Too long? The short version from Concrete’s print edition (20.11.12) can be read here.
What made you decide to leave the F1? Is it hard being away from your family or did you see it as a natural progression for your career?
I think it’s partly a natural progression really. When I got the job on Formula One it was the most unbelievable opportunity for me and I remember when they offered me that job in 2008, I was only 29 years old. The feeling I got when I spoke to BT about doing their Premier League football was a very similar kind of feeling.
I think there is a great opportunity to do something special with football presentation in this country. It is our national sport and the Premier League is the best league in the world and they’ve got first pick football matches; we’re talking big games, Liverpool against Manchester United and Arsenal against Tottenham, those kinds of matches.
As a broadcaster you should always be looking to stretch yourself. One of the phrases I used a lot in my book actually is “never sit in the comfy chair.” It felt like if I did another four years with the BBC’s F1 coverage I was kind of sitting in the comfy chair. You know, I’ve done that and I’ve learned everything I wanted to learn about Formula One. I don’t feel there is any unfinished business for me in the F1 world.
Obviously the other big change in my life is that my wife Harriet and I are expecting our first baby. Ironically, he/she will be born on the first day of the new Formula One season so if ever there was a reminder in life that sometimes you need to make decisions based on stuff other than just your career then this is probably it.
But I also think BT will be a really good move for me. And the other nice thing about the BT offer is it is a non-exclusive contract so I’ll still be able to carry on working for the BBC. I’m in talks with them at the moment about a new TV show as well as ITV, Channel 4. It’s a period really where I can just start to really explore stuff which is exciting.
Did you get approached for the BT job or did you apply for it?
I got approached for it actually. I first heard about it over the summer and at the time I was chatting to the BBC about a new contract so I was already wondering whether I could really carry on with this constant travel all year long. You spend all year really quite exhausted, you leave home in March and it’s a constant slog. You are jet lagged all the time and it really is very difficult. It’s harder for my wife than it is for me.
But I love the sport, I think we’ve done really well with the F1 coverage; we’ve increased the audiences and tried to broaden the appeal. Particularly getting a chance to get people to understand it, they’re not professional broadcasters as such. It is so rare that you get an opportunity to really gel with people on screen and you can do hundreds of shows with thousands of co presenters and you will never get that amazing kind of relationship that the three of us have shared. It was a really, really difficult decision to walk away.
So I wasn’t actively looking to leave but there was always that niggling thought at the back of my mind. Can I really keep up this unrelenting pressure for another four years? And BT approached me; at no time did we make an approach to them or go and chat to them because loyalty is obviously really important to me. I was keen to be as loyal as I could to the BBC.
What is your ultimate sporting passion; F1 or football?
I think it is football because it’s what I grew up watching as a young guy. I write in the book about my uncle Michael being a bit of a hero of mine because he was a stock car racer and I remember an old photo of him wearing a blue boiler suit with a big tash thinking that he was Wisbech’s answer to Ayrton Senna or Nigel Mansell.
Certainly motorsport was something I was aware of and growing up in Norfolk we had the Lotus team down the road. Senna and Mansell were driving for them at the time in that awesome JPS black F1 car, one of the iconic cars in Formula One. I was aware of it but football was really my passion.
I remember I went out for dinner with Steve Rider on the day that I got given the F1 job and he said to me ‘Look, however much you know at the moment double it by a thousand, multiply it by a million, quadruple it and you’ll still be somewhere short of knowing the amount you need to know to do the job,’ which is fair. He then said at the end of the conversation ‘but the good thing is you’ll never have a season as good as the one we just had,’ which was Lewis Hamilton overtaking [Timo] Glock on the last corner of the last lap of the last race to win the title.
And then we went, on our watch, and had Jenson and that amazing phoenix from the flames act with Brawn GP when it looked like Honda were going to leave completely then Vettel winning the last race to be the youngest ever world champion and then the youngest ever back to back world champion with him dominating. And then this year where we’ve had 8 different winners, Williams returned to form, Kimi Räikkönen returning to form, Michael Schumacher showing he lost his edge on the track. So we’ve been really blessed in my time doing Formula One.
So I think it is very hard now; F1 and football are both equal passions of mine now. Part of the motivation for this book was to teach people about F1. You’re an F1 fan and I hope you’ll read this and pick up things you didn’t even know about the sport. And even for people that have never seen an F1 show before and are wondering what is this sport that Britain is so passionate about, that all this chat is about. And I hope that they read this and it teaches them something; the case is the more you know the more you fall in love with F1.
Are there interviews coming up for your job now? Do you know who will get it?
Are you keen? (laughs)
Well Lee McKenzie is the pit lane reporter so she’s I guess you would say she is in the default position.
My fingers are crossed for her.
She’s great isn’t she? I think she would do a fantastic job. Motorsport courses through her veins, her dad is a motorsport journalist and I would be very happy if she got it. But of course the BBC have a very difficult job to undertake. They haven’t made that decision yet and I guess over the winter they can take a bit of time out. The nice thing is there is a four month gap and they can take their time to really have a look round.
It has been interesting for me watching Chris Evans though. He’s been writing in his Sunday times column for the last couple of weeks how much he would love to do the Formula One job and I text him actually and I told him how much of a full on slog doing this job is. And I think he has maybe realised that it’s hard to juggle The One Show, Radio 2, 2 kids, a wife, buying every car that he ever drives past, playing golf and also doing the Formula One job.
