Not even the sight of Oliver Dowden could dim my excitement at the V&A’s latest triumph
I know exactly when Iran first took hold of me. In 1979, I was at school in Jaffa, Israel, my classmates mostly Arab children and the offspring of assorted diplomats. One morning, we arrived for our first lesson to find some desks empty; the Iranian girls and boys, it seemed, were all elsewhere (relations between Israel and Iran were then, bizarre as this sounds now, fully functional). It was explained to us that there had been a revolution. My friend Shirin, it seemed, had returned to Tehran with her family. Even as my teacher smilingly insisted that, yes, of course I would see her again one day, I already understood that I wouldn’t.
Thereafter, I never stopped wondering about Iran. What was it like? What strange powers did it hold? I read books about it, I watched films about it and, eventually, I managed to get inside it. I visited Persepolis and the tomb of the poet Hafez in Shiraz. In Isfahan, a cleric whacked me on the back when my scarf slipped. In Yazd, home of Zoroastrianism, my guide broke into an exuberant rendition of Queen’s I Want to Break Free at the top of the city’s Tower of Silence (Freddie Mercury was a Zoroastrian by birth; the tower is one of the structures on which Zoroastrians traditionally left their dead).