Francesco coming to Norwich
Angi Kennedy He’s the charismatic Italian architect who has opened up his charming world for us to enjoy. ANGI KENNEDY gets swept away by Francesco da Mosto’s Mediterranean voyage of discovery ahead of his book-signing visit to Norwich on Tuesday. Book signing information on Jarrold.co.uk
From his rich Italian accent to his wide, easy smile, Francesco da Mosto is the perfect host for a tour of the Mediterranean.
The architect, historian and Venetian count has charmed viewers with his three BBC TV series that have taken us behind the scenes of Venice's intriguing history, through Italy's gorgeous scenery and, most recently, around the Med in the footsteps of his explorer ancestor, Alvise da Mosto.
But now he is leaving the blue skies of Venice to head for grey November in Norwich, where he will be signing copies of Francesco's Mediterranean Voyage, the beautifully-illustrated coffee table book that accompanies the latest series, just in time for the Christmas shoppers. “Always with me it is the last minute,” he says. “I have always been the same.”
While he may be a natural in front of the camera, Francesco feels he is anything but when it comes to giving talks about himself. “I am so embarrassed,” he confides. “I will try not to think about it until the moment that I arrive, otherwise I would be a little bit scared.
“It is so strange for me. When you are younger perhaps you want to be famous, but this all started when I was about 43. I am almost 50 now and I can't change who I am.
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“However`, I like the job of doing the programmes, of going round and seeing things and meeting people, learning so much.”
This late career came about quite by chance for Francesco. The BBC was filming in Venice and through contacts with the mother of his environmental scientist wife, Jane, the TV crew was put in touch with Francesco for some architectural information.
“I spoke to them and they wanted to film me talking. I thought that was the end of it,” he explains. “Then a few months later I hear from them that they have this proposal for me to do the series about Venice. I was wondering 'Who are these people?' I had forgotten that I had met them!
“It was like winning the lottery without buying a ticket. It was something I would never have thought about doing for myself. But I was very busy at the time with my architectural work, so I was wondering how I would fit in filming a television series!”
Any concerns that he would not feel comfortable being filmed soon disappeared as he began to enjoy sharing his passion for his native Venice. “I think it works because it is something I have not been pressed to do. I am not pushing at trying to do this in a certain way. They asked me to have fun doing it and I have. I am what I am.”
The resulting series was compelling viewing as Francesco charted the fascinating story of this romantic and fascinating city and its people - many of them his own illustrious ancestors - through the centuries. Next came the delightful Francesco's Italy, Top to Toe series in which he travelled the country, highlighting some of his favourite places and stories.
“I have loved all three series,” he says. “Venice is my town, of course, so I could explain it; the second series when I drove around Italy in the sports car was just like being an 18-year-old again, it was such fun, and the Mediterranean voyage was like living in another world on the sea.
“That was the longest time I was away - three months - but it was marvellous. Literally, it is a little home on board, with all these people that you have to live with and get on with.
“When you are on the sea, you are always not knowing what it going to happen, if the sea is going to turn angry. So there is always a little background tension.”
For Francesco there was also the knowledge that he was sailing the route of one of his ancestors, the navigator and explorer Alvise da Mosto, who travelled as far as lower Ethiopia and who is said to have inspired Columbus to go on to discover the New World.
“One of my first memories is of the marble bust of him that we have on a staircase at home. I always wanted to be like him, to explore the world,” he explains. “But Alvise was becoming a little heavy on my shoulders. As I walked past the bust I would hear him say 'I was 22 when I was sailing to these places; you are in your 40s and you are still staying here doing nothing. If you don't do it now you will miss something'.”
And so, with that thought, he leapt at the opportunity to retrace Alvise's 15th century route. Francesco set sail on the 19th century yawl, the Black Swan, from Venice across the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean seas to discover the cities and islands where Western civilisation was born. His journey took in spectacular ruins such as the Acropolis in Athens, the beautiful islands of Corfu and Santorini, and the dazzling ports of Dubrovnik and Ulcinj. All these are captured in glorious photos by John Parker in the new book, which also includes plenty of behind-the-scenes stories and Francesco's ship's log and information on the places and people he visited.
Oh, but that accent. He's still chatting and laughing away long after we've finished the interview. “I am sorry I must be boring you with all this,” he apologises in that deep Italian voice which has won him so many fans. Oh no, Francesco please do carry on.
Francesco da Mosto will be at Jarrold, Norwich, signing copies of his Mediterranean Voyage (published by BBC Books, price £25) which have been bought at the store (proof of purchase needed) on Tuesday, November 25, between 1pm and 2pm. For further information, or to reserve a signed copy if you cannot attend, call 01603 660661.