So you know whoever does it my only advice to them is it’s got to become your life. It can’t just be a job; you have to give your life to this. And I really hope that I took on the mantle and the standard that was set by the likes of Murray Walker and tried my best to live up to them. I’ll never be able to hold a flame to someone like Murray but there’s always, when you work for BBC sport and you’re a sports broadcaster, the people that have gone before you and you have to live up to those standards so I just hope that whoever gets it does the job justice because British F1 fans are the best in the world and they deserve the best coverage.
I agree! How much are your interviews pre-planned when you do them on the show?
Um they’re not really, the whole point of our show is just to try and make it as fluid and relaxed as possible and just to try and create an air of informality on the TV programme rather than rigid structures or anything. I mean working with David and Eddie you can’t really have too many structures.
Eddie is hilarious, what normally happens with Eddie that you don’t see on air is about 20 seconds before we’re live he’ll lean over to me, pulls out his ear piece (we wear these big ear defenders cause of the noise of the cars) and he pulls it out and says ‘what are you gonna ask me?’ so I tell him the question I’m going to ask him and he’ll put his ear piece back in and he’ll sort of stand there staring into space and I think ‘excellent Eddie is formulating an amazing answer to this question’. Then, with about 10 seconds left, he pulls his ear piece back out again and leans back in and goes ‘what am I gonna say?’ at which point I have to remind him that I can’t both ask and answer the questions! So to be honest when you are working with DC and EJ you can’t plan much. Eddie loves going off and grabbing people.
And when you look back on what we’ve done over the last few years you know we were the people who grabbed hold of Michael Schumacher in the pit lane when there was talk of him coming back, we broke the news about Michael’s comeback, we grabbed Stefano Domenicali after that cheeky swap on track in the German Grand Prix with Ferrari a couple of years ago, we broke the news of Lewis Hamilton going to Mercedes. So that kind of fly by the seat of your pants, sniff out the stories and follow them has done us proud I think.
You’ve hosted the F1 and also the Olympics; which one made you feel you had fully made it in sports presenting?
Um, I think the Olympic Games really; something that I will never be able to repeat. It’s a bit of a tricky one really, at 34, to think that I’ve done 4 years of Formula One coverage and presented my home Olympic Games. The Olympics for me just threw up the most incredible moments.
I’ll never forget being the person who was hosting when Chris Hoy won. It’s things like that that, at that moment, you realise the importance of what you’re doing, it doesn’t become about you at that moment, it doesn’t become about am I going to say the right thing, am I going to make myself look good here, that is the greatest moment in Sir Chris Hoys’ career. That is a man becoming our greatest ever Olympian. And when that gets replayed over the years your words will become synonymous with those pictures.
And it’s really important to pick the right things, not for you, but to do justice to them. He has worked his whole life for that moment and you have to make sure that the things that you say do him justice, tell the story to the audience at home. It’s an essential part of the job to realise it is not about you. As soon as all TV presents realise it is not about them but it’s about the people they are talking about, they will generally do a better job.
How did you know when you were young that you wanted to get into sport?
Well I didn’t really. I decided I wanted to get into sports broadcasting when I started working for a channel called Rapture TV in Norwich. And the thing for me when it comes to broadcasting and presenting is it’s really important to do stuff that matters.
Does it really matter if some guy from Coronation Street is good at doing the triple salco on a Sunday night on an ice rink, really? Or do you want to stand there and you want to see the greatest premier league football players in the world, people who’ve got an amazing passion and a dedication and a remarkable talent?
Do you what to stand there and say if Sebastian Vettel wins this race he is the champion of the world? It just, it dawned on me that it is a chance for me to do something that I will never manage myself, which is to be as close as possible to World Champions.
One of the chapters I really enjoyed writing in the book was about when we got hold of Jenson Button just moments after he’d won the World Championship in Brazil and we were told by Brawn that they couldn’t talk about whether we’d get him after the race because they said if they talked about it they were worried it might jinx it.
So we were making the point that ‘we really do need to have a plan in place here’ but they wouldn’t give us anything. So then moments after he won the Grand Prix they came to us and said ‘right you can have Jenson Button’ and so we rushed into the garage and suddenly we were joined by about 250 photographers, 4 or 5 other TV crews. Then suddenly from the back of the room Jenson Button appears, wearing his white Brawn GP gear. And he’s got this sort of glazed expression, this thousand yard stare in his eyes, you can see the adrenaline coursing through his veins.
You can smell the champagne on him and I’m as close to him as I am to you, in fact closer because he planted a kiss on my neck! And I’m looking at him and I’m thinking for 21 years you’ve dreamt of something and you’ve achieved it and I’m this close to understanding what it must feel like to do that. And it’s moments like that that F1 becomes an inspiring place to work, an inspiring place to hang around, because you are seeing fantastic high achievement and that is absolutely one of my stand out moments of my time on F1.
Right, I have a quick-fire round for you now.
Great, let’s do it!
Favourite F1 team?
I have a huge respect for Red Bull, partly because in my time presenting F1 they’ve been the best but also because they work and play hard so I respect that.
Favourite F1 driver?
I base this on what they are like as people because I see plenty of them away from the cameras, so not necessarily the best driver. I think the best driver is Fernando Alonso but I think the nicest guy…well it’s a toss-up between Mark Webber and Jenson Button.
Webber and Button are my favourites too!
Favourite F1 moment?
When Sebastian Vettel won the world title in Japan and we played him, it was the second time he had won it, a VT of a few of the back to back champions that had gone before him and he burst into tears live on the BBC. It was the first time that I had had a real realisation from an F1 driver that they have the ability to live in the moment and to appreciate just what they’ve achieved.
Silverstone or Spa; I love the classics. It pains me every time Bernie talks about going further away from Europe.
Your sporting hero?
Ooh, my sporting hero is… Chris Boardman.
The biggest joker on set?