Each week Reaction Weekend brings you Favourite Things – interviews with interesting people about the skills, hobbies, pleasures and pastimes that make them who they are.

Hannah Rothschild CBE is a writer, documentary filmmaker, businesswoman and philanthropist. She has written for publications such as The Times, The New York Times and Vogue and her documentaries have been shown on the BBC and HBO. In 2015, she became the first female Chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery in London. The same year, she released her first novel, The Improbability of Love, which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for best comic novel and was runner up for the Bailey Women’s Prize for fiction. Her latest novel, House of Trelawney, is out in paperback this May

These are a few of her favourite things…


My earliest memories as a child were escaping to a hidden corner of the garden where I’d make up some fantastical story about myself, usually involving an imaginary pony, an unlikely scenario and a near-miss ending. Sometimes we ran away and joined a circus; other times, we solved crimes. As a grownup, I realise that my writing life is not so different, and of all the things I do, it gives me the greatest pleasure. I have a day job, so I try to treat my writing life as a secret lover – I take manuscripts to coffee shops or occasionally to a hotel. Retaining the sense of adventure and wonder is crucial to my writing process.


There’s a wonderful herbalist called Dee Stanford who makes bath essences with names like ‘Unwinder’ or ‘Pick Me Up’. A few drops in deep hot water sends me into a trance and makes the house smell delicious for many hours. I like to take a bath after work – it’s the punctuation between one time of day and another. Anxieties melt away, and the clock is reset. It’s in the bath that I think about plot twists and resolutions for my books. I spent so much time there with my new book that it could be called ‘The Bath of Trelawney’ rather than The House of Trelawney.


I am a rather inept cook but a champion eater. My first novel, The Improbability of Love, featured a young chef called Annie, whose speciality was recreating famous dishes from history. I had enormous fun combing libraries for interesting menus, which I’d then try to recreate at home. There was one dish which required dormice and swans – obviously, I had to draw the line somewhere.


My partner and I discovered the joys of e-biking a few years ago. Yes, it’s cheating, but it also means that no mountain and no distance seems too far. We’ve spent the last few summers exploring the wilder parts of Tuscany, mainly on white tracks, discovering hidden valleys and churches and villages with tiny restaurants. Sometimes we’ll cover 50 kilometres in one day – not bad for two middle-aged sybarites. 


One of my proudest achievements was being part of the team which bought Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self-portrait as Saint Catherine’ for the National Gallery. Although she was a celebrated 17th-century artist, the National Gallery owned none of her works and remarkably few by any other women. Artemisia’s life story is as fascinating as her art: apprenticed to her famous father Orazio, she was raped by another studio assistant and took him to court where to prove she wasn’t lying, she submitted to a ‘lie-detector’, a brutal contraption which twisted and broke her fingers. It’s inspiring and humbling to think how bravely Artemisia faced adversity. Yet, despite all those tribulations, she went on to paint and create beauty that, centuries later, we can all enjoy.