«In journalism — and perhaps in life — there is no such thing as a definitive downfall»
Ignacio Peyró is writer, journalist, translator and Director of the Cervantes Institute in London. He carries out his assignments on political analysis, culture and gastronomy. As a writer he published Pompa y circunstancia. Diccionario sentimental de la cultura inglesa (Fórcola, 2014), La vista desde aquí. Una conversación con Valentí Puig (Elba, 2017) and Comimos y bebimos. Notas de cocina y vida (Libros del Asteroide, 2018) and Ya sentarás cabeza. Cuando fuimos periodistas (Libros del Asteroide, 2020).
He was founder of magazines such as Ambos Mundos and The Objetive, director of Nueva Revista and has published as a columnist in major national and international newspapers and magazines such as El País, El Mundo, ABC, La Vanguardia or National Geographic, among many others. For three years he is director of the Cervantes Institute in London with great success, managing to solve the difficulties caused by the pandemic.
In this interview we learn about his extensive professional career.
– You are a journalist and writer; When did you become interested in this profession and what does it mean for you?
I suppose I already knew it since I was little —as it was also known in the family— that I was not going to be an engineer or a veterinarian. On the other hand, journalism —that of newspapers— always caught my attention. Those were times when the mere act of «reading the paper» was still important, almost a civic and intellectual statement. Moreover, those childhood dreams need to go through the sieve of adolescence and early youth: most of those who wanted to become a guitarist or a poète maudit ended up in an agency or similar. Good or bad idea, I managed to become a journalist in the cultural field and also as a political correspondent. I cannot complain. Quite a privilege. Literature comes from somewhere else, although —as is traditional in Spain— one turns to journalism for an excuse for reading and writing.
«I was able to become a journalist in the cultural field and also as a political correspondent. I cannot complain. A privilege»
“You turn to journalism as an excuse for reading and writing”
– You collaborate as an opinion columnist in main national and international newspapers and magazines such as El País, El Mundo, ABC, La Vanguardia or National Geographic, among many others; what is it like to work for different media and in what way do you adapt your style?
That precisely is my idea —you can only collaborate with such different media when you contribute with your own voice. Another thing is also that your voice somewhat changes over the years.
– You are the author of Ya sentarás cabeza. Cuando fuimos periodistas (published by Libros del Asteroide, 2020) —a journey thoughout your first years as a political correspondent in Madrid. Based on your professional experience, what advice would you give to yourself if you were to start again?
Well, how in journalism — and perhaps in life — there is no such thing as a definitive downfall.
– Always interested in culture, you were the founder and director of the magazine Ambos Mundos. What was the motivation to bring this project about?
We were contacted by UNIR, the International University of La Rioja. This was ten years ago, and I am glad some of the pens that later were to give more to talk about — from Bustos to Arias Maldonado — were already there. An anthology of the magazine was published in Renacimiento, by the way.
– You were director of the digital edition Nueva Revista and you co-founded The Objective, what peculiarities did each work have?
Nueva Revista is a historical magazine, founded by Don Antonio Fontán. The web was trying to attract new talent and I think that —along with a new website’s implementation— we did achieve. Now it is run by a great journalist, Juan Carlos Laviana. The Objective was always different: it was about finding the best pens for opinion in a newspaper that sought to host a wide spectrum of voices from distinct ideological families.
– Within political communication, you have been advisor to different personalities, what is it like to work in this area and what are the difficulties?
I liked it a lot, both for the human side —the theater of politics— and for what one could experience and, above all, what one could learn as a journalist interested in getting an idea about how the world works. Working on it is fun, but not in the long term. The difficulties come both from the environment itself —whether it is quite competitive, internally for instance — and also from what Macmillan used to say: «events dear boy, events”. In other words, what is beyond our control.
«I liked it a lot, both from the human side — the theater of politics — and from what one could experience»
«Difficulties come both from the competitive nature of the environment itself and from what is beyond our control»
– Also within the field of communication, for five years you have been an advisor to the Presidency of the Government, leading the speechwriting Unit, how was this phase for you and what did it mean professionally?
An honor and pride and a great opportunity to learn about the complexity of public affairs. From Moncloa you can see the entire State. Of course, it is different to be in such places holding political ambitions and not, as it was my case. Of course, I deemed the possibility of a work like this — even if it later was not so cinematic — as unique. It is an entertaining job and at the same time requires a certain gravitas.
– In addition to being an English—language translator, as a writer you have published books related to British culture such as Pompa y circunstancia. Diccionario sentimental de la cultura inglesa (Fórcola, 2014) [Pomp and Circumstance. Sentimental Dictionary of English Culture] when did your attraction to the United Kingdom and its culture begin?
Well, I think anyone who is interested in fields like literature, architecture or politics will run into British doings here and there. I always liked it, but being an Anglophile is not incompatible with, say, being a Francophile. I just saw a book could be written — and a very long book — and the publisher supported it. But I came up to him with several different ideas.
“Anyone interested in fields such as literature, architecture or politics will run into Britishness here and there»
– You have been working as Director of the Cervantes Institute in London for three years, how was it moving to live there and work for this institution?
London is a great international capital, and at the same time a pleasant and demanding city, with codes to be followed. The Cervantes is a magnificent invention and an institution capable of doing invaluable work: we go, one by one, reaching the hearts and heads of people and we establish lasting links with the best institutions.
«The Cervantes is a magnificent invention and an institution capable of doing invaluable work»
«We reach out, one by one, getting to the hearts and heads of people and establishing lasting links with the best institutions»
– As a cultural manager, what is your assessment of these years at the helm of this institution?
We go full throttle. I’m quite happy. In terms of institutional dialogue, cultural programming and academic impact, I think we go at a very, very good pace — although quite demanding. And, as they say here, “the sky is the limit”: we must not be satisfied, there is still much room.
«I am quite happy. In terms of institutional dialogue, cultural programming and academic impact, I believe we go at a very, very good pace — although a quite demanding one”
«As they say here,»sky is the limit»: we mustn’t be satisfied, there is still a lot of way to go”
– How does Brexit affect cultural relations with Spain and how can these ties be strengthened?
It may be an opportunity to strengthen bilateral bonds. You see how today and not before we signed an agreement with the British Council. Yes, for instance it will do good providing measures that allow artists and companies to circulate without problem.
– What part of your professional career are you most proud of so far and what projects would you like to carry out in the future?
Cervantes Institute. What I’d like is to leave the center —which has always been fine— as it has never been so good.
– How is your life in London and your free time there?
Everything has changed so much with the pandemic. Before we had activities almost every night; now we still have them, but in front of the computer. Our human team performed admirably, with very high morale and commitment. This you may see not only in having kept the ship afloat —which may have been enough— but also in achieving enthusiastic adherence from our students and sustaining an ambitious cultural program. I think we will not be able to look at this period without some admiration and affection. For internal purposes —management, teamwork, commitment, commercial vocation— this catastrophe brought out the best in ourselves.
As for free time, a couple of Saturdays a month I liked going to places in England I did not know — this, before the pandemic. For the rest, reading and writing.
– A wish that you would like to come true
As a writer, what is always interesting is to keep writing — and reading — and publishing in good places.
«As a writer, what is always interesting is to keep writing —and reading— and publishing in good places»
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