Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Rob McGibbon and his criminally insane egomaniacs
Rob McGibbon is a freelance journalist, principally an interviewer. Recently he launched the website AccessInterviews.com (click here) which aggregates links to the best interviews written or broadcast by leading journalists. It is a cool website which Arcati has been known to dip into and write about. Hence I was able to turn the tables on the arch interrogator and ask McGibbon a few questions myself in what is, essentially, a “world” exclusive interview…
Congratulations on Access Interviews, Rob ...
Well, thank you, Madame. And can I say, thank you to you for using AI and for being what I believe they call an “early adopter”. But enough of this luvvieness…
Which is the best interview ever in the history of the world? People often say Truman Capote's encounter with Marlon Brando in the '50s ...
I re-visited that Capote-Brando interview recently. Yes, it was a great piece, full of wonderful colour, but I can’t believe it is the best ever. I mean, f***, what about my interview with Ross Boatman from London’s Burning for The Sun in 1992?
Capote did a nice job, but I am instantly suspicious of the fact he didn’t take any notes. People with photographic memories wind me up. I have wasted years of my life transcribing tapes, so the thought that it could be done with instant recall fills me with envy and anger. Also, I think spectacles have become a bit rose tinted regarding that interview because of the double helping of fame. Celebrities interviewing celebrities has a similar blinding effect today on some editors. No names, naturally.
Access Interviews - it creates a platform for journalists and publications to link their major interviews to a world audience. How do you hope it will make money?
The simple truth is I do not know. My principal ambition is to create a great website. Making money from it is secondary. Naturally, I wish it wasn’t, but that’s the reality. Hopefully, journalists and readers will get involved in big numbers and then maybe advertising or sponsorship will follow. We shall see… the yacht on the Amalfi coast is most definitely on hold.
In a few lines what inspired AI?
I had the idea when I was doing a stack of interviews for Press Gazette. I didn’t have access to a newspaper cuttings library so I did all the research on the internet and with those awful online subscription libraries. It was a nightmare. I realised that the only articles that really matter to journalists and people generally are the genuine, primary source interviews – not the cuts jobs and rehashed news stories. I wondered if it would be possible to create a finely distilled archive that would become a bespoke research hub. Am I starting to sound geeky? [No]
The idea went through many mutations until I came up with the format for AI – whereby the journalists themselves submit the links to their portfolios of interviews. Basically, the writers and their readers are the editors of an open editorial platform. It has not been easy and I nearly gave up a few times, but I’m glad I didn’t.
I notice that Access Interviews is sponsoring the Interviewer of the Year category at tonight’s British Press Awards. Have you gone all corporate or what?
Yes, I have given up journalism and gone over to the other side. It’ll be a box at Ascot next. Seriously, I am pleased we are backing this award. Obviously, it is to promote the website but I am also determined that if Access Interviews achieves only one thing, then it will be to further highlight the skill of interviewers. Interviewing is hard graft and I sometimes feel that it is taken for granted and, er, not necessarily as well rewarded as, erm, other certain contributing genres to newspapers …
How much to do you prepare for an interview? Your approach to Andrew Neil seemed quite military to me and he sang a song rarely heard. I thought he did drop his iron mask in places.
Yes, Neil did seem to open up a bit. He even said later that he was concerned he had said too much, but I think he came across well. In general, I spend ages preparing. It can be a pain and a bore. Interviewing is labour intensive, but it’s every interviewer’s duty to be well up on their subject. There’s nothing worse than having to bluff through a topic during an interview. Put the reading in, I say.
Tell us something of your career in the media ... you seem very close to TV's Piers Morgan ... And who was your first star interview?
My first interview was Jeffrey Archer in 1986 for the Wimbledon News where I started as a reporter. That is also where I met Piers Morgan. Both are criminally insane egomaniacs who really should be on anti-ego-inflammatory medication. But they are great characters and I like them both a lot.
