I was on a panel the other day with Marina Hyde, the Guardian columnist. She said she never goes to media or political parties because she thinks if she speaks to any well known people or becomes friends with them she wouldn’t be able to write what she wants about them in her columns.
One of the reasons LBC took me on was because I take the opposite approach to Marina Hyde. I have an extensive contacts book. Not all the people in it are friends, or even acquaintances, but over the years you get to know people, and inevitably, doing the job I do I have to interview them. I think the most difficult one was when I recently had to interview Donal Blaney about the Conservative bullying scandal. I decided to approach this interview in exactly the same way as I would any other and, as I wrote at the time, I don’t think there was anybody who alleged I hadn’t asked him the difficult questions.
Yesterday I had a more complicated interview. On Wednesday UKIP’s Suzanne Evans was suspended by UKIP. She took them to the High Court to injunct them but lost. I’ve got to know Suzanne a bit over the last year or two and we have become friends. I think she has been one of UKIP’s greatest assets and she has done well to become a national figure in her own right. But over the last year she has been undermined by others within her party and she has fallen out in a big way with Nigel Farage, someone who I also regard as a friend. I am also his publisher – and Suzanne’s come to that matter.
So yesterday I persuaded Suzanne to come into LBC to give me her first broadcast interview since her suspension. It turned out to be a much longer interview than I had anticipated, Normally on a Drivetime show, because of the necessary paciness that’s required, it would be a maximum of ten minutes but this turned out to be 25 minutes. I had prepared a few lines of inquiry but 90% of the interview was adlib. I had to ask difficult questions about Nigel Farage and also some fairly intrusive questions about Suzanne’s own experience and conduct.
I’d like to think that at no time was my line of questioning influenced by my relationship with her or Nigel Farage. I certainly wasn’t aggressive in the questions I asked, but it would have been singularly inappropriate for this type of interview. The Frost approach in these situations is far more likely to yield results than the Paxman approach. There was no pre-agreement about any areas that were off limits and her reaction to the questions about the Breitbart article underlines that she had to deal with some very difficult issues.
On a normal show, I probably do around 12 separate interviews. On average I probably know two of the interviewees. One of them could be classed as a friend. I’d like to think I have never caveated a question or pulled up from asking a difficult one just because I know someone. It’s called being professional, I suppose.