August 2, 2013 2:58 pm

Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and more on perfect summers

Leading figures from business, politics and the arts share their holiday plans
Montage of Instagram images taken by Rick Pushinsky; Getty©Rick Pushinsky; Getty

Montage of Instagram images taken by Rick Pushinsky; Getty

Mira Nair, film-maker

Mira Nair

How are you spending the summer?

I’m spending the summer at our home in Kampala, weaning myself off my last movie The Reluctant Fundamentalist, fertilising my garden with goat and chicken shit, planting all kinds of bitter lettuce and veggies for my family. I’m guerrilla-planting mahogany trees on public roads, hardwoods on the Nile, and have built my first chicken coop. I dream of living off the land completely – in vain, because the monkeys eat everything before I do!

What will you be reading (and in what format?)

I’m rereading one of my old faves, Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, have just devoured Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (my first book on the iPad), Return to the Native Land by Aimé Césaire and The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers – which I may be making into a movie.

What will you be listening to?

I listen to Ustad Vilayat Khan’s Raga Khamaj and Raga Jaijaiwanti virtually every morning, a lot of Abdullah Ibrahim, Michael Kiwanuka, Savages, and contemporary Ugandan pop.

What will you be eating?

Homegrown avocado and beets, grilled tilapia from Lake Victoria, awesome Läderach chocolate, all kinds of Indian vegetarian delights ...

If you could only take one item on holiday with you, what would it be?

A swimsuit.

What is your most memorable holiday?

Recently, swimming with the dolphins off the coast of Zanzibar – meditative bliss – and bicycling to an Alpine lake in Germany with a dear girlfriend.

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Lord Coe, chairman, British Olympic Association

How are you spending the summer?

For a good chunk of August I’m going to be on duty [as vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations] at the athletics championship in Moscow.

What will you be reading (and in what format?)

I’ve just started a wonderful biography of Henry Cecil, the racehorse trainer [Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius], which is one of the best biographies – whether sport or not – that I’ve read. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, meticulously chronicled. And in terms of format, it just doesn’t feel quite right unless I’m turning real pages.

What will you be listening to?

Jazz. I take my iPod, which has probably a couple of thousand jazz recordings on. I’m pretty catholic in my tastes; I like the small groups of the 1940s and 1950s.

What will you be eating?

Whatever’s served – because much of it will be eating on the hoof in the stadium and in the hotel at the end of long days.

Will you be online/offline?

I don’t use technology but I do have people in my team who will be online for me all the time. On a real holiday it’s sacrosanct time, so they’d know not to bother me then.

What is your most memorable holiday?

I think the first time I took my kids sailing around the Greek islands, when they were a little younger. It was sensible sailing – nothing too ambitious because they weren’t that big and I didn’t want to put them off in the first few hours. They always talk about that as one of their favourite holidays.

Where do you dream of going next?

If I take a holiday, it will be anywhere I can get good jazz. I’ll do coastal holidays with the kids because of the watersports but left to my own volition I always prefer to go to cities, preferably with a vibrant jazz scene.

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Sir Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group

Richard Branson

How are you spending the summer?

I’m spending the summer on Necker Island, surrounded by family and friends, with a healthy dose of travelling too.

How do you like to get there?

I’m lucky – I live there much of the year. So I will be walking around Necker as much as possible, and using boats to hop from island to island.

What will you be reading (and in what format)?

I read news and magazines on my iPad. As for a book? I’ll be looking at your summer feature [www.ft.com/summerbooks2013] for some tips.

What will you be listening to?

It’s the 40th anniversary of Virgin Records and I’ve been dipping into the back catalogue recently – everything from Culture Club to new acts like Bastille.

What will you be eating?

Whether it’s summer or winter, my favourite meal is shepherd’s pie. However, I’ll be trying to eat as healthily as possible to stay in shape over the summer.

Instagram image of Beirut by Richard Branson©Courtesy of virgin.com/richardbranson

Instagram image of Beirut by Richard Branson

Will you be online/offline?

I’m always online, you’ll be sure to see plenty of blogs and tweets from yours truly but there may be a few more gaps for swimming and sailing. (Yet to invent a waterproof BlackBerry!)

What is your most memorable holiday?

We had a wonderful visit to Verbier [Switzerland] to celebrate the new year – it’s a beautiful spot. The last time we visited, a young lad ran into me while skiing and completely ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament [in the knee]. So it was great to get back on the slopes and come away injury-free!

Have you ever had a great idea on holiday?

