Bringing Europe's Leaders Together

Remembering Hella Pick

By Michael Maclay. Hella Pick first appeared on the scene for me when the ever fertile mind of George Weidenfeld fixed on the crisis of foreign-language teaching in the UK as a subject requiring serious attention. George was as usual ahead of the game and Hella helped him to set up a conference involving the German embassy and key educational and policy people concerned that Britain was turning in on itself.

This was not quite a Club of Three topic, but George was impressed by Hella’s inputs and asked me if we could find a serious role for Hella in the evolving programme of the Club. I was not entirely sure Hella would find this very fulfilling, but George had known her as a good friend for many years, and I set to work with Hella trying to make sense of George’s latest brainwave, a sort of global Club of Three bringing together the US, Europe and Russia in a grand vision of how the world might work better in the shadow of 9/11. And thus the AMEURUS project was born.

Hella became a superb organiser – not what she had been famous for as diplomatic editor of the Guardian – and sweated the small stuff in putting together conference briefings and summaries that required more bureaucratic grind than had ever been required of her in her glamorous journalistic career. But Hella showed the determination that had driven her along her extraordinary journey from the Kindertransport to the heights of British journalism. And she increasingly brought her own style and ideas into play.

In masterminding splendid roundtables from Paris to Berlin, from Washington to Moscow, she marshalled figures as grandiose as Paul Wolfowitz in his prime, and Foreign Minister Lavrov early in his long tenure, and grandees as different as Chris Patten, Joschka Fischer and Harry Evans. And as AMEURUS spawned a cultural programme, she brought her own cultural interests to bear in sessions on arts policy, museums and galleries, and the restitution of Nazi works of art. With the Club of Three now under the aegis of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue led by Sasha Havlicek, Hella blossomed, taking on a new China brief and participating in grand conferences in Beijing, and journalistic exchanges between European cities and the provinces of China.

But Hella always had a strong commitment to the Club of Three, and won a striking ovation from its membership at a notable Plenary meeting at Lancaster House during the European migration crisis in 2015 when she took on a French speaker making controversial remarks about immigration. The gist was: “I cannot believe you can be speaking in that way about refugees at the Club of Three. I arrived in this country on the Kindertransport thanks to the kindness of foreigners opening up their hearts and their borders. We must never betray that tradition”.

Maybe Hella’s most notably Club of Three moment came when she led a workshop at the headquarters of the Springer Publishing House in Berlin, on Women in Journalism. In the presence of Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner and a cross-section of young European journalists, she gave an inspiring address and answered questions from reporters and feature-writers, mainly women.

The Club of Three subsequently hosted an online launch for Hella’s marvellous memoir, “Invisible Walls”, and Hella continued attending Club of Three meetings well into her nineties, resolutely upholding the European idealism that had been but one strand of her remarkable life.

For a fuller account of Hella’s life, we recommend the very good Guardian obituary by her friend Jonathan Steele, available here.

We shall also welcome any recollections or reminiscences of Hella that friends of the Club of Three would like to post here. Please contact if you would like to do so.

Michael Maclay is Chairman of the Club of Three  


From Sir Jeremy Greenstock

“Hella’s brilliance as a journalist, and her remarkable ability to get through to sources others could not reach, first came home to me in Washington in the mid-1970s. Diplomats often think they have material which journalists want to access; with Hella it was usually the other way round. We needed to know what she had uncovered that we had missed. And we got short shrift if she caught us behind the game. What I was witnessing was a stellar career in the making, a pioneering one for a female journalist, and a building of experience and professional capability that later made her such an asset for the Club of Three. Along with that came a friendship within which I was always learning, and an appreciation of what a highly talented individual could achieve out of the remnants of an unbelievably challenging childhood. It makes Hella, quite simply, a force of history in journalism.”

Jeremy Greenstock was UK Special Envoy for Iraq between 2003 and 2004, Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to the UN (1998-2003), and is Honorary Governor of The Ditchley Foundation


From Rowan Barnett

“Hella was a truly formidable woman, and an inspiration to everyone who knew her. She was a tour de force, who built bridges and relentlessly defended democratic and European values, and positively impacted so many people. We will work to continue her legacy, and through the Club of Three, carry on the important conversations and dialogue that she so passionately championed in her lifetime.”

Rowan Barnett is a Trustee of the Trialogue Educational Trust and Club of Three steering group member 


From Thomas Matussek

“I had watched Hella so often in Werner Höfer’s “internationaler Frühschoppen” on TV, that I felt I had known her for years when we met the first time in London. For me, she was the quintessential Grande Dame of international journalism: elegant, eloquent, with a sharp wit and lots of Viennese Charm. Her love for German culture and history, her warmth towards the country that so brutally forced her to flee as a child in the Kindertransport, her readiness to forgive made her a driving force for the reconciliation and deepening of friendship between Germany and Britain.”

Thomas Matussek is a former German Ambassador to the United Kingdom