent. He was an extraordinary child. Tommy only
had six years, but they were an
amazing six years.
Within a month, Tommys parents, Corisande and Angus Grahame set up a charity to build a pirates playground in Clyro, where he went to school. Tom loved pirates. Already 80,000 has been raised and it is hoped that the Pirates Playground will open in time for the 25th Hay Festival.
Its second project is to give a present to every child in Britain suffering from a brain tumour this is to be known as Toms Gift. So, books, construction toys and music anything that lightens the load and provokes a smile however fleeting, will be given to sufferers in Toms name.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended the London Premiere of War Horse where Iona Grahame, Toms sister, presented the bouquet to the Duchess. More than 700 people attended the Hereford Premiere, three days later. All the money for the Hereford premiere has been given to Toms Gift. So Toms name will live on and there will be many other families in the future who will always remember the legacy of this little boy.
The familys third project is to fund research that into the disease. Already the family have raised 100,000 for research nationally and internationally.
In spite of the experience of making a world-class film, the great love of Revels professional life is chairing Hay Festival. With its 25th anniversary this year, she knows that demand for tickets will be enormous. Last year, around 200,000 people attended during a 10-day period. The festival is staging a retrospective and looking for photographs of the early days of the Festival. She is appealing to Hereford & Wye Valley Life readers to send them in.
Hays name is now spreading worldwide, as complementary festivals spring up from Mexico to Kenya, from Spain to Columbia, from India to Bangladesh, from Lebanon to Hungary. Nearer home, there are Hay Festivals in Northern Ireland and Merthyr Tydfil. It is a festival of ideas, with philosophers and historians, childrens events and comedy, biologists and religion, crime writers and music, politicians, economists and green issues. The mixture is inspiring.
Revel recalls Bill Clintons appearance. He arrived at the festival late, because he was trying drive a golf ball into the river from the lawn with Rob. People were really annoyed but he had the audience in his hands in two minutes. He has outstanding charisma and was extremely intelligent.
When I began this story it was that of a most remarkable woman, Revel Guest. At the end, I can see the traits of her line going through to the next generation, her daughter Corisande and son Justin who is director for Wales, National Trust.
Although now 80 years of age, Revel is planning more films and more festivals. She is a pioneer of her generation and one subsequent generations would be wise to look at.