Friday Lectures

The Friday Lecture is a treasured St Paul’s tradition. Despite the prominence of some speakers (George Osborne, or Lady Hale, the first ever female Supreme Court judge), the Friday Lecture is not a fame parade. It is an opportunity to think about life in a new way.

From the first person to circumnavigate the world under human power to the country’s foremost expert on how to bury a king; from restauranteurs to army medics, artists to diplomats, nothing encapsulates the enquiring atmosphere of the school better than the guests who address it and whose work is debated vigorously every week.

Here are some recent highlights.

Leslie Kleinman

We were honoured to hear from Leslie Kleinman, a Holocaust survivor, in an extended Friday lecture. At the age of 15, Mr Kleinman was sent on a death march from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Sachsenhausen and then on to Flossenburg concentration camp. He was born in rural Romania to a family of seven and he was the sole survivor; we were particularly touched by the rawness with which he spoke of his final moments with them. To hear first hand from a holocaust survivor is a rare privilege. Mr Kleinman ended with a warm and touching address to us as young people, reminding us what we can learn from the past. His words - and his message of hope - will remain with us.


Ben Willbond

Ben Willbond gave an absorbing lecture entitled “Screenwriting: cracking the story code”. He drew from his 30 years of experience to talk us through his very own narrative and the way that theatre and film is driven by story. He revealed the inextricable links between acting and screenwriting and gave us invaluable advice on how to structure our own storylines. His perseverance in overcoming unsuccessful auditions and his lack of professional training to become an award-winning actor and screenwriter spoke volumes. The engaging lecture was peppered with humour and insight into the human condition.


Professor David Owen Morris

Professor David Owen Morris gave the Parfitt Day lecture which included stunning performances of pieces such as a version of Henry Purcell’s Cold Genius for piano. Professor Morris’ lecture focused on the evocative power of music as he took us on a journey from the patriotic chords that represent spitfires in battle to the cold slowly rising from the ground. He also performed a piece of his own composition, inspired by yew trees, and led us on a journey throughout his poignant performance. Furthermore, he took pains to show us how the melodies in the music fitted together and the way that the composer intended the pianist’s left and right hands to produce interplaying rhythms.

Louise Hopper OP

Louise Hopper, OP 1995 to 2002 and former Head Girl, gave a fascinating Friday Lecture on her experience working in various warzones. Her dedication to government work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office led her to study Arabic, a far cry from her degree specialising in Russian, to be able to better communicate with people. She spoke too, in great depth, of her firsthand experience of the Arab Spring in Syria and Libya. 

Dr Arabella Simpkin

Founder of Greyscale Spaces, Paediatrician and OP

Dr Simpkin is the founder of Greyscale Spaces, which provides training in resilience and tolerance of uncertainty to professional organisations. She described how her experience of studying medicine at Oxford had not trained her for the highly unpredictable environment of a hospital, and stressed importance of adaptability in an erratic world. The talk was particularly relevant to aspiring medics, in its demonstration of the links between a fear of uncertainty and stress amongst doctors.

Michael Gale

Michael’s research interests focus around the design and implementation of programming languages. He talked about the potential impact women can have in this ground-breaking and rapidly evolving field. He explained some complex and interesting logic problems, and then translated them into solvable computer code. Describing that our brains are simply computers that exist within the laws of physics, he explained how the history of models of computation is a complex one wherein many different approaches, from Kurt’s to Gödel’s, are equivalent.