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The Art of a Celebrity Interview: What I've Learnt, and Still Have to Learn About Having a Natter

Posted: 20/03/2012 23:00

Over the past 17 months, I've learnt a lot about how to natter with celebs whilst sticking a microphone under their nose. I've learnt to borrow from what I've picked up in conversations down the pub, the true importance of sticking your eyelashes on properly and even when it's okay to guerilla interview P Diddy by bombarding him in a corridor when he says he has to cancel due to man flu.

Embarking on the job while still at uni studying journalism, I replied to a tweet from Jamal saying that he was looking for a presenter, and have stuck around since! It's been a hell of a ride becoming the interviewer and presenter of the online youth broadcast outlet that is SBTV. Getting the chance to sit down and have a chat with a load of artists I respect (and some I don't...) and have my progress and failures very publicly documented along the way. Here's some ponderings I've collected on my way...

While we borrow from the skills we learn in our local public house, a pre-arranged chat on camera with a famous stranger is generally pretty different. Depending on who it is there's a certain amount of mandatory ego-stroking I hope you'd never lavish upon your actual mates, and you might not be allowed to ask the burning question you're dying to know the answer to (think trying to stop yourself asking an acquaintance how it's going with their latest squeeze after everyone saw them getting it on at the office party). It's also a completely one-sided situation, in that you'll have a brain full of facts that would really freak out someone you don't know with in your local boozer.

Sometimes I'll think about the psychology of an interview; starting off flattering them and warming up with general questions and then hitting them with a meatier line of investigation in the middle and ending with some silliness.

It's about reading people too. It's often futile to ask the questions you've got in the exact order you prepared them, or all of them at all. You've probably researched your arse off, but the best interviews might come when cue cards are abandoned and natural banter allowed to flow.

Asking them to elaborate on a point you feel they might have more to say on might lead to a completely new perspective, or if Bruno Mars wants to talk about his favourite kind of wood? So be it! At least that way you're guaranteed to get an exclusive take on something rather than a generic single plug that every other media outlet has.

With this though comes the thin line between keeping the PRs, artists and audiences happy.
The audience without a doubt are the most important party here, but it's the PR who'll be guarding the gates to further big name interviews if you ask something naughty. The other way to get round this? Ensure your vid gets the most hits.

On my journey thus far I've also learnt what it feels like to be 'twit-beef' by an urban pop star on your quest for journalistic impartiality. Complaining in 140 characters he's never going to appear on the channel again after watching me ask another artist a fan question about why they collaborated. And how to deal with this at 2am in the morning after a few lemonades...ouch (the answer is slower than normal!)

And how to manage a forced natter with difficult people. A star who thinks they're bigger than they are, an interviewee under the influence or one that's just ratty and starving in a hotel room knocking out 20 back-to-back interviews that day. In this scenario we can only attempt to turn the charm up, humour them, keep smiling and pretend everything's fine when the camera starts rolling!

Witnessing shiny-eyed new artists who are desperate to chat to you turn into recognisable pop stars and unleash their inner diva is part and parcel of the industry too. Always funny, if sometimes a little rude, being witness to the fame game in full effect is an interesting part of my job, and an understandable one if the public and everyone around you are gassing about how marvellous you are. It's usually the artists who've been famous for the longest who are nicest, accustomed to their status and grateful for it.

The baptism of fire that's been SBTV has seen me dashing from university to Universal records for a good year and allowed me the huge privilege of being able to learn by completely fucking up in many a situation. From tottering to estates to interview rappers clutching a silly handbag in the wrong shoes, to getting people's names wrong, sticking my questions onto upside down cue cards, being too hungover, giving in to nerves and even not being nervous enough. I've learnt I'll never completely master this job, one that is so reliant on people's moods and personalities and operating in an ultimately very unnatural domain. So here's to more chats and more mistakes eh!

 

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