He is sitting opposite me, the first volume of his autobiography lying closed between us on the table. Could he recite those verses now?

''I probably could,'' he says. What about the Yeats one with the phrase ''cloud-pale eyelids''? He nods - ''Oh yes, lovely'' - and takes a breath: ''And I dreamed my lost love came stealthily out of the wood/With her cloud-pale eyelids falling on dream-dimmed eyes …''

I feel quite privileged to be here listening to the author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion reciting poetry to me. Especially as interviews with the world's most controversial scientist carry a health warning. I've been told he is aloof and prickly about questions that threaten to stray into private realms. As we are here to talk about his life story - as opposed to the evolutionary and cultural arguments for which he is famous - such sensitivity was bound to be tricky.