The atmosphere is powerful, the air is clear, and the silence is absolute. Nicola Benedetti and Nelson Mandela are huddled on the peak of Cairn Gorm. Their hands are wrapped tightly around the gentle curves of their silver mugs, as they heat themselves up with a warm pot of dark, gloopy hot chocolate.
Nicola saves the comforting indulgence of hot chocolate for cold weather or good company. Now she is enjoying both of these at once, although she and Nelson are both savouring the silence that has not yet been broken. Good company does not always necessitate words. When she is performing or touring, however, Nicola is often alone, so she is glad of the opportunity to speak to this amazing man.
When they have taken the edge off their cold, they begin to talk, and the warmth of the conversation between the young musician and the elderly statesman has almost as much effect as the hot chocolate. They talk about art – Nicola’s favourite piece of Scottish art is a painting by E.A. Hornel of five girls playing in a wood, that she has loved since she was young. She would imagine herself included in the mischief and fun of the girls in the painting. They discuss music, and Nicola’s admiration for the composer James McMillan. They consider what it is about their own countries that most inspires them. Nicola finds the view from her own home overlooking the Isle of Arran, Kyles of Bute and Mull of Kintyre along the West Coast of Scotland hugely inspiring. This coastline, with its truly exotic sunsets, never fails to impress her when she returns home. Beside the visual impact of this landscape, she finds the air and atmosphere there second to none.
The conversation turns to lighter subjects. Nicola confides that despite having tried to like tomato juice many times, she has finally succeeded in officially disliking it forever. Nicola’s most memorable drink to date was a hot chocolate served in a cafe bar on a ski slope in the Dolomites of Northern Italy. Topped with cream and piping hot, it was a memorable sensation of such contrast and satisfaction. As she blows on her drink to cool it down and smiles at Nelson Mandela, she knows that her memorable drink has just been outclassed.