Lots of Virgin companies have been dreamt up on holidays. I also found Necker while on a mini-break with my wife Joan. We’ve always encouraged staff to take breaks together, everyone has a great time and bright business ideas often crop up while everyone is having fun ...

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Hisham Matar

Hisham Matar, writer

How are you spending the summer?

Like most summers, by the Mediterranean. This year, Catalonia.

How do you like to get there?

We usually fly but once we drove zigzagging south from London.

What will you be reading (and in what format?)

Always books. The books we read are our fate, which is why I prefer the limited, obliging selection of real books over the inexhaustible electronic library. I like those final moments when I’m wondering if I made the right selection. I like the space the books occupy in my suitcase, even their weight, and then unpacking them on the other side. This time it’s Jean Rhys’s first novel, Quartet; Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; Seneca’s Letters; Nabokov’s Speak, Memory; Orwell’s Spanish civil war chronicle, Homage to Catalonia, because my friend the poet Khaled Mattawa told me it is the best thing he has read on the Libyan civil war. And, for the eyes, the photographer Bruno Boudjelal’s book, Disquiet Days, and two small paintings by Claire Kerr.

What will you be listening to?

Ahmed Fakroun; Piero Sidoti; Macaco; the Be Good Tanyas; the Brodsky Quartet’s In the South; and Martha Argerich and Friends Live from the Lugano Festival 2012. All good loud on mountain coastal roads.

What will you be eating?

Whatever my friend Lawrence catches. For years now he has been wanting me to go fishing with him. But he sets off at 7am and that’s when I’m sharpening my pencils.

Will you be online/offline?

Offline with weekly access from a bar that plays very loud heavy metal music.

If you could only take one item on holiday with you, what would it be?

Diana, my wife.

What is your most memorable holiday?

The first time I took Diana to Rome.

What are holidays for? and how have they changed?

I never stop working and have never hoped to ever stop working. Which is probably perverse. So for me they are a chance to write and read in a more focused way, to swim in my childhood sea, to eat well, and to reacquaint myself with my body, which usually lives in the north, wrapped in endless layers of clothing.

Have you ever had a great idea on holiday?

Anatomy of a Disappearance, my last novel, began on one of these “holidays” . . . 

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Oliver Stone, film-maker

How are you spending the summer?

Moving around the world: talks for my [recent television series] Untold History of the United States; film festivals in Shanghai, Czech Republic and Zagreb celebrating Untold History and Alexander: The Ultimate Cut; a peace trip to Japan and Korea to protest US military policies on Okinawa and Jeju Island; commemorations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and Thailand to write quietly in-between visits to LA and NYC.

How do you like to get there?

Walking. Robert Louis Stevenson is a hero.

What will you be reading (and in what format)?

I’ll be reading about 25 books in paperback and hardcover, as well as writing.

What will you be listening to?

Carla Bruni, Andrea Bocelli, the Mission, opera and reggae.

What will you be eating?

All the good things I can.

Will you be online/offline?

Mostly offline. But I go online for Twitter and Facebook, which I try to keep up on.

If you could only take one item on holiday with you, what would it be?

I’m way past those days.

What is your most memorable holiday?

Forgot.

What are holidays for?

I don’t know. I haven’t had one in a while. They’re good for the health, and they make you rethink your world. I’m taking them all the time actually – I don’t realise it.

Have you ever had a great idea on holiday?

Tons. I forgot most of them, but a few I have activated ...

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Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive and co-chief investment officer, PIMCO

Mohamed ElErian

How are you spending the summer?

Working, with the occasional break which will include our family’s annual five-day trip to Maine to spend time with close friends.

How do you like to get there?

As we try to avoid flight connections that can be easily derailed by summer thunderstorms, we fly from LA to Boston and then drive up to a wonderful rural spot in Maine.

What will you be reading (and in what format)?

This is the one time that I get to catch up on books that our 10-year-old daughter has been reading, and is planning to. If I get organised and make it to the bookstore, I will have the hard copies; otherwise, it’s the download on the iPad.

What will you be listening to?

I suspect that this will again be subject to intense negotiations. I will press hard for a combination of NPR [National Public Radio] and the BBC World Service. Our daughter will opt for Disney Radio and Broadway musicals. We will end up with some complex compromise.

Montage of Instagram images taken by Rick Pushinsky; Getty©Rick Pushinsky; Getty

Montage of Instagram images taken by Rick Pushinsky; Getty

Have you ever had a great idea on holiday?

Yes, including from a feeble attempt to relax on what turned out to be a highly unstable hammock. It was a great insight into the tricky balances that Europe must strike to restore growth and durable financial stability.

