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Chat Session Q and A - 19 February 2003

The following are the questions Michael answered during 19 February's chat session. Thank you to everyone who submitted questions, both in the Chatter Box and the Chat Room, and sorry to those of you who asked questions which Michael didn't manage to get around to. There were obviously an extraodinary number of questions submitted, and it was simply impossible to answer all of them, but Michael has read them all - and we will be trying another chat session in the near future...

stephlynne: Do you consider traveling with a camera crew to give you more or less of an "authentic" experience than the average traveler? Being a member of the press must give you access to many opportunities that a regular person would not have, but at the same time, has it been a hindrance because there are certain things and events that people do not want you to film?

Michael Palin: Hello stephlynne - there's no such thing as an "authentic" travel experience. Every meeting which involves some kind of cultural difference will be to a certain extent contrived. We try to make the presence of the camera crew as discreet as possible. We ask permission before shooting and all my team are considerate and interested travellers. I think that between us we all realise that the more relaxed people feel, the better they will respond. So we try and make it as easy as possible for all of us. There were problems in the Sahara with some of the best native dances. They go on for hours and, because of the heat of the day, the most energetic ones are after dark. This means we have to use artificial light to film which I think tends to inhibit people.

LeeQuick: I love the travels, but in a way I find it depressing that it would be impossible for myself, a female, to duplicate your adventures. Many countries and/or travel situations ranged from merely male-centric (on a dhow) to viciously anti-female (Saudi Arabia)...I wonder if you would agree?

Michael Palin: Hello LeeQuick - yes, it is more difficult for women than men to travel in certain countries. Women from the West are more emancipated than they are in many Third World countries. However, if you really want to travel you should not be put off. The women of the country very often run things even though they appear not to and if you get access to the women and of course if you wear suitable and discreet clothing, you could well learn things about a society that no man ever could.

vb: Do you keep in touch with any of the fixers and guides you met in the course of your journeys? If so, name one! (Basil doesn't count, you know he's been a friend of yours long before that, remember?!)

Michael Palin: Hello vb - yes, I do keep in touch with some of our guides including Said Chitour in Algeria and Richard Bonham who helped us out on the Hemingway series, introducing me to a cheetah, which nearly ate me!

emartin: If you had the chance to only visit one more place for the rest of your life, where would it be and why?

Michael Palin: Hello emartin - difficult. Probably Italy. A mixture of rich historical heritage, wine production, good food, great variety of scenery and football teams almost as good as Sheffield Utd! I certainly don't think I'd ever get bored of the place.

Louise: Has Michael ever considered a jaunt to the town of Palin, in Guatemala? Apparently the country`s much safer these days...

Michael Palin: Hello Louise - yes, I have considered this and will go there one day for sure. There's also a town called Pailin in Thailand, but Basil has been there and reckons it's a bit of a dump (he is quite short-sighted!).

Sue28: Was wondering whether you heard any traditional African music whilst travelling across the Sahara?

Michael Palin: Hello Sue28 - yes, the fula flute and the twenty-one string kora (played by Toumani Diabate) were two very ancient instruments which are often played alongside modern guitars, etc..

Kristine: Do you ever feel a little shocked or surprised when find out your vast fan base not only consists of mature adults, but of people who are as young as 14, 15, 16 years old? (I am only 14 myself.) And do you feel a sense of pride that your works appeal to most if not all age groups?

Michael Palin: Hello Kristine - I'm really pleased to hear that teenagers and children at school are interested in my programmes. My love of travel began very early on and was stimulated by books and magazines by people much older than myself and by good geography teachers, too. If I can encourage people as young as yourself to travel then I feel that is an achievement I'm proud of.

ellenpc: On travelling around/through the Sahara, how did you find the various nations attitude towards using or wanting to be able to access the internet? Bearing in mind their various economies and literacy rates.

Michael Palin: Hello ellenpc - most countries of the Sahara are too poor for there to be much access to the Internet. However, I'm sure the demand is there and many of the children in school would be fascinated to have email pen friends abroad but it all costs money and I think it will be a long while before many of the children learn to read and write let alone use the Internet. But what a difference it could make, eh? Opening up the world without leaving home. I might think about that!

