I went to see Mo Mowlam at the Winchester Festival expecting to have my prejudices confirmed: a loud-mouthed, at times foul-mouthed, individualist, not a team player - no wonder she left government. Within minutes she stood those prejudices on their head.
Mowlam was ostensibly promoting her book Momentum, which details the machinations involved in achieving the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. However, this was no ordinary book-plugging session. What struck me was her openness, which is perhaps why she is so popular: a politician who appears to tell it like it is, warts and all. She also shared past errors of judgment. She was wrong about David Trimble and Geoffrey Donaldson.
The former turned out to be more flexible than she'd thought, the latter the reverse.
She allowed for people's good points in even the most unlikely of protagonists, praising Ian Paisley's sense of humour: 'Just remember, young lady,' he once told her, 'I was the first person to ever call for your resignation.'
She was quite coquettish - removing her jacket in the heat of Winchester Guildhall with the words 'May I take my clothes off?'. She held her audience spellbound, and those present probably learned more about Northern Ireland's troubles in one hour than they had from any amount of news coverage.
Key moment: She is the only ex-Northern Ireland Secretary not to have continued security support; it went two weeks after she left.
Key lesson: Candour will make an audience warm to you every time.
Silver tongue or foot in mouth?: Silver tongue.