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Emma Marcegaglia

Emma Marcegaglia, president, Business Europe

How are you spending the summer?

I’ll be returning to a medieval hamlet in the Chianti region of Tuscany we’ve been to before. It’s a very peaceful place in a beautiful landscape where as a family we can really put some distance between ourselves and the pressures of the rest of the year.

How will you get there?

We’ll drive. That’s one of the many advantages of staying in Italy for the summer. Our Tuscan holiday is just three hours from our home near Mantua.

What will you be reading (and in what format)?

The only two books I’m sure I’ll take with me are L’arte di essere felici by Arthur Schopenhauer and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The first because I’m interested to understand how someone known for such pessimism can also write convincingly about happiness. The second because I haven’t read Anna Karenina since I was 19 and I want to know how age changes the perspective on a work of such emotion and genius. I’ll read both as proper books – I find them easier to understand if I can touch the paper.

What will you be listening to?

I’ve started listening to Genesis again after many years. And my husband recently loaded lots of David Bowie on to my iPhone.

What will you be eating?

Tuscany is an unbeatable place for food. The fresh fruit and the vegetables are some of the best in the world. And I’ll take the opportunity to have at least one, very large, rare bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Where do you dream of going next?

Australia. I’ve never been there. It’s a sort of frontier country in my mind.

Have you ever had a great idea on holiday?

Not so much great ideas, but I often make important decisions on holiday.

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Christian Louboutin, shoe designer

How are you spending the summer?

I spend the summer between Greece, where I stay on a friend’s boat, Cuba, where I stay in the hotel Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway lived for years, and Portugal, where I have a house.

What will you be reading?

I decided to take all of Hemingway for Cuba and The Greek Myths by Robert Graves for Greece.

What will you be listening to?

I am afraid I will be listening to Mika’s last album, Daft Punk’s last album, and hopefully the last album that I heard, from the great Eve. Also, I am quite obsessed by the soundtrack of the last Sofia Coppola movie, The Bling Ring. I loooove it.

What will you be eating?

Vegetables are my favourite food during summer, as well as pasta salad, which I only eat fresh at home.

If you could only take one item on holiday with you, what would it be?

My phone. I am addicted, sadly!

What is your most memorable holiday?

The beach in Cuba with the music from bad speakers has been my favourite “beach moment”; hiking in Bhutan with Bhutanese friends my favourite inland holiday.

Have you ever had a great idea on holiday?

The best idea I ever had on holiday was how to prolong the holiday without damaging the year to come ...

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith, co-founder and chief executive, Vice Media

How are you spending the summer?

We are shooting season two of our HBO show and season one of VICE News. So lots of time waving documents whilst sweating profusely, yelling, then cajoling and finally kowtowing in abject submission to little Napoleons who rule over ridiculously hot airports in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Djibouti: uhhh uhhhh, Djibouti.

How do you like to get there?

Emirates is the only way to fly. But when I can, I like to go by boat – dhow or gullet – if possible. We once went by dhow from Yemen to Somalia, which was fantastic. I hate driving. And armoured cars get really hot.

What will you be reading (and in what format)?

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock in paperback. Stained and thumb-worn. Old school.

What will you be eating?

Kebabs and roadside rotisserie chicken. Shane’s third rule of travel: the more f***ed up the country, the better the chicken.

What is your most memorable holiday?

[The Yemeni archipelago of] Socotra was the most starkly beautiful setting I have ever been to. And, of course, no tourists.

Where do you dream of going next?

Hunza and Gilgit in Pakistan. Shockingly beautiful – and great kebabs.

What are holidays for? And how have they changed?

I think they are for recharging batteries. It used to be about “seeing the world” or “finding culture” but now it’s about trying to get back into fighting shape before the world has another go at you.

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Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief, Huffington Post

How are you spending the summer?

Speaking and writing about how we need to redefine success beyond money and power to include wellbeing and taking time off. And at some point I’m going to sneak in some time off from telling people to take time off.

What will you be reading (and in what format)?

The book I just gave everybody at the Huffington Post and am rereading is Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams, a neuroscientist and psychology professor at Oxford.

What will you be listening to?

I’m a fan of country music no matter the season but there’s something about summer that makes it even more essential: Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, etc. I also love to leave behind my earbuds and just listen, including to the sound of my own breathing while meditating.

What will you be eating?

Greek yoghurt, lots of fruit, a little too much iced coffee, and eggs in any shape and form.

Will you be online/offline?

