It’s not a story anyone ever expected to hear, but even so it’s strangely touching: Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has credited former BBC DJ Dave Lee Travis with making her “world much more complete” during her time under house arrest.
To understand why this news took Twitter by storm, here’s a very quick overview of two different worlds:
Aung San Suu Kyi: Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, she spent numerous periods between 1989 and 2010 under house arrest due to her leadership of Burma’s National League for Democracy; the party won the country’s election in 1990, but the military junta rejected the results and arrested Suu Kyi. She was released in 2010.
Dave Lee Travis (aka DLT): Started his career in broadcasting in 1965 with Radio Caroline before moving to BBC Radio 1 a couple of years later. He worked there until 1993, when he resigned on air before he could become a victim of a presenter cull; he now works on the Magic Network in the north of England.
He is also known as the Hairy Cornflake.
Right now, any sane person is wondering how Suu Kyi and DLT can possibly be connected. I know I was. I saw that he was trending on Twitter and, cynical pessimist that I am, I assumed he’d died. Little did I know that he’d been lauded by one of the great human rights icons of the last few decades.
It turns out that DLT hosted a show on the BBC’s World Service, a music request programme called A Jolly Good Show. Listeners would write in with dedications and it was this show that made its way to Burma, opening up the outside world for Suu Kyi: “I would listen to that quite happily,” she said, “Because the listeners would write in and I had a chance to hear other people’s words.”
I can’t help but find this touching; it wouldn’t have come as a surprise if she’d been grateful for the music played, but she specifically refers to the listeners’ stories. It’s that sense of community that makes this story a little bit special, people around the world sharing their liking for a particular song, that story then touching the lives of those who hear that story, even if they’re being held under house arrest by a military junta. Sharing our common humanity with each other is always powerful, be it round a campfire, across the airwaves or over the internet. Put a group of people together and eventually they’ll start telling each other stories. They’ll start listening to each other’s stories.
And so I think that’s why writers are important, and singers, and why the two greatest moments in All Star Superman are a hug and a kiss; why I respect the BBC and appreciate internet freedom and love blogging; why I believe that “Once upon a time” and “Testify, brother!” are just two sides of the same storytelling coin. Aung San Suu Kyi and the Hairy Cornflake can have a connection because we live in the same world and we do everything we can to make that world smaller, to communicate with each other.
So pick up a pen. Fire up a keyboard. Write a blog. Tell a story. Someone a thousand miles away may hear it and smile, or maybe cry, and their world will change for the better.