AGM: Are you ever afraid when you travel?

Michael Palin: Hello AGM - yes. Sometimes terrified, sometimes merely shit-scared! It's an inevitable part of the process. Excitement and exhilaration and sheer wonder make up for the moments of terror. And, to be honest, you can't have one without the other.

Jill Mullen: If you were to do a travel series dealing with visting various places across the U.S., is there a particular region and/or historical or cultural aspect of America that you would be particularly interested in doing a program on?

Michael Palin: Hello Jill Mullen - Lewis and Clark's exploration of the West, and Chicago and the birth of the skyscraper would both be American subjects I'd love to do.

vb: Does every person who appears on your programs have to sign a contract with BBC?

Michael Palin: Hello vb - yes, we do try to get permission from everyone who appears. I'm not sure they always understand what they're signing, but there's a basic right of privacy which ought to be protected.

LV: What favourite places in England would you recommend to a visitor?

Michael Palin: Hello LV - Suffolk and Norfolk and Shropshire and the Welsh Borders. All beautiful and not too crowded.

MattD: Michael, due to the enormous success of your latest travel series Sahara, I have heard that the BBC are pleading with you to do another travel adventure around Western China and Tibet. Do you have anymore details, or confirmation of what sounds perhaps one of your most interesting series to date?

Michael Palin: Hello MattD - yes, I am planning a new and potentially exciting and exhausting series in the mountains and rivers of Central Asia. Tibet hopefully will be on our route, but I can't give any more detail as we are still in negotiations both with the BBC and the countries in which we're hoping to work. All I can say is it looks 90% certain that there will be a new series and book by the end of 2004, if I don't have a heart attack!

kazwight: what;s the worst injury you have had whilst travelling?

Michael Palin: Hello kazwight - I cracked a rib whitewater rafting on the Zambesi River. My own stupid fault. We'd finished filming and I was persuaded to swim down a rapid. No rocks, they told me. Wrong, Lots of rocks and all aiming at Palin! Those of you who care about these things can perhaps see me wincing on the Pole to Pole series as I cross by bicycle into Zimbabwe. Cracked ribs take at least 6 weeks to heal...

pammybabe: You said something about condoms aswell.

Michael Palin: Hello pammybabe - ah yes, the condoms! Our sound man used his entire supply covering my microphone during the whitewater rafting. As you can see, we do practice safe filming!

vb: Do you ever use the public transportation in London (apart from a TV series)?

Michael Palin: Hello vb - yes, I use the Underground and recently have been trying to walk more and use my car less.

MartyPants: Any thoughts about doing some stage performing or similar projects before setting off on another great adventure?

Michael Palin: Hello MartyPants - no it doesn't look as though I'll have any time for much other work if we're going to get this series done by 2004.

lenka: good afternoon Mr Palin, i'd like to ask you whether you're going to visit us here in central Europe?

Michael Palin: Hello lenka - very good to hear from you as the site is all about travelling the world. I'm delighted to hear from as many different countries as possible. Sure, I would love to visit central Europe, but probably without camera crew when I can take a break.

intrepid: What's the best place in the world to relieve oneself?

Michael Palin: Hello intrepid - wherever you relieve yourself is the best place in the world, but for my money, nothing has beaten the sheer glory of a shit at the South Pole!

fattcslim: so who misses who the most, you or the wife?

Michael Palin: Hello fattcslim - better ask the wife, really! The interesting thing is we both miss each other at different times. I've often phoned home in amorous mood from the far ends of the earth only to find she's dealing with car insurance and is very pissed off!

rumblefish: michael have you got something against the states you always seem to fly through it

Michael Palin: Hello rumblefish - no nothing against the States at all. Many good friends there and inexhaustibly fine scenery except where they've built shopping malls! But it's more difficult to work in places where I'm known. Best filming experiences tend to be in the most remote and unexpected places.

Michael Palin: Thanks everyone for your continued interest and all of your questions. Sorry about the difficulties we experienced earlier. Hope that we can iron these out and have another chat in the very near future. But please carry on chatting and, once again, I've enjoyed reading your questions. I've taken them in, I just don't have time to say hi to everyone.