Both, but too much of the former and trying to increase the latter. I’m an evangelist about getting people to unplug and recharge. And, like many evangelists, I’m a sufferer myself. I’ve banished my four BlackBerrys from my bedside and I’m getting into the idea of digital diets, even for a day, even for a few hours.

What is your most memorable holiday?

One that comes to mind was in 1996 when the whole family visited a monastery in Rhodes, Greece. The abbot was an amazing man nicknamed “Geronda”, or “old man”. He wasn’t that old, but wise beyond his years. It was my ideal kind of vacation – one that leaves you not just physically recharged but spiritually recharged, too.

Where do you dream of going next?

Hawaii – a dream that will happily come true in September, when we launch our newest edition, HuffPost Hawaii. It will be a working visit but also a chance to take in the aloha spirit – and hopefully bring some of it back.

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James Dyson

Sir James Dyson, founder, Dyson

How are you spending the summer?

When I’m not with the engineers, I spend summers in Provence with my family. The bright light, intense blue skies and smell of lavender and thyme are irresistible.

How do you like to get there?

I fly. If I could, I would take the Harrier jump-jet in the car park of Dyson HQ in Malmesbury. It is there for inspiration. A feat of British engineering, it is capable of a vertical take-off. Ours, which was ditched in the Med, is unfortunately decommissioned!

What will you be reading (and in what format?)

Engineers of Victory by Paul Kennedy on my iPad. In tough times engineers are an asset not to be underestimated. World War II has given Britain some of its greatest design icons such as RADAR and the jet engine. Why don’t we value them more?

What will you be listening to?

Classical music helps me to relax; I’ll listen to Renee Fleming singing anything.

What will you be eating?

Anything I can pick from the garden. I enjoy gardening and try to grow everything from oranges to olives (with varying success). My wife and I became adept at growing our own vegetables back in the 1970s. Money was tight. Deirdre was teaching art classes and I was developing my idea for the bagless vacuum cleaner. Ever since, gardening has been a favourite pastime.

If you could take only one item on holiday with you, what would it be?

A BioWool suitcase if I could get my hands on one but alas, it is currently only a prototype. Created by Dan Maclaughlin from the Royal College of Art, BioWool is a new material made from carpet waste and it is in the running for this year’s James Dyson Award.

What is your most memorable holiday?

Tokyo. It is constantly surprising; evolving, embracing change, demanding new technology. I spent time there in the 1980s learning to appreciate the Japanese obsession with detail. It was the Japanese who first embraced the idea of a cyclonic vacuum cleaner. And we continue to engineer technology for Japan; smaller, quieter, more powerful. And now the rest of the world wants that, too ...

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Michael Sheen, actor

How are you spending the summer?

I spent the last month in Scotland, in a beautiful little village called Lago on the coast of Fife because my daughter was doing a summer school at St Andrews university. And I’ll be going to Maine, for a friend’s birthday party. It’s a beautiful part of America and it’s also where one of my favourite writers lives, Stephen King, so I’ll probably make a pilgrimage to Bangor again. Last time, I went on the little Stephen King tour you can do around Bangor. I went up to his house and I stood outside the gates taking pictures of myself hoping that maybe he might invite me in for tea but, alas, it never happened.

What will you be reading?

I’ve been wanting to read the latest book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, called The Wind Through the Keyhole. And a book called Never Say Die, which is by Melanie Davies. She and her husband Mike are behind TREAT Trust Wales – an organisation that I am patron of. NSD is the story of her life and [the] extraordinary story of her motorbike accident. We’re aiming to build a state-of-the-art rehabilitation centre in Wales.

What will you be eating?

I had shoulder surgery last year, which meant that I couldn’t do any exercise for a long time, so I put on a bit of weight. So I’ve been trying to lose the weight and get fit and get in shape. Now I’m 44, it gets harder and harder all the time. So I’ve been trying to eat healthily; my diet in the past has been pretty bad. My culinary life has been one of trying to learn to have a better diet and eat more healthily. There’s a lovely place here in LA called Café Gratitude which does very delicious vegetarian food.

What are holidays for? And how have they changed?

When I was a kid, the first time I went on holiday abroad was with my mum and dad and we went to Benidorm, I think, or Torremolinos, and holidays just confused me then; I didn’t really know what they were for, I didn’t get it. If I wanted to just enjoy myself, I enjoyed myself at home – why did you have to go somewhere else? ... Then as I got older I didn’t really go on holiday very much. I just so enjoyed working and being at home. And then over the past few years, because of relationships I’ve been in, people have taught me that you need to go on holiday, and actually have to book it. And because of my life as an actor, it is very hard to book things up and plan things in advance. So I’ve been taught the importance of doing that...

