Written exclusively for Hiya Bucks by Katie Royals
What do you ask a man whose career spans over 50 years in television and who has interviewed over 2000 of the world’s great and good? How can you possibly capture his life in a ten minute phone interview? The answer- with great difficulty and (hopefully) a forgiving audience.
Within seconds of picking up the phone, Sir Michael Parkinson’s charisma is evident. He immediately makes a quip about a communication error and I can sense his smile down the phone.
He’s modest too. I propose the Guardian’s description of him, ‘the great British talk show host’. He responds simply: “Well I’m not that, the great or anything. There are wonderful interviewers who I look up to and try to even touch the hem of their coats. So I don’t brag around about that at all.”
However, it can’t be denied that Sir Michael is one of the greats, which is perhaps why he now has his own touring show: ‘An evening with Sir Michael Parkinson’. The show has played in Australia and America, and Sir Michael has even completed trips on the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth- “we entertained the passengers before they jumped overboard”, Michael jokes.
The evening is a celebration of Sir Michael’s career and includes some of his most memorable clips. However, with over 2000 interviews on his talk show alone, it must have been difficult choosing his favourites to focus on. He mentions Billy Connolly, Peter Kaye, Mohammad Ali, James Cagney and Tom Hanks.
And if that wasn’t enough, he adds “and well I’ve interviewed Nelson Mandela”, almost as an afterthought. But this isn’t arrogance, it’s simply a reflection of the number of prominent individuals he’s met. He says, “I just think I’ve actually been very lucky to have in my lifetime captured so many great people, great stars.”
He describes his active years as a “golden era” of people, which allowed him to interview some true stars across all walks of life, from politicians, to actors and even sports stars.
One of these sports stars is George Best, who was a particularly close friend. “I knew George very well indeed. I’ve written a book, well Michael [my son] and I have, about George, about how well we knew him.
“Michael knew him as well as I did because George used to come down and spend weekends here. He’s one of the only people who ever bothered to spend time with us, well my sons especially. They used to play football with him, the game was called ‘take the ball off George Best’- I don’t think they ever succeeded. But it’s a loving memoir, if you like, of an old friend who died tragically too young.”
Michael, his son, who used to produce Sir Michael’s shows both at ITV and BBC, actually interviews his father in the show. “He’s very good, he comes along with me. I used to do the show by myself, I used to do a one man show but it got a bit tiring.” He says, “I’m 83 now, you don’t have the stamina you used to have. Two hours or so, it’s a lot. He’s a great asset because he knows my career, he’s been with me all these years.”
When he talks about their “shared journey”, he doesn’t just refer to himself and his son. The audience are a crucial part too, he stresses. “The audience, lots of them, have seen all the shows. So it’s shared memories, good times.”
I can sense his smile when he speaks of the audience. “We always get an extraordinary reaction from people”, he grins. “It’s a very successful format, full of good names, full of laughter, full of observations about people.”
As our conversation is drawing to a close, I ask how it feels swapping interviewing for being interviewed. “It’s a damn sight easier,” he said laughing. “Interviewing is difficult, well it can be difficult. You’ve got to think about interviewing, there’s so many sloppy interviewers around- not just today, there always were in my day too, who never bother quite palpably to actually read up on the person they’re talking to and consider what the interview’s about. I used to take it quite seriously and I still do.”
Sir Michael certainly appreciates the opportunities he’s had and leaves me with the musing, “I’ve had an extraordinary life really.”
An Evening with Sir Michael Parkinson will be at Wycombe Swan Theatre on 1st September 2018