Racing: Matiness of the man with a mike

Sue Montgomery on the reporter who will talk to anyone, or anything
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DEREK THOMPSON, the racing journalist whose evidence in The Sporting Life libel trial caused such a stir yesterday, is best-known as the member of the Channel 4 team whose watchwords might be: have mike, will interview.

Thompson, 47, has established a reputation that he will talk to anyone, indeed to anything - from the champion jockey to a goat. His wide range and uncrushable matiness have some praising his consummate professionalism, others reaching for the sick bag.

Thompson's style is veneer-smooth - it has been said he is veneer all the way through - with an almost permanently fixed smile (false at times, he admits) and a manner that is sometimes undeniably patronising. He tends to be given the lightweight, off-beat spots on Channel 4 and aims for populist appeal, but he is by no means everyone's cup of tea.

The biographical blurb on the inside flap of the cover of his recently published book Tommo's Year gives his nickname as "The Master of the Microphone". Many, however, know him as "The Nodding Dog", a reference to the constant head-bobbing that accompanies many interviews, or "Toilet" Thompson. The goat, a racehorse's companion, is to blame for the latter as viewers were informed: "Oh look, it's doing a pooh."

"Tommoballs" are legion, and Lester Piggott, never one to waste words, apparently told him to "F*** off" in front of a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions on Derby Day in 1983.

He undoubtedly enjoys the celebrity status that TV exposure has given him, but then an ego of a certain size is not uncommon in visual media work. And to his credit, the man also gives the impression he would carry on interviewing if someone set his trousers on fire. In his book, the show must go on.

Thompson earns his living as a TV presenter, as a commentator for Satellite Information Services (the service which shows live racing in betting shops) and at Nad El Sheba racecourse in Dubai. He also contributes to the Irish television station RTE and has his name on a premium-rate tipping line.

His made his debut with a microphone at the age of 15, while still at Guisborough Grammar School, when he called the runners home at his local Cleveland point-to-point.

After he left school at 17, he gained first-hand experience of horses, working for periods of six months each for the Bishop Auckland trainer Denys Smith and Pierre Sanoner at Chantilly, and rode in several amateur races on the Flat and over jumps, famously beating the Prince Of Wales in a close finish at Plumpton in 1980 for his only victory.