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Quiet, intense and increasingly British broadcasting royalty


By Ben Riley-Smith

It's 5am at BBC Television Centre. In the corner of an otherwise deserted first-floor newsroom, Evan Davis is writing his Today programme cues. "What do you call Roman Abramovich?" he asks the handful of producers and researchers that make up the show's night team. "The chairman of Chelsea?" Someone responds "owner". Davis nods and edits his lines, muttering the new script. Next to him, John Humphrys picks at a bowl of cornflakes and scrutinises an article on Putin.

There's a quiet intensity to the scene in the office of Today, Radio 4's flagship current affairs programme. Reaching a weekly audience of more than 7 million people, the three-hour show is British broadcasting royalty.

The same can increasingly be said of Evan Davis. Since his arrival at the BBC as an economics correspondent in 1993, the Oxford graduate has risen quickly. His time is divided between Today slots and presenter duties for The Bottom Line, leading round-table discussions with business leaders, and the ever-popular Dragons' Den.

Yet Davis remains an enigma. His cheery, measured delivery suggests a shyness and privacy rare among those who step in front of the microphone. In person, the 49-year-old is all smiles as the minutes tick towards Today's 6am start. There's not much to suggest he's been up since 3.15am.

At 5.57am, Davis sweeps up his notes and heads for the studio. The unseen team – editor, producer, sound man, two dogsbodies – are constantly chasing calls, reshuffling the running order and barking directions at their frontmen to keep to timings.

Davis is approaching his four-year anniversary on Today. And yet, with the bedding-in period long passed, there remains criticism about his lighter interviewing style. But does he let interviewees off the hook more often than other presenters? "I think that's undoubtedly true," he says. "That's the risk I run.

"But while there is the error of failing to convict people who are guilty, there's the other error of convicting people who are innocent...Very few people think that is a problem that journalists make, but I do."

He adds: "You've got the Jeremy Paxman style which is funny, in a certain way. You've got a forensic Humphrys style...It's not just about getting the information out – it's got to be a good, conversational listen. So I just try and make mine engaging in a different way."

Davis, an atheist, feels strongly about Today's Thought for the Day slot. A decade ago he complained that it was "discriminating against the non-religious". Now he says: "I think there's a very serious debate about whether the spot – which I would keep – might give space to what one might call 'serious and spiritually-minded secularists'. I don't think Thought for the Day has to only be people of the cloth."

Davis's homosexuality – he is among the few prominent gay journalists – often makes headlines. How does he deal with the exposure? "How long have we got?" he sighs. "You accept you have to give a bit of your personality. I don't keep it secret that I live with my partner Gio. I'm proud of my gayness. But there is lots I wouldn't want the press to write about."

He is frustrated at attention into his private life but adds: "We can dwell too much on the negatives. If you're black or gay or female and you're attuned to looking for the discrimination you face, here's my guess: you will too often ascribe decisions that happen in the normal run of life to your gayness, colour of skin or gender." In fact, Davis says: "Being gay has been mildly advantageous in my career – it's seen as interesting, and interesting is good in medialand."

This interview also appears in XCity, the magazine by City University's Department of Journalism