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In London, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi meets the "Hairy Cornflake," the bushy-bearded DJ she owes her sanity to.
LONDON, UK — He is an unfashionable disc jockey from England known as the “Hairy Cornflake.” She is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader, formerly under house arrest in Myanmar.
And when they came together, something clicked. (Cue the saccharin, slow motion, running embrace.)
That may sound like a hilariously awful Hollywood movie pitch — scrawled on the back of a cigarette packet, perhaps? In fact, it's one of the lesser known chapters in Aung San Suu Kyi’s two-decade struggle against her country’s military rulers.
Suu Kyi is widely recognized as one of planet earth’s most principled and stoic figures, for her refusal to abandon a fight that isolated her from her family, even as her husband died of cancer thousands of miles away in Oxford.
She is now on a world tour, a victory lap of sorts, after finally winning both her freedom and a seat in parliament.
So it came as a great surprise when it emerged that in her darkest hours she had drawn inspiration from Dave Lee Travis, an easy-listening radio presenter, whose career highlights include being named British “pipe smoker of the year” in 1982.
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After her release last year she revealed in an interview that during her early years of house arrest she was an avid listener to the BBC’s World Service. She regularly looked forward to “A Jolly Good Show” — a music request broadcast hosted by none other than Travis.
“I would listen to that quite happily because the listeners would write in and I had a chance to hear other people’s worlds,” she said. “It made my world much more complete.”
The disc jockey’s role in inspiring the 66-year-old Nobel laureate will be acknowledged this week. Travis — nicknamed “Hairy Cornflake” because he has a beard and once presented the UK’s biggest breakfast radio show — will meet Suu Kyi at an official function in London.
"I'm quite excited that I'm going to see her in person," he told the London Times ahead of the meeting. "It's so impossible to actually gauge what you're going to say. I'm really desperate to meet her, because she seems like such a wonderful woman.
"I won't be at a loss for words. I'm just fascinated to hear more about her time [under house arrest] and how she came to listen to my program and what she liked about it."
He added: "The show was very light-hearted but it was something that caught the imagination of people around the world. I tried very hard to get the pronunciation right for words in the countries I was talking about."
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The broadcaster’s interest in Myanmar’s political situation will doubtless be a surprise to his regular listeners, who are more accustomed to his enthusiasm for the middle of the road rock and pop that he has been playing since the 1970s and 80s.
To be fair, Travis has drifted off the cultural radar for most people in Britain since his days as a primetime radio host. In 2001 the BBC cancelled his World Service slot, to the consternation of Suu Kyi. The Hairy Cornflake’s audience is now reduced to weekend listeners of Magic Radio, a local station based in Berkshire, west of London.
In the intervening years, his dismissive style and out-of-touch tastes have become a target for comedians inspired by a cultural legacy that includes a hit single about trucking, the first ever snooker-based radio quiz, and involvement in the UK’s drag car racing scene.
While Travis appears to have experienced one of the more unusual walk-on roles, he is not alone among celebrities claiming a brush with history. In 2004, “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff lamented that his contribution to ending the Cold War — namely singing soft rock atop the Berlin wall — has never been fully appreciated.
Unwilling to bow to authority, Travis, can however claim to share some affinity with Suu Kyi beyond playing her a few tunes.
As the BBC was purging the Hairy Cornflake’s contemporaries from its flagship Radio One music station in 1993 to make way for younger, hipper talent, Travis halted his show to announce his resignation.
In a statement that would not be out of place at an opposition rally in Yangon, the disc jockey told his listeners: “Changes are being made here which go against my principles, and I just cannot agree with them.”