Michael Palin

Ahead of his one-man show at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which took place earlier this month, the former Python shared his excitement with Vision

My one-man show, ‘For One Night Only – Forty Years Without a Proper Job’, is exactly as the title suggests. I’ve gone through life doing things that I enjoyed without ever having to sign a contract! Part of the show deals with the early years of Monty Python, but I also wanted to thread through the performance the idea of travel and writing.

What interests me about the Dubai Literary Festival is that Dubai is a hub for Asia, Africa and the West – an extraordinary place where you get these connections for all sorts of writing and writers.

The Festival line-up this year is very impressive. And like everything in Dubai, a great deal of energy and effort has gone into it.

Will any of my personal literary idols be there? 
To be honest, they’re all dead! Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf… Seriously, though, there’s Margaret Atwood for a start, whose work I admire enormously. My only concern is not to be completely outclassed by the serious writers there!

I’ll be coming to Dubai with my wife who doesn’t normally travel with me because she reckons it’s like going to the bank when your husband works there. But I want to show her Dubai because it’s such an extraordinary place. We shall be going around together with our mouths open at all the amazing stuff.

Last time I visited Dubai, the Burj Khalifa was topped out but not finished, so I’ll be interested to see how it has integrated into the city skyline.

When I was last in Dubai we took a helicopter flight to do some filming. I’d love to do that again. It was amazing to see the place from so high up.

When I returned to Dubai 20 years after my 1988 trip [filming for the BBC’s Around the World in 80 Days when Palin took a dhow from Dubai to Mumbai] I was overwhelmed by the size and scale of the place. I couldn’t believe so much had happened so quickly.

During that 1988 trip it was pretty hectic because we were three or four days behind on our filming schedule. But I remember really enjoying the Creek where we were searching for a dhow to take us to India. I liked, as I always do, the difference, the unfamiliarity of the place – the markets where we went to stock up on spices and rice and all the stuff we needed for the boat.

I was amazed, on returning 20 years later, that this small working area of Dubai still thrives. So many dhow traders still use that port. We met some good friends who looked after us all those years ago.

That dhow trip from Dubai to Mumbai was incredible. Our crew steered by the stars and got the sextant out, and when the motor broke they just got another rubber band and fitted it on! It was all so basic and simple. I’m sure it’s more advanced now, but, in a fast-changing world, it’s amazing to find these traditional vessels still setting sail.

This is going to be a busy year for me. I’ve just completed the first draft of a novel, which I spent most of last year writing. I’m also embarking on a BBC travel series in Brazil, which airs in 2012.