On my radar: Emma Barnett’s cultural highlights

Emma Barnett is the main presenter of Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 and a regular host on BBC Two’s Newsnight. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Manchester in 1985, she studied history and politics at Nottingham University and worked at the Daily Telegraph and LBC before joining the BBC in 2014, as a presenter on Radio 5 live. She lives in London with her husband and three-year-old son. This month, Barnett was named interviewer of the year at the British journalism awards and her new series Emma Meets… starts on Bloomberg QuickTake on 6 January.

Trading Station: How Hot Drinks Shape Our Lives (Manchester Art Gallery)

This exhibition tells the story of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, touching on histories of slavery and colonisation, but also looking at the social movement around these drinks. It shows women coming together over cups of tea – some of the first times that women were able to be out together, unaccompanied, were in tea houses. I loathe coffee and all the pomp around it, but I adore tea. I love having a tea with friends, and it’s incredibly important for me at work – that first cup when I’m writing or reading scripts.

Indecent (Menier Chocolate Factory)

This is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. It’s about a play called The God of Vengeance, written by a Polish-Jewish playwright, which made it to Broadway in the 1920s. It centres on a lesbian relationship, which was scandalous at the time and led to the play being taken off Broadway. I went because Maureen Lipman told me it’d be the worst thing if I didn’t go, and you tend to do what Maureen Lipman says. I’m so glad I did. I found it incredibly moving as well as entertaining.


You’re going to laugh at this one, but I started playing Tetris again. I recently rediscovered, to my huge delight, my Gameboy from 1993 and it’s still working. But I’m not playing Tetris on that; I downloaded it on to my phone and I’m loving it. I really zone out to it, and I love a bit of competition with myself. It’s changed quite a lot over the years – it’s in colour now, and you can tweak the settings – but it’s great. I was an extremely good Tetris player back in the day and I’m hoping to regain that calibre.

There Is Nothing for You Here by Fiona Hill

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Hill was a Russia adviser to Trump, and before that Obama. The chapter title that best describes [the book] is “From the Coal House to the White House” – Hill’s father was a miner in County Durham. There’s been a lot since the 2019 election about trying to understand the red wall and the political shifts that have happened, and somehow this book just manages to take it all in. It’s so much more than an insider’s guide to the White House.

A Very British Scandal (BBC One)

I was lucky enough to be able to watch this early (it premieres on Boxing Day) because I interviewed [its star] Claire Foy for Woman’s Hour. It tells the story of the Duchess of Argyll, Margaret Campbell, who has been described as the first woman to be slut-shamed by the British media over a court case about adultery. She was named “the Dirty Duchess” and judged in all sorts of ways that her husband wasn’t. There’s loads of comedy as well as pathos and heartache, and Claire Foy is magnificent in it.

Why Don’t You by Cleo Sol

A friend told me about this British singer-songwriter and I listened to her for the first time this year. I love the way her music sounds – the song Why Don’t You in particular – and she has a beautiful voice. It sounds like she’s talking to you and the lyrics are all quite pointed. But I was also really drawn by her artist profile image on Spotify: she’s lying back with her baby on her chest, not smiling but looking pensive. It’s so at odds with the highly coiffed images of musicians that you usually get.

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