Most of my childhood was spent in a house by the river in London. It was very close to Putney Train bridge and the walls used to shake every time a train went over. My father, Peter Zinovieff, had an electronic music studio (EMS) in the basement, and throughout the 1970s, it was a gathering point for many of the liveliest musicians in the popular and avant-garde world. I’d be having tea in the kitchen with my two younger brothers, when people like David Bowie, Paul McCartney or Pink Floyd would pass by on their way to the studio to play the latest synthisizers that were coming into fashion. There were also the more “serious” modern composers like Harrison Birtwistle or Hans Werner Henze, who got drawn into family life, and who created extraordinary music with these new machines.
This photograph was used as an advertisement for some equipment by my father. It shows me and my brothers, Leo (blonde) and Kolinka, dressed in our pyjamas (I’d borrowed my mother’s nightie), pretending to take part in a futurist performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I’m holding a glass of champagne and looking at a score. On the wall behind me is a “modernist” painting that was one of a series I did when I was about four. My parents had instructed me to paint one every day at nursery school and then framed them all and had an “exhibition” going up the stairs at our house. It was a characteristically extravagant act, but I think it probably gave me the biggest, most useful injection of confidence I’ve ever had.
As a child and teenager, almost all my holidays, winter and summer, were spent on the remote Isle of Raasay in the Hebrides. Our croft house had no electricity or telephone, but we installed a wind generator for a gramophone. There was always music playing, but it tended to be Mozart or Schubert rather than the kind of thing that was composed and recorded at the studio in London. The steamer boat called at the island three times a week – weather permitting – and it was enough of an event for many of the 150 islanders to go to the pier for the entertainment value.
This somewhat eccentric photograph shows a group of family and friends outside our house on a hill on the Isle of Raasay. My father is playing a keyboard attached to a synthesizer. The child of Russian émigrés, he felt quite comfortable dressing up in a kilt – we were just off to celebrate some friends’ wedding – hence the demijohn of Italian wine and the huge loaf of homemade bread in a basket. I am looking down under a fringe, behind the wine, my mother is cuddling my youngest brother, Kolinka, in the forefront. Norman Macleod, retired postman, clutches a “nip” of whisky at the bow of the boat. My parents were soon to separate, but you wouldn’t know it from the happy atmosphere here.
As a young child, I attended an unusually free Froebel school called Ibstock Place, where pupils were encouraged to play in the woods rather than do lessons, if they were so inclined. Later, I went to three secondary schools – Putney High School, Wheatley Park Comprehensive in Oxfordshire and Oxford High School.
This is me outside the house in Putney aged about twelve. My hair is growing back after a radically short cut and I am wearing the highly desirable Oshkosh B’Gosh dungarees.
At Cambridge I studied social anthropology at New Hall, got a first in my degree, and then did a PhD. It was my doctoral research on modern Greek identity and tourism which took me to Greece, where I lived in Nafplio in the Peloponnese. It was there, in the late 1980s that I learned Greek and came to love the country that has played such an important part in my life ever since.
I first visited Russia in 1990, on a trip to discover my own Russian roots; my father’s parents had both fled St Petersburg as children, following the 1917 Revolution and had settled in England, where they met and married. While in Moscow, I went to the Greek Embassy to interview the consul for an article I was writing about Greeks in the Soviet Union. And it was there that I bumped into Vassilis Papadimitriou, the Press Counsellor, who would later become my husband. We lived together in Moscow for 18 months and I worked as a freelance journalist writing mainly for British publications including The Independent Magazine, The Telegraph Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, The Financial Times, The London Magazine.
We moved to England in 1992 and our two daughters, Anna and Lara, were born there. We spent five years living in Rome at the end of the millennium and moved to Greece in 2001.
This is a picture of us all a few years ago, with our dog, Lily, at Prophet Ilias, the highest point in Patmos.
My latest book, The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me is published by Jonathan Cape in October 2014 and HarperCollins US in 2015. It tells the story of how Lord Berners fell in love with my grandfather as a young man, and took him to live at his beautiful home in Oxfordshire – Faringdon House. Things only got more bizarre when the Mad Boy got married during the war and a baby (my mother) was born. The marriage didn’t last but after Berners died in 1950, the Mad Boy cherished Faringdon and continued the traditions of eccentricity. Many saw it as an old Mad Boy’s last crazy gesture when he decided to leave everything to a young anthropology student – his granddaughter – whom he had only got to know some years previously. My experience of inheriting Faringdon in 1987 was fascinating but also challenging. I knew little of life on country estates and in addition to the financial problems, there was a ferocious old housekeeper with fascist tendencies to contend with. Although the house has been rented out for many years in order to pay the bills, we are leaving Greece to move back there in the summer of 2014.