Meeting Theresa May in Downing Street, brawling with a journalist and laughing with Nigel Farage – Steven Edginton sums up his week shadowing political journalist Iain Dale.
Two weeks ago, Eddie the work experience teenager set twitter aflame; he suddenly became the PR miracle Southern rail needed after months of strikes, pay disputes and commuter hell. The 15-year-old shone a positive light of authenticity and joy onto the social network after taking over Southern’s twitter account, becoming an overnight sensation. Much media attention came Eddie’s way, but what is it really like to be the work experience kid?
Last November I interviewed Iain Dale for my YouTube channel, Dale is a presenter on LBC, runs a book publishing company and is a seasoned political commentator. A week with him would be my dream, but I was never going to get it after almost all the people I asked had either ignored me or turned me down, such a prominent person would surely turn me away too. When Iain accepted, I had a genuine feeling of shock and awe.
Iain Dale – writer, managing director of Biteback Publishing and host of an LBC radio show.
Monday: Soon came my first day, nerves rushed into my body as I got on the Monday morning tube to Leicester Square. That’s when I spotted him. Sir Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s former chief spin doctor. Surely it couldn’t be him? After several double-takes I plucked up the courage to speak to him, blurting out as the first thing I said “Is it true you book your hair appointments as Sir Craig Oliver?” The knight seemed taken aback.
After explaining that I had heard the rumour about him using his titled name for hair appointments, a few weeks ago from the political editor of the Sunday Times, during a visit to the BBC, Sir Craig vehemently denied this, using certain profane language to describe the journalist. Before parting we debated Brexit on the tube to the LBC studios; I had already locked horns with an infamous political figure, and I hadn’t even met Dale yet.
Arriving at the broadcasting studios came hours of preparation for Dale’s radio show: getting guests, finding ‘newsy’ stories and writing scripts. Iain’s show has 800,000 plus listeners and is ‘prime time’ on the radio waves, it was a fascinating experience to watch.
Tuesday: Visiting his book publishing company the next day was another eye-opener. 10th floor with a Thames-side view, the building was exquisite. I sat in on some meetings, one included a budding author, in the form of a political grandee publishing some of his experiences for the party conference season. The meeting went very well, at least until discussions about who should endorse the book started, they needed a woman who was political, but no one could think of a suitable candidate. A depressing fact about British politics dawned on me: there simply aren’t enough women at the top. Throughout my week there was a distinct lack of female journalists & politicians, but there was one: Theresa May.
Back at LBC, Dale confirmed he had secured an interview the very next day with the Prime Minister. I was shocked, would I get to meet the PM whilst my friends stamped books in the local library?
Wednesday: Meeting Dale and his ‘crew’ at Downing Street was nerve-racking, security was tight and it looked uncertain as to whether some of us would be let in, including myself. However, 10 minutes of waiting at the cold black iron gates of Downing Street the call came through buzzing us in. Walking into Number 10 was a movie-like experience, the walls were covered in distinguished artwork from throughout history and the building screamed opulence. Up ‘that’ staircase with Britain’s Prime Ministers staring at you and into the White room, the stage was set for Dale’s interview with Mrs May.
Dale was nervous and quite self-conscious, but it didn’t show. Dale is a fantastic interviewer and asked some brilliantly probing questions. My question was obviously by far the best “Do you feel Britain’s negotiating position has improved since the general election?”, although I am a little biased! Another lesson I learned was that Theresa May is a very arduous person to interview, she avoids answering questions like a pro and will worm in her pre-scripted lines at every opportunity.
Iain was promised eight minutes, he managed to squeeze it to thirteen after some comical hand gestures from Tom Swarbrick, Downing Street’s head of broadcasting and a former colleague to Iain at LBC, were “accidentally” ignored.
After a great LBC show, I encountered two of the most spectacular figures in British politics. Nigel Farage is a regular LBC host, usually he comes down 15 minutes before his show starts, which is just after Iain’s. This time he brought a very special guest… Jacob Rees-Mogg. ‘The man the myth and the legend’ he is tipped as second favourite to be the next PM. Farage and Mogg clicked on a 1940s Blitz attitude never seen before, the banter was a sight to behold. Farage joked he couldn’t use Twitter in case he “had one too many”, Mogg said he need help to decide what was “wholly appropriate”. My day had been euphoric.
Thursday: My penultimate day turned euphoric to dystopia. I had naively agreed to go onto James Delingpole’s podcast, and for me to interview him for my YouTube channel. Delingpole is a Breitbart journalist, he is funny and fiery – a top troll on twitter.
I have done 7 face-to-face interviews for my YouTube channel, despite widely agreeing with my interviewees my questioning is probing and challenging. I had not hesitated to ask whether Delingpole felt like a conspiracy theorist for being a climate change ‘sceptic’ (his word) and he erupted in a fury! After fifteen minutes of arguing, I had accused him of getting ‘triggered’ and he had described me as ‘lazy’ and ‘poor’. It couldn’t have gone worse. My feeble attempts to end on a positive note and laugh off our argument fell down like a lead balloon, I had damaged his ego. ‘Not everyone gets a chance to interview me, you could have got a much better interview’ he exclaimed. We had agreed to cut out the argument, after shaking hands I thought we had got rid of the bad blood. Later, I requested the audio from Delingpole via Twitter. He refused. Instead claiming we could reschedule the interview if “you amend your line of questioning”. My blood pressure rose, but I learned some valuable lessons: principally use your own recording equipment.
Friday: Tube to Charing Cross, private car with Dale to CNN’s London studios. Iain was excellent, his fellow panellists created sparks and humour and whilst my anticipation for the show had been low, I found myself engaged and genuinely laughing out loud (a rare occurrence whilst watching a serious political program).
Quick car journey back to LBC, it was Iain’s last show before his well-deserved two-week break and my last event of the week.
Dale was exquisite, hardworking and his team at LBC were fab. My week had been a journey, meeting Britain’s top political class and laughing and bickering with metropolitan elites. I learnt a lot, mainly about Iain’s dog obsession.
But it wasn’t all blood and gore. There were hours of sitting, waiting, travelling, listening and thankfully no making cups of tea. Being the work experience kid means you are lowest on the social hierarchy, but I surprisingly found no one seemed to care. People treated me with respect, especially Iain and despite some boring moments the thrilling events of the week by far outweighed the dull phone scrolling hours. At least I didn’t have to stack shelves.
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