The most surprising thing about Stephen Hawking

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Lucy Hawking and her father Stephen attend the BAFTAs in February. Photo: Samir Hussein
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Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Lucy Hawking and her father Stephen attend the BAFTAs in February. Photo: Samir Hussein

Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Lucy Hawking and her father Stephen attend the BAFTAs in February. Photo: Samir Hussein

Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

His intellect and survival is mystifying, but to many people the most baffling thing about theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is his daughter Lucy.

“A lot of people don’t realise that my father had any children at all,” said 45-year-old Ms Hawking, who also has two brothers Tim and Robert.

“Some people were just so astonished that a person with a disability could have children that they couldn’t get past that,” she said.

The recent blockbuster biopic, The Theory of Everything, which focuses on Professor Hawking’s early life, his marriage to first wife Jane Wilde and his diagnosis with a type of motor neurone disease, may have redressed this error, but misconceptions are part of life when you’re the child of the world’s most recognisable scientist.

Growing up many people assumed Ms Hawking had an intellect to match her famous father’s, while others thought, “oh well, you’re a girl so of course you don’t understand anything at all”.

Next Saturday night, Ms Hawking will introduce her father for his first talk to Australian audiences at the Sydney Opera House.

“One of the things I’m going to talk about are perceptions of disability,” she said.

While Ms Hawking will be on stage, her father will be beamed in live from the University of Cambridge. He plans to talk about his early life, his scientific work and achievements, she said.

“He thought the whole idea of a live projection would be a really fun thing to do,” said Ms Hawking, a journalist and author. It has become increasingly complicated for Professor Hawking to travel because of his condition. “Flying is really not possible.”

Despite his lack of physical presence, Ms Hawking said his lectures will be very entertaining, directed at a general audience and featuring his trademark off-beat sense of humour and quick wit.  “He really is a showman,” she said.

Of the film that depicts the life of her parents, she has nothing but glowing remarks. “It’s a very beautiful film.

“Eddie Redmayne performance is astonishing. He really deserved that Oscar. He spent a long time with people with motor neuron disease, he learnt how to understand them and how they felt as their condition progressed.

“He also manages to project a personality through that – the personality of my father – and I think that’s really the great towering strength of that film.”

She said there was a tendency for people to talk across people in wheelchairs, to talk to their carers or to shout at them.

“I hope the film goes some way to addressing the public reaction to disability,” she said.

Since 2007 the pair have written a series of children’s books, which explain complex science, including physics, through the adventures of a young boy named George.

The idea for the books came to Ms Hawking at her son’s birthday party.

“I heard a young child asking my father a question.

“They said, ‘Stephen what would happen if I fell in a black hole’?”

“The children were so excited to hear what would happen and Dad said, ‘well you would be torn into spaghetti’,” she said.

“That was the light-bulb moment for me; I was a writer and dad has this extraordinary ability to express complex concepts in very simple language, let’s put those things together.”

But for someone who intentionally pursued a career in the arts, “it’s an irony that physics caught me in the end,” she said.

An Evening with Stephen Hawking is on at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday/Sunday April 25/26.

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