It really is wonderful when a plan comes together and everything within the family works out just the way Dad said it would. So you can probably guess how popular my prediction that the Olympics would be a damp squib and subsequent decision to flee to a Croatian beach for the duration has proved.
I may eventually be forgiven. It is even just about possible that my children may one day stop comparing me to Phil, the Dad in the US TV comedy Modern Family, who gets everything wrong and constantly over-reacts to every minor infringement. My bacon was saved in the end by the discovery that we could access Eurosport on the small TV in our apartment and four-day-old copies of the Daily Mail in the local market. We’ve agreed, however, that next time it would be better to watch a succession of British triumphs without a German commentary.
The lack of propitious timing aside, we had a wonderful holiday on the Croatian island of Brac, which resembles Venice (its one-time colonial master) but with palm trees and endless sun. We used to go to Greece in the summer but it is hard to argue with consumer economics. Corfu and Crete are expensive for what they are these days and Croatia is not. Most Croats we spoke to acknowledged it would be suicidally stupid to try and join the Euro, which is a bit of problem given that they are legally obliged to do so now that they have signed into the EU. No doubt our European leaders will fudge this as they do so much else.
The only blip in an otherwise peerless fortnight was our passage through Split airport, which hadn’t changed much since I was last there in the 1990s at the beginning of the Serbo-Croat war. As I told the children as we waited at check-in (see; I’m not like Phil), the story I was actually covering at the time was not the imminent implosion of Yugoslavia but the 10th anniversary of the start of the so-called visions of Medjugorje, an episode I concluded belonged more to The Life of Brian than the history of Christ.
In short, a small group of children had claimed a decade before to receive visits from the Virgin Mary in the form of a series of remarkable visions. By the time I pitched up in the village for the anniversary, this phenomenon was hailed in some sections of the Catholic world as the new Lourdes. I don’t mean to offend believers but it always seemed a little murky to me. The local politics were extremely complex and the village seemed to have turned into a spiritual Klondyke, out of which everyone seemed to be doing very nicely. Two of the children claimed still to have visions and we were invited up into the bell tower of the church to film the great event.
The room was tiny and it was impossibly hot and when I asked later what the good lady had imparted, I was told she said we should all pray for peace in the world. Resisting the temptation to respond with, “You don’t say,” I followed the children down into the square, where we were mobbed by a large, slightly hysterical crowd of believers.
That night, as I sat on the balcony of our little bed and breakfast, I overheard someone below point to a light on the hill and say, “It’s a sign,” at which point I decided it was probably time to leave. Even today there are notices up all over Brac advertising day trips to Medjugorje, but I told the kids we’d skip that one.
Two days after our return we zipped up to London for the premiere of Shadow Dancer, a spy thriller I adapted from my first novel. Directed by James Marsh – who won an Oscar for his documentary Man on Wire (2008) – the film had had great reviews at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals but I was still stratospherically nervous at the prospect of facing an audience made up largely of my professional peers. It is one thing to go up against the critics but another to submit yourself to the judgement of John Simpson, Jon Snow, Matt Frei and many of the other people I most respect in TV and newspapers.
I need not have feared. Generous as they may all be by nature, I did get the impression they genuinely liked the film and, as a consequence, it turned out to be the greatest night of my professional life. In fact, it has taken 20 years to get from my first glimmerings of a story to be told about the work of the intelligence services in Northern Ireland to this premiere here in central London, but it has been worth every second of effort and graft. One of the things I try to teach my kids is that you are only as good as the people you can persuade to work with you, and the film of Shadow Dancer is really as much the product of my literary agent, Mark Lucas, and the director James Marsh, not to mention my wife Claudia, as it is of my authorship.
Aside from photographs of the star Clive Owen, most of the pictures in the newspapers the next day were of Pippa Middleton, who kindly turned out to support us. My wife and I have known Pippa for a while but we’re not often privy to paparazzi interest this intense and it is something to behold. She’s incredibly level-headed about it, I must say. I’m not sure how I would cope with similar pressure but she strikes me as a thoroughly straightforward and decent woman, who is in the process of trying to forge her own life while worrying constantly about doing the wrong thing or letting anyone down. She’s been dealt an utterly bizarre, even surreal hand and, it seems to me, she is playing it rather well.
Tom Bradby is political editor for ITV News
‘Shadow Dancer’ goes on general release from August 24