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Lord Weidenfeld of Chelsea

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On Turning 90

Posted: 09/23/09 04:10 PM ET

How does one feel on one's 90th birthday? Not very differently from the last 'round one' ten years ago. But the world has different rules: at 30 you are still adolescent, at 40 a grown man; nowadays men of 50, 60 or even 70 are classified just as old masters in art history, in early, high and late middle age. At 80 you start really aging, but 90? There is no real label: you are an antique. People look at you closely and ask you, as a rule, whether you are still working or have retired. In my case I can only say that I work longer hours, travel more and have branched out in several new directions.

My work as a columnist has brought me a new appellation: witness to the century. A venerable title, which led to my being asked by a young reporter the other day how I felt in June 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War and if by any chance I was in Sarajevo. "Yes," I replied. "I happened to have been on a walking tour of the Balkans with Henry Kissinger, Fritz Stern and Jacques Delors. We waited at the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo for Austria's heir presumptive, Francis Ferdinand. As I bent down to fetch a guide book out of my rucksack, a bullet whistled over my head and lodged in the Archduke's heart.

My birthday party celebration was a fantastic experience. The great architect Norman Foster and his fiery Spanish wife Elena, art book publisher and psychology professor, gave a party for 240 guests from all over the world. Their Chateau Vincy was once a temple of the muses where Voltaire and Madame de Staël were often guests. Today it is the residence of one of the greatest architects of our time, whose genius revealed itself in a specially constructed grand marquee of canvas and glass cantilevered above the orchard, with spaces for the branches of the taller apple trees and the continuous dining table which wound itself snake-like through the trees. I have invented a new name for my brilliant hosts, Leonard and Leonarda da Vincy.

The Chinese impresario David Tang procured a jazz band, and a Tyrolean band played us into the early hours. Food and drink came from internationally famed kitchens and cellars of the area. Publishers Friede Springer, Mathias Döpfner and Hubert Burda chatted with American's most famous moderator Barbara Walters and Lally Weymouth, co-proprietor of the Washington Post and Newsweek interviewer at large. David Frost, television moderator and eponymous hero of the outstandingly successful Frost Nixon play and film, talked with a Hapsburg heir who is successful in the television business. Otto Schily, German former minister of the interior and secret service chief August Hanning, Israel's deputy prime minister Dan Meridor, ten ambassadors from the EU and USA were there. The historians Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts chatted with the beautiful Begum Aga Khan in immaculate German. "Even thirty seconds to describe each guest" said I, in my speech of thanks, would take three hours". For me, one of the highlights, aside from a fantastic firework display, was the appearance of eight students of the Oxford Leadership & Scholarship Programme, which I founded for the benefit of future leaders from those regions which have so far only been insufficiently afforded truly elitist education: highly talented young people from central Asia, eastern Europe including Russia and the Near East -- Kyrgyzs, Kazaks, Jordanians and Israelis come closer through studying side by side.

My gratitude for so much warmth and affection from all these people should also be extended to those friendly letters of the readers of my Welt column All this gives me the courage and incentive to look forward with God's help to another round birthday, still writing.