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Akram Khan, choreographer

How are you spending the summer?

The Lake District. I am definitely not a beach person. I love nature in relation to city when I am on holiday (which is not often). Silence and stillness are vehicles for emptiness, and what’s the point of a holiday if not to empty and unwind?

How do you like to get there?

I like to drive there, to soak in the journey of travelling there. Part of the joy of a holiday for me is the travel. So I wouldn’t want to take a train, where I would probably fall asleep and miss the experience of getting there.

What will you be reading?

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil and The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam.

What will you be listening to?

Children’s rhymes and songs since I will be with my four-month-old baby girl. I will be learning all the words and creating extreme choreography in order to entertain her.

What is your most memorable holiday?

The one I am about to have this summer; I suppose I say it so confidently because even if things go wrong, it will be the first real, quality time I will have with my baby girl. To discover her personality, to bond with her – so even if it rains in the Lake District, I will be happy because I am with my family. But I do hope it doesn’t rain!

Where do you dream of going next?

Bali!

What are holidays for and how have they changed?

Holidays are for reminding us that we are human, not machines, and that we are very closely connected to the earth, and should try to reconnect with this incredible planet – but most of the time, we choose to believe otherwise.

Have you ever had a great idea while on holiday? I never have great ideas, ever! Just a collection of bad ones, especially on holiday ... And then these bad ones start to mean something to me over time, it becomes my truth, and when I come back to work, the bad idea slowly mutates into a good one. So in a roundabout way, I get bad ideas on holiday that turn into good ideas when at work! Because I most often try to find positive, new roads within the blocked ones ...

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Colum McCann

Colum McCann, novelist

How are you spending the summer?

I’m on the tail-end of a 30-city book tour so I’m taking the month of July to “relax” with my family – we’re going to Dublin, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Galway. After that I rev things up again and go to China. I have already battered one suitcase into submission.

How do you like to get there?

If I could I would like to walk. Or go by kayak. In both instances I’m afraid of sinking. So it’s yet another aeroplane I’m afraid.

What will you be reading (and in what format?)

Apart from menus and hotel bills, I will be reading The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andy Sean Greer.

What will you be listening to?

Whatever music my kids sing in the back seat of the rental car.

What will you be eating?

Trying to get healthy again. I’m desperately unfit. In the morning, granola. After that it’s all open-ended.

Will you be online/offline?

I wish I could be offline. Being offline is a dream. It’s another universe altogether. I will, however, be online.

If you could only take one item on holiday with you, what would it be?

My Irish passport. Alongside a US one. For agility’s sake.

What is your most memorable holiday?

I went to a literary festival in Paraty, Brazil, with my family. It was perfect.

Where do you dream of going next?

I like the idea of hiding away in a cabin to write.

Have you ever had a great idea on holiday?

Best idea was to take another holiday...

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Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson, theatre director and playwright

How are you spending the summer?

At The Watermill Center [about two hours from New York] with 80 participants for our international summer program. I established The Watermill Center in 1992 as a laboratory for the humanities and the arts ... I will be developing with participants 12 of my own projects for the future. For example: Bonnie and Clyde, a new production with music by Tom Waits to be premiered in Copenhagen, Denmark; La Traviata at Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain; and Insights into Consciousness: Art & Science Conference, where artists will have a conversation with scientist, sponsored by the Sackler Foundation.

How do you like to get there?

By plane with a direct flight from Manchester to JFK and then with a car to Long Island.

What will you be reading (and in what format?)

I will be reading Nicolas Garnier’s book Motifs d’Océanie and Edmund Carpenter’s Patterns That Connect.

What will you be listening to?

CocoRosie’s latest album Tales of A GrassWidow.

What will you be eating?

Fish, Long Island corn and new potatoes.

If you could only take one item on holiday with you, what would it be?

Jasmin, my new cat.

What is your most memorable holiday?

The first time I went to Bali alone in 1992. It was my introduction to the Indonesian culture. I have been going there at least once or twice a year ever since.

What are holidays for? And how have they changed?

Holidays for me are being alone and doing everything myself ...

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Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter

How are you spending the summer?

Working.

What will you be reading (and in what format?)

Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, Kindle edition.

Will you be online/offline? Will you set your out of office?

I’ll be online – no out of office.

If you could only take one item on holiday with you, what would it be?

My iPad.

Where was your most memorable holiday?

Lapa Ríos on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica

What are holidays for? And how have they changed?

For me, they’re to spend time with my family, and that hasn’t changed.

Interviews by Esther Bintliff

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