Mandelson v Robbie: battle of the interviews

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I find myself guilty of having made false promises.

When I set out to review all five radio interviews nominated for the Sony Awards' Best Interview category, I assumed that if they were that good they'd be on the internet somewhere. Danny Baker, John Humphrys and Jeremy Vine's interviews were (see links to my blogs on them, below), but what about the last two: Neil Fox's interview with Robbie Williams and John Wilson's interview with Peter Mandelson?

"The 2011 Sony nominations reflect the strength in depth of UK radio," says the Sony Radio Academy Awards. But do they have the nominated interviews available to listen to on their website? Nope.

They'll be on the Magic 105.4 and the BBC Radio 4 websites, then... Nah. 

Magic's website reports "no matches found" and the Radio 4 archive tells me that "this programme is not available to listen again" because it's past its iPlayer sell-by date.

I am tempted to launch into a diatribe about how undervalued and transient radio is, with every sneeze and fart of every celebrity, and every antic of every cute cat, available for all to see on YouTube, while the creme de la creme of radio appears to be unavailable.

I happen to remember John Wilson's Mandelson interview on Radio 4. It was incredibly frank and relaxed. Twice written off and forced to resign, Mandelson (left) is the ultimate comeback king. But, having made his reputation as the architect of New Labour, once it was thoroughly trounced in the general election, even he realised he had to go.

John Wilson's interview caught him in relaxed and expansive mood. He no longer had to play his cards close to his chest. His book had been published and all that remained was to grow old gracefully in the Lords, occasionally mounting his soapbox to sound off about something he cares about. 

I've seen and heard so many bad-tempered, point-scoring interviews with him over the years that it was refreshing to hear him talking candidly. And it was interesting to hear him talk about having been accidentally outed as gay on Newsnight:

"What upset me first of all was that they should be debating this as though it was some sort of question that hadn't been answered or that it was of some political importance... in my view it had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my life as a politician or what I was doing as a minister.

But even then I could have easily got over it, I can assure you, until two hours later, after the programme had ended, there was a very aggressive knocking on the door by a journalist and, when I didn't answer the door, they started bawling questions through the letterbox. And I just thought: I don't need this; I don't like this; I don't approve of it; and I just thought it was unacceptable journalism." 

Over the years, we've seen glimpses of a witty, charming Peter Mandelson who cares about social reform, but the overriding impression has been of a Machiavellian kingmaker who'd sell  his granny for a few points in the polls. I liked him much more after this interview.

Robbie Williams is Mandelson's music industry alter ego. He's also been written off a couple of times and proved the naysayers spectacularly wrong. He was voted Greatest Artist of the 1990s, has sold more than 57 million albums worldwide, and won more Brit awards than any other artist.

According to press reports, he was also in expansive mood during his interview with Magic presenter Neil Fox. He admitted to having mimed to George Michael's version of Freedom when he filmed the video for his debut solo single. According to the Mirror, he told Fox he was drunk at the time:

"I was in a bad, bad way. I was pre-rehab and I'd just finished off the top draw of the mini-bar - the whole top draw, all the liqueurs and spirits - and then started the video."

And, according to the Daily Mail, he said he blamed the relative lack of success of the Rudebox album on an illness which left him lethargic and depressed and which he only found out about afterward. It certainly sounds like a good interview.

Let's hope that, if one of these two interviews wins the award, we'll be able to hear it again.

Bridget Osborne is a BBC radio and television producer, most recently of the BBC World News interview strand HardTalk. She is currently running the BBC College of Journalism's Art of the Interview season.

In previous blogs, she wrote about Danny Baker interviewing Elton JohnJeremy Vine and Gordon Brown and John Humphrys and Julian Assange.

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