Wednesday, 26 June 2013

An Interview with Sir Trevor McDonald

Image/Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse

Sheffield Doc/Fest may be over for another year, but over the next couple of week we’ll be bringing you some interview highlights from our festive days up north. First up, a little interview with celebrated broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald, whom we caught up with after his session, 'The Art of Access – From Palaces to Prisons'.

You’ve had an incredible career, is there anything you’d still like to gain access to?

I’m getting to the point where… no. Well, there may well be. I’m not doing any more prison films. I’ve just done one in a woman’s prison and that’s the end.

Why, was it a harrowing experience?

I found that I couldn’t get some of these guys out of my head, and I don’t like that. They didn’t give me nightmares, or I didn’t lose sleep, or I didn’t become an alcoholic or anything… I just couldn’t wash them out of my head. One of the things that journalists do very well is… you know, in my job, I would travel from India to South Africa, and then, you know, go to Northern Ireland, and when somebody asks me ‘what were you doing last week?’, I’ve almost forgotten I was in India. We kind of move on and we wash things out of our heads very quickly. I couldn’t wash these guys out of my mind. And I’ve just done a woman’s prison thing and I couldn’t get over a kind of depression about seeing all these women.

Could you explain your sentiments towards them, considering why some of them are there? Do you empathise with them?

You know, I’m a wishy-washy liberal; I empathise with most of them. And having empathised with most of them I would say to somebody, one of the wardens, ‘you know that guy John, he was a really, really nice guy. What did he do?’ and the warden would reply, ‘he was a contract killer’. I thought, oh my god, I choose the wrong kind of company.

Is there, conversely, anything that you’ve been really, really proud of?

Well, I’ve been doing this for some time. There are three or four things that I’m really proud of…

Receiving your knighthood?

No, I mean, work really. I was terribly, terribly proud of the stuff I did in South Africa, and I was immensely proud, and I still have a lot of pictures, of my work with Mandela. To get to know him… I got to know him very well and I’m very proud of that.

And with everything that’s happening at the moment… How do you feel about it?

Well, he’s 95 and, unfortunately, we all die.

Yeah, unfortunately, we do. Well, on a final note, if we could ask one last question… Earlier we attended the session 'The Art of the Interview'. Having interviewed so many people, could you pass on a tip?

It’s the core art in general, even when you go to ask somebody in the street, ‘what happened here?’. The core of everything we do is asking questions and getting information. You know, from that, or interviewing Saddam Hussein or Mandela or, whatever…

It does help to have a likeable voice, though!

I think you’ve also got to ask the right questions. You have to learn to find a way to get the right questions asked.


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