Lessons from our car-crash interviews of the year

The past year has seen a variety of broadcast exchanges that have been described as ‘car crash interviews’.  Looking back at the highlights (lowlights?) of 2023, memorable moments were provided by Hugh Grant giving a monosyllabic red-carpet interview on live TV, Cliff Richard on This Morning saying he didn’t want to be photographed with Elvis Presley because the king of rock’n’roll looked too fat, and Isabel Oakeshott walking out of a testy Times Radio conversation with Cathy Newman.  But a couple of late entries lead the pack in my awards for the ‘car crash interview of the year’.  So, what are the lessons?

Baroness Michelle Mone and her husband seem to have been taking ill-judged though doubtless expensive advice, turning a disaster into a crisis. For reasons known only to themselves, they made sure to keep the scandal over their huge profits from government PPE contracts in the headlines, instead of letting them fade away.  First they issued their own self-justifying hour-long YouTube documentary, then agreed to appear on the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg programme before Christmas, to admit that they had lied about their involvement with the firm PPE Medpro.  They seemed to imagine they would gain public sympathy by pointing out that this ‘wasn’t against the law’ and that it was to ‘protect their family’.  The moral of the story?  Obviously don’t lie – and when in a hole, stop digging.  Instead of trying to justify themselves, they would have been much better off issuing a full apology, then keeping quiet.

Second prize goes to the Captain Tom Moore’s daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore being interrogated by TalkTV’s Piers Morgan.  Many will recall that Captain Tom became a lockdown hero when he raised millions for NHS charities by walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday.  Subsequently however his daughter and her husband Colin have been criticised for keeping £800,000 to themselves from the sale of Captain Tom books, while the Captain Tom Foundation which they ran has been under investigation by the Charity Commission because of allegations of potential conflicts between the charity and the couple’s businesses.

Their first mistake was to agree to an interview with Mr Morgan in the first place – when there are tough questions to be answered, he has never been known to let people off lightly.  So when pressed on whether the couple had lied about making money from Captain Tom merchandise, Mr Ingram Moore stepped in to ask for the interview to be stopped because the questioning was ‘unfair’.  He asked for the conversation to be continued off camera.  Naturally however, the cameras kept rolling, these tense moments made memorable viewing and were shared widely on social media.  The family’s reputation plummeted further.

So is it ever right to ask for a pre-recorded TV or radio interview to be paused while you gather your thoughts?  The answer is ‘yes’ if it’s the typical conversation where you’re being asked for your expert views, or the topic is non-controversial.  Then it’s standard practice for people to say ‘hang on can I try that one again’ or words to that effect, to enable them to compose a better answer.  But if you are in the spotlight and those beads of perspiration are beginning to show, it’s likely to be just what the broadcaster wants – they see it as great social media fodder – so you have to carry on, and stick to a well-rehearsed line.

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