Every biography holds at least three stories, all of which, though very different, are closely linked. First of all, of course, there is the story told on the page – the story of someone’s life. Just below that is the story that consists of bits left over, all those awkward jagged pieces of raw or irrelevant data that have been eliminated. Some rejected from the beginning, others taken out at the last minute after much thought. But pervading the whole, though they may not be directly part of it, are the experiences and opinions of the people who provided so much of the information, whose life stories are invested in the final book.
As soon as I started work on An Exacting Heart: The Story of Hephzibah Menuhin in 2003, I knew that family was at the core of Hephzibah’s story. Not simply the extraordinary family she was born into, with its three prodigiously talented children and careful, controlling parents, or the one she had in Australia and abandoned; or even the third one she made for herself in London. There was also her extended family, the many friends she made, all of whom responded to the all-embracing warmth and vitality that, they all said, made her such fun to be with. But she insisted that most important to her was the wider human family to which she belonged. When her sister, Yaltah, was in hospital in London, Hephzibah came to visit, bringing along five people Yaltah had never seen before. Hephzibah introduced them as guests temporarily staying with her and her husband Richard and said: ‘They’re all members of our family!’