Kylie, Ed Balls and the Indomitable Jeremy Vine

ON the morning I visit Radio 2 for a chat with broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Vine I am forced to weave my way through a crowd of paparazzi. Several burly looking bouncers block my path as I enter Little Portland Street.

Once finally in reception, whilst attempting to simultaneously peel off my coat and scrabble around in my handbag for the contact name I have been given, I find myself alongside an impossibly petite, well-dressed and flawless woman. I soon find out why the photographers are so excited.

I am neighbouring (pardon the pun) none other than pop royalty Kylie Minogue. I fill out my pass (trying to appear nonchalant and definitely not in the least star-struck), and head up to Jeremy’s studio, where he’s about to start his daily news and current affairs programme, fittingly titled the Jeremy Vine Show.

Jeremy grills Ed Balls over the 50p tax pledge

As I wait, I chat to Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and his assistant (she’s just watched The Wolf of Wall Street and is accordingly fired up about the unexpected press interest in Labour’s latest economic proposal…).

Balls is on this morning’s show to talk about the party’s 50p tax proposal, debating with Tory MP David Gauke and defending the accusation of Labour’s ‘anti-business agenda’. Later I will catch the lift with another guest, a 90 year old Auschwitz survivor.

The beauty of the Vine Show is that - a little like life or a box of chocolates - you never know what you are going to get. With the studio clock counting down the seven and a half minutes until his show goes live, I asked Jeremy about his career, his dream interview and where he sees himself in five years’ time…

So Jeremy, how did you first get into journalism?

I worked at the Coventry Evening Telegraph and was very lucky because I was 21 in 1986 I’d just graduated from Durham University and honestly they were falling over themselves to appoint trainees, so how lucky was I? And they had 85 editorial staff, they now have 13. And they took on three trainees a year. So it was the Golden Age of print journalism. The Golden Age, just before the lights went out.

And then you moved onto the BBC Broadcast Journalism Course. How did that help your career? Did it completely shape it?

It was brilliant, it was called the News Trainee Course then and I was there from 1987 – 89. They gave you a chance to get all round the building and the organisation doing stuff. I was a producer and reporter in Northern Island and I worked at BBC Newcastle. I worked with Joan Bakewell on Heart of the Matter; I did all kinds of things. I suppose it chiefly gave you confidence that you could actually work in this place. It wasn’t just crammed with genius’ just perfectly normal people doing normal jobs, and it made me think I could progress.

What’s your biggest career highlight so far?

Probably the most fun - well most fulfilling - thing was working as Africa Correspondent because it was a completely different side of the news business, the side that doesn't get on the bulletins very much. To be doing Africa – 18 African countries in three years – was amazing for me. And also coming to this studio and sitting here for the first time on January 6th 2003, taking over from Jimmy Young who had done this show for 29 years was incredible. I do the news show on the most listened to station in Europe, so I’ve been very lucky I think.

Who would you most like to interview and why?

Well, when people come on work experience and they say, “Can I do anything”, I always say “Can you see if you can get me an interview with Philippe Petit?” [The French man who was Man on Wire who crossed between the Twin Towers on a tightrope.] I know he’s alive, and I know he’s around, but I think he’s very hard to get hold of, and everyone then says “Sorry we couldn’t get hold of him”, which is understandable. But one day, someone on work experience will say, “Yes, he’s booked at 12 o’clock”, and I think that will be a great moment. I’d love to meet him. He’s a hero of mine.

Jeremy Vine

What has been your worst reporting experience?

I was very nearly killed when I was in Croatia because I was a bit young and inexperienced and got into an ambush with no flak jacket, and nearly died. So I wouldn’t recommend that. I think if you present too early you can get into trouble. So I think presenting without enough reporting experience is a problem. And arguably, I maybe was a bit early when I started presenting on Newsnight – I was 34, I think it was a bit too early for me to come off the road.

I would say the worst reporting experiences are always where you do a great piece and it doesn’t get on air. I remember doing some big investigation in Northern Island for the Today Programme in the 90s, and I rang up the office and said, “So what did you think of it?” and they said, “We didn’t run it because Gorbachev’s been the victim of a coup”, and I thought, well can’t do anything about that…

Any tips for anyone keen to become a reporter?

The BBC divides into two halves – Production and Reporting – the Power and the Glory. If you want to report you've got to report, so don’t compromise by going into production; don’t think to yourself ‘I want to report but I’ll be happy for two or three years being a producer’. My tip is get on air in local radio or regional TV or whatever it is – just get on air and start reporting as quickly as you can.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Here I hope, because this is the greatest job in the BBC, there’s no doubt about that. I can interview Bruce Springsteen, I can interview the Shadow Chancellor who is standing just behind us, so it’s a combination of music and seriousness and I love it. It’s the best.

Thanks Jeremy – I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, especially when you have the Shadow Chancellor and the Nation waiting!

And with that, I leave the studio, Ed Balls is ushered in, and Jeremy starts his show, broadcasting live to seven point three million listeners across the nation.

Kicking off with the 50p tax pledge, then debating the efficacy of energy-saving light bulbs, before moving on to a studio interview with 90 year old Holocaust survivor Iby Knill marking Holocaust Memorial Day and wrapping up with a Lloyds cash machine malfunction that deprived thousands of its customers access to their cash for three hours thanks to a ‘computer glitch’ - the show truly galloped apace.

Interspersed with music, listener comments and live guests, Jeremy navigated each item with ease. With just one editor, a producer and an engineer to run the studio, and a handful of broadcast assistants downstairs manning the phones, the whole show rolls out in a surprisingly calm and orderly manner.

This is eclectic radio – you get your news, views and current affairs, but with an added pinch of humour, warmth and sense of fun – plus a bit of music too.

On my way out I note the pavement is clear – Kylie has now left the building, and my journalist instinct tells me my ease of passage is due to her departure rather than Ed’s...

Within 20 minutes entering the BBC building I had brushed shoulders with the Princess of Pop, met the Shadow Chancellor, shared the lift with a nonagenarian Auschwitz survivor and interviewed an award winning journalist and presenter.

Not bad I think to myself. And what will tomorrow bring to the news headlines? And so to Radio 2 and the Jeremy Vine Show? No one could possibly know, but I’ll be tuning in tomorrow at 12 to find out.

The Jeremy Vine Show Live every week day 12 – 2pm, BBC Radio 2


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