“For the celebrity, the interview is thus generally reduced to an exercise in saying as little as possible without confounding the self-love of the journalist on the sofa”

Alain de Botton spent seven days living in a Heathrow hotel and working from a desk in the newly opened Terminal 5 in order to write a short book A Week at the Airport .

a-week-at-the-airport coverHe cast his voyeuristic glances in all directions, commentating on the sense of passion and the moment of separation of lovers, sitting on the closed runway in the middle of the night, as well as discovering that the terminal’s largest bookshop didn’t stock any of his titles.

Airport owners BAA were keen to set him up with an interview with British Airways Chief Executive Willie Walsh. Much like the offer of spending a week as writer-in-residence at Heathrow, he eventually gave in and accepted the interview.

But in his meandering prelude to his encounter with the nerdish airline chief, Alain de Botton throws out some ideas about the act of an interview.

Journalism has long been enamoured of the idea of the interview, beneath which lies a fantasy about access: a remote figure, beyond the reach of the ordinary public and otherwise occupied with running the world, opens up and reveals his [Ed – or her?] innermost self to a correspondent. With admission set at the price of a newspaper, the audience is invited to forget their station in life and accompany the interviewer into the palace or the executive suite …

But the tantalising promise of shared secrets is rarely fulfilled as we might wish, for it is almost never in the interests of a prominent figure to become intimate with a member of the press. He has better people on to whom to unburden himself. He does not need a new friends. He is not going to disclose his plots for vengeance or his fears about his professional future. For the celebrity, the interview is thus generally reduced to an exercise in saying as little as possible without confounding the self-love of the journalist on the sofa, who might become dangerous if rendered too starkly aware of the futility of the mission. (emphasis added)

Peter Robinson, the DUP and the Free Presbyterian Church may wish that it had been so when Eamonn Mallie interviewed Ian Paisley as we await part two – the “New Testament” – to be broadcast on Monday evening (BBC One NI at 10:35pm).

[I’m pretty sure that in the few interviews with Lord Bannside after Eamonn Mallie finished in March 2013, Ian Jnr has sat in – for example, Mark Carruthers’ book – perhaps to ensure that recollections are tight and don’t stray into controversial territories?]

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  • As I read this, I am resisting watching the celebrity interview…Neil Morrissey and Piers Morgan.
    I was never a fan of the laddish comedy in which Morrissey co-starred and clearly he became a much sought after actor in the aftermath…although only the Homebase adverts remain in my memory bank. He certainly became a tabloid regular…and has an interesting back story of foster care…and emerged to be a pretty good character actor (Line Of Duty).
    Yet by any standard he is not an A List celebrity and yet Morgan (I dislike him) is A standard TV journalist on two continents.
    So its a curious mis-match.
    Indeed Morgan would make an interesting subject for interview….by Jon Snow or Jeremy Paxman.

    Alas there has always been a deal between Interviewer and Interviewee.
    I am old enough to remember Eamonn Andrews Show late on Sunday nights….and everything since ….Michael Parkinson, Russel Harty, Terry Wogan is the same basic deal.
    True Andrews had Lee Marvin.
    And Harty had Grace Jones.
    And Wogan had George Best.
    And Parky had Meg Ryan ….and Emu…..
    All in one way did not respect the deal…remained unco-operative….did not reveal enough of themselves as a trade off for publicity for the movie, TV show etc.

    So there is a certain amount of self-love on the part of the Interviewer. Its a cliche even. Gary Shandling nailed it.
    Or we can just see Parkinson on “Give Us A Clue” or Wogan on “Blankety Blank” or Piers Morgan in a witness box to give us a peek I to the showmanship of the Interviewer.

    Do the rules change when it is a 87 year old Statesman in the hot seat?
    Well there has to be something in it for (say) Paisley AND Mallie.
    What was the “deal”?… Perhaps unspoken.
    But surely at best…Paisley….the man who started his own political party, church and “Orange”….wanted to influence his legacy.
    And Mallie would surely want to cement his reputation as Belfasts leading journo…..although five years down the line, an interview with Adams would cement it more.

    Yet Mallie would be careful enough not to facilitate Paisleys eye on the History Book. And he might even have been surprised at the extent of the “score settling”.
    The curiousity for me….is whether Paisleys people approached Mallie and what the ground rules are…..or whether Mallie approached Paisleys people.
    Clearly Paisley (at half time) is behind on points.
    But Mallie has not (so far) needed to be stellar.

  • aquifer

    To flush out what politicians are really at, maybe televised debates between politicians on a panel are a better bet than the journalist interview, where the price of hard questions or disrespect could be restricted access.

    And much healthier to have debate in public rather than between solicitors. If a proportion of politicians are notably self-serving liars, we should learn that lesson too.

  • Seamuscamp


    Do “televised debates” by politicians ever involve debate? Those I’ve seen have been set-piece rehearsed dialogues of the stone deaf.. And I’d guess Nixon-Frost was as good an example of unexpected disclosure as could be imagined.

    “If a proportion of politicians are notably self-serving liars, we should learn that lesson too.”
    Sadly in this respect politicians sometimes reflect the characteristics of their constituents.