You’re a TV presenter. Have you always been a good talker?
Actually, no! When I first went to primary school in Bolton I didn’t speak to anyone for weeks. I was terrified on my first day and the teachers thought I might need to see a child psychologist. I eventually got over it but being dumbstruck is weird given my current occupation.
You’ve reported from many dangerous places. Which story keeps you awake at night?
I’ve seen a lot of death, but it doesn’t mark me as much as seeing people who are alive and in physical or emotional pain. I remember covering the 1999 war in East Timor. I met a pregnant woman who had witnessed her family being massacred and was beside herself with grief. I was very moved and upset and, every now and again, that comes back to haunt me.
Your parents were immigrants from Jamaica in the 1960s. Does that sometimes resonate with your work?
Absolutely. For instance, I found it hard reporting from Kosovo on the migrant story there. Mum was a seamstress who eventually worked for Mary Quant and M&S. Dad worked for British Leyland making car batteries in a factory. It was sometimes tough, so I can empathise to a very small degree with people leaving to make a better life elsewhere. My parents weren’t escaping a conflict but I have a high level of empathy for people fleeing their homes in distress. What I have always tried to convey in my reporting is that if your house was being bombed, wherever you live, you would do the same – get away and find a better life.
A longer version of this article appeared in the September 2021 issue of Saga Magazine: subscribe today
If you were minister for the Saga generation, what would you lobby for?
I know there is controversy over the age some women are now eligible to collect their pension. My mother is 84 and it doesn’t affect her, but – and I need to be careful what I say – if I was in government, welfare would be a priority.
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What changes would you like to see in Britain?
It’s fair enough to say successive governments have disregarded sections of society that don’t have much of a voice. This is a rich country that has ignored the division between the haves and the have-nots. I find that disgraceful. It doesn’t matter what political party is in power, there is too much focus on people who have power and influence, rather than those who don’t. I think the pandemic highlighted those differences.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you?
My Mum didn’t want me to be a journalist, so I went to university and studied to become a lawyer. I didn’t want to disappoint her. But I always knew I only wanted to be a reporter. Mum said that being black and part of a minority meant I was going to have to work twice as hard to get what I wanted out of life. That’s something that has stuck with me. Hard work brings its own rewards. I don’t have any children, but it’s the message I would pass on, too.
The Mastermind black chair is famous. Would you like to own one?
I already have an amazing old chair in the study of our north London home. My wife is a furniture restorer and likes to work with traditional techniques. This one is an early 19th-century armchair which was likely picked out of a skip. She spent ages bringing it back to life, but the result is incredible.
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Does it feel like you’ve finally landed your dream job in your fifties?
It does feel like a dream job. I grew up watching Mastermind (the brilliant Magnus Magnusson was the presenter then and trying to answer the questions was part of the fun). But first and foremost, I will still be doing the day job, which is the most important thing for me. I’m very lucky to have Mastermind but I’m a reporter at heart.