Joanna Lumley embarks on the world’s greatest train journey for this new three-part documentary series.
Travelling from East to West, she departs from Hong Kong across 5,777 miles of both Asia and Europe, through seven time zones, taking in an immense panorama of vistas and cultures, people and places, before her final arrival in Moscow.
Travelling in the opposite direction from most travellers on the Trans-Siberian railway, Joanna begins her journey in Hong Kong, where she spent her childhood.
“Hong Kong, once a British colony and protected by the British army and my father, who was stationed here with his Ghurkha regiment… I think more than any city in the world, Hong Kong is the one that has altered its nature.
“It’s thrilling to be back. It’s terribly beautiful. And I don’t remember any of it. It’s as if I’ve been in a dream.”
Joanna leaves Hong Kong and travels to Beijing by the brand new Bullet Train, on a 10-and-a-half hour journey, covering 1,400 miles.
Joanna says: “When I was young, China was referred to as a sleeping giant, well, it’s now very much awake.
“One in five people on earth is Chinese and it is now officially the world’s biggest economy. Flying past the window are cities that I’ve never even heard of, that have populations as big as London.”
Joanna arrives in Beijing by night but it is teaming with life, thanks to its population of 21 million.
In China’s capital, Joanna discovers a city that is still communist but has embraced capitalism. A third of the world’s luxury brands are sold there and she discovers that more Rolls Royces are sold in Beijing than anywhere else, despite a local price tag of £500,000 in a city where the average annual wage is just over £2,000.
While in the capital, Joanna visits a bizarre Mao Tse-Tung themed restaurant, where a cabaret is performed during dinner and flags are waved in celebration of Chairman Mao, whose cultural revolution in the 60s saw one-and-a-half million people killed.
Joanna says: “This country is a paradox. You can buy a Prada handbag but you’re not allowed to access Google or YouTube. Nowhere is the power of the state more keenly felt than here in Tiananmen Square. For most of us it will be remembered forever for the brutal suppression of the 1989 student demonstrations, which it’s still illegal to talk about publicly in China.”
After meeting a 90-year-old lady called Madame Marr who claims to have known the 13-year-old who was the last Emperor’s favourite concubine, Joanna boards the Moscow-bound Trans-Siberian Railway, taking in the Great Wall of China, the Gobi desert and the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar before reaching her final destination.
Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure, ITV, Saturday, 9pm