From Wimbledon, I freelanced on news at The Sun and other dailies, then went to the Daily Star on staff where I started doing showbiz. I went back to The Sun briefly before going freelance in 1990 so I could write some books. I also had to escape the menace of Kelvin MacKenzie for the salvation of my soul. I have been freelance ever since. Still here…
Who is your most difficult interview and why?
It would be highly unprofessional of me to name anyone who has been difficult to interview. But nothing winds me up more in an interview than people refusing to name names, so….
There have been countless nightmares, but a few spring to mind. Michelle Gayle was awful – a right non-entity with diva pretensions. Talking to Cristian Solimeno from Footballers’ Wives was like root canal. I don’t think he had finished learning to speak. There are so many, but the “nightmare” Gold probably goes to Steve McQueen’s son Chad.
I spent a week in LA being dicked around by Chad for Hello!. I went to his house in Malibu and he was fine, but he kept delaying the interview. It was a bizarre week. Finally, I turned up at the house at his invitation and a bearded biker pal answered the door and uttered the immortal line: “Chad cut away, dude.” He had left town. Never saw him again. The word I have to describe Chad always comes up in text message predictive text as “aunt”. He is an A-list Aunt.
And your best ever interview and why?
I particularly liked interviewing the late, great Richard Harris. We had a few pints of Guinness together and he was brilliant. The “best ever”? Er, not sure I’ve done one yet. But one interview that I might pick out is with Richard Ingrams for Press Gazette (click here). The interview was beyond bad, but I salvaged it by sending up the whole encounter. I also enjoyed stitching up the PR for the Olympics when I interviewed Seb Coe. She was absurd and I was probably too kind.
Is there anything you regret in terms of interviewing?
I didn’t until last week - but now I regret not asking Felix Dennis the obvious question: “Have you ever killed anyone?”. I mean, I am an idiot for forgetting that one. From now on it will be a template question in ALL interviews. But I am pleased for Ginny Dougary. She is a class act. Dedicated and a doyenne of detail. I salute her.
How would you describe your personality and how it enables you to be a productive interviewer? I notice you have a gift for staying strategically quiet, for instance ...
Interesting you should remark on that. I have always generally been more of a listener and during an interview I say as little as possible. This is OK for print journalism, but now I am filming them, it might look a bit odd. You tell me?
As far as I’m concerned, people are interested in the subject, not the interviewer. Jonathan Ross is a good entertainer and comedian, but I have never seen anyone cock up so many interviews in my life for the sake of a gag. I find him unwatchable these days. Maybe a metal grill over the TV screen will help? If you have Madonna sitting in front of you, no-one cares what you think, so SHUT THE F*** UP!
What about a collection of your best interviews in book form?
Not sure how much interest there would be in my London’s Burning interviews from the 1990s. Although I consider them vital elements to understanding the depth and cultural significance of my oeuvre…
Give us a glimpse of your freelance day. Would you not prefer to be an office-cosseted hack with a pension plan and sundry perks?
The only thing I miss about being in an office is the IT department. Argh, the stress of computers. I worked from home for years, but these days I have an office a short walk away. It is bliss to finally have the separation of office-home. Currently, a big chunk of time is involved in running Access Interviews. I have a great team at Mettic Development (click here) who make all the ideas work. I also have various writing projects on the go – all at various stages of incompletion. Every journalist should have a shed load of unfinished works. It’s what keeps us going.
I do miss working with journalists and the buzz of a newspaper, but, hey, this is the groove I’m in, man. There’s no way out.
Where do you live and with whom?
I live in Cheslea with my wife Emma (Alcock). She’s an artist, a painter. No hype – she’s very talented and already quite collectable. We got married last year.
And finally, suddenly you're a millionaire thanks to AI. Where do you go from there?
Well, obviously, I’d probably drop anchor by Ravello. I’d gladly invite you along for a glass of fizz, but I expect it would compromise your anonymity…
Thanks Rob. Visit Access Interviews for great interviews and to add links to your portfolio of work.. Click here.