Friday, July 21, 2006
Celebrating summer in style
You know, you've all made me feel a little less guilty for not being a gym-oholic, so thank you for that. Thank you also for your thoughts on the show! Andrea (our producer), Dayna (our associate producer), Antonia (our production assistant), as well as the cameramen and editors all do such a fantastic job in putting the show together and making it look the way it does. My role, at the end of the day, is a small one but it's one I relish because I work with such talented people. We always manage to have a laugh, which is exactly what Dayna and Antonia did when they saw me mount a horse in Windsor as I did my interview with polo player Jack Kidd.

See, the idea for our July show was to explore summer in England and one of the first things came to mind was polo. Now, those of you in Pakistan, India, Iran, and even China would probably argue that polo originated in one of those countries, but it has become a very English sport since the late 19th Century. Granted the English can't claim it as solely their sport, but for us at Art of Life (and trust me, for you watching), what would you rather see, me learning to play polo or trying my hand at that other English summer pastime, fly-fishing? Without much debate, we left the fly-fishing to my very patient colleague Justin Armsden.

Back at Jack Kidd's country home in Oxford, he walked me through some of the basic moves of handling a polo stick. Not bad getting training from a professional polo player who not only has polo in his blood but was also competing the next day at the esteemed Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup, where the best of the best in the world of polo compete.

My pony Bono was very kind to me even though I had a feeling he sensed I didn't know what I was doing. See, the last time I was on a pony was when I was around eight and I was in Kashmir on summer holidays with my parents (back when it was a beautiful holiday destination and not one of the most dangerous places on Earth). I loved it though. It was exhilarating that for a bit there I actually thought I could take it up as a hobby and I could have a pony! Well numerous factors would contribute to that not happening: 1.) I can't afford it and 2.) I'm not coordinated enough (I have a hard time not tripping over even when walking in flats). Seriously though, Jack was patient and watching him ride his beautiful Argentinean polo pony while showing his sister Jemma how to play was great.

Jemma meanwhile, is a well-respected make-up artist and has made a name for herself by bringing something different to the world of make-up and that is education. Teaching women how to apply make up is key to her marketing and image. Jemma regularly appears in fashion magazines and is well known in the glamour circles but in person she is so down to earth and really nice. For her, family is key. Her brother Jack is an investor in her company, her sister Jodie is the face of her brand (and a famous model in her own right) and her husband is the one who spurred her to go out and live her dream. It was really inspiring to hear her be so open about her fears, that despite the insecurities she had about starting her own business without knowing much about the business world, she forged ahead with creating her own brand.

After hanging up my polo stick and brushing off the hay in my hair, we got ready for the most anticipated party of the season -- the Serpentine Gallery's Summer Party. Seriously, anyone who is anyone in London (and even across the Atlantic) rush to get tickets to this fundraiser. Model and businesswoman Elle MacPherson, Linda Evangelista, actresses Mischa Barton and Tilda Swinton, singer Will Young and, quite exciting for yours truly, the guys from Duran Duran: Simon Le Bon, John Taylor, and Nick Rhodes. Seeing them walk in was the highlight for me! I've been a fan for as long as I can remember. But duty called and I didn't get a chance to meet them. Sorry folks, I wish I had a story to tell you there.

The bright side though, Art of Life did have exclusive access to the party. So while the celebs drank Champagne, the paparazzi had to contend with clamoring outside to get their money shots. Perhaps though for me, the most interesting thing about this fundraiser was hearing what these celebrities are actually helping to raise money for.

The Serpentine Gallery helps fund arts and education programs in schools. We visited one of the schools that the gallery has been involved with, the North Westminster Community School in London. With artists-in-residence and guidance from the Gallery, students are encouraged to broaden their mind and get involved in creating something that they can be proud of.

Talal Hamdan is one of those students. He told us that through the project he has gained self-confidence, and his self-esteem has been nurtured. Art was never something he ever thought about exploring but after getting involved, he knows it's a part of his life now. Photography is his chosen medium and while he says it's not his chosen career path, it has given him a broader view of the world. One he looks forward to exploring with confidence and excitement.

At the end of the day, we may look at these fundraisers as just a chance for the rich and famous to get together and be seen to be doing something good for the community. The reality is, by showing their support and donating their time and money, they are.

I hope you're all having a fantastic summer. (and winter, for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere.)

Posted By Leetlegirl: Friday, July 21, 2006
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Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Getting into shape
Thank you so much for your comments! Really glad to know you all enjoy the show and the blog. Please keep them coming!
You know, this show is a different kind of experience for me in the sense that for the most part, my job at CNN involves hard news. On CNN Today, the morning news show I co-anchor, we report on war and politics, natural disasters and events that make history; whereas on Art of Life it is news of a different kind. We have strong business elements but also it's a look into another world.
Working on Art of Life is kind of like a stream of consciousness. We don't necessarily shoot stories in sequence. That is, we don't necessarily shoot stories to air that same month. For example, we are planning on a Mind, Body, and Soul show in a few months where we find all the elements one needs to be healthy -- especially when money is no object.
You know the adage, a healthy body means a healthy mind? Well, I was supposed to get started on that with a consultation with personal trainer to the stars Matt Roberts. He has worked with Tom Ford, Naomi Campbell, Sting and his wife Trudi Styler.
I was really looking forward to getting started simply because I have a hard time actually getting motivated to even step foot in a gym. For some reason the thought of going into a room filled with people who all know what they're doing (and look good doing it) just doesn't appeal to me. I used to work out when I was living in Atlanta. I took kickboxing classes which always left me feeling great right after the class. I also loved my yoga and Pilates classes. I even looked forward to them. But once I moved to London, going to the gym just didn't have the same appeal. Or maybe I'm just lazy.
Anyway, when Andrea (Art of Life's producer) came up with this Health show I thought, "Well, if it's for work I'll do it." How dedicated, eh? So, after much to-ing and fro-ing and trying to get the right dates in all our diaries, Day One with Matt Roberts was scheduled and written in ink. I was even looking forward to it.
I was told Day One would begin with a consultation. I would be weighed, pinched, questioned about my eating habits, given a health background check -- and all of this would be filmed so you could all see my progress (as we would film over a period of a few months). Now, as much as I like all of you to feel like you're experiencing the show with me, there is no way I would let anyone see me being weighed or pinched. I'm sorry. Not going to happen.
We get to Day One and I'm all ready to go (had my gym bag packed) and a huge story breaks. Iraq's most wanted militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is killed by U.S. and Iraqi forces. I have to jump right back up on set and CNN goes into wall-to-wall coverage of this breaking story. So, Day One had to be postponed. Such is the life of an ever-changing news day. No worries though, folks, we're working on getting Day One and then some back on track.
One way we have been able to combat my lack of training was to interview the founder of TechnoGym, Nerio Alessandri. It's an Italian company that designs and manufactures high-end gym equipment. It also has a philosophy that believes in a well-rounded approach to a healthy lifestyle. That is, it's not just about the physical, it's about being positive, eating well -- and of course -- exercise that you enjoy. I will have more on this interview when our Health show airs in a few months. A quick preview, though, I just got back yesterday from Italy where I worked out while being trained by Nerio on the top deck of his boat the "Istranka" off the coast of Capri. I even used the machine Madonna raves about. Not too shabby.

Posted By Leetlegirl: Wednesday, July 05, 2006
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CNN anchor Monita Rajpal blogs about her experiences filming the "Art of Life" show.

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