Election '97: Television's Boulton wanderer

Early rise, on to press conference, promo, back to studios, host poll special, midnight close - a day in the life of TV's busiest newsman
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The Independent Online
If you thought politicians worked long hours during this election, spare a thought for the people covering it. Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, is on screen more than any other television journalist during the campaign.

As well as hosting two hour-long flagship political shows daily, Boulton, 38, provides updates and analyses as often as 10 times a day, and for his trouble earns more than pounds 150,000 a year.

On Thursday, The Independent spent a day - all 18 hours of it - with the man who has been tipped for the top political job in broadcasting, political editor of the BBC.

7:00am Boulton wakes at the Royal Horseguards Hotel in Whitehall, his home for the duration of the campaign. At 8am, after stopping in at Sky's Millbank offices, he arrives at the Liberal Democrats' "Take your daughters to work" press conference. Meets one four-year-old afterwards. "Have your picture taken with Adam," urges mummy. "Wise choice," says Boulton, as the child flees.

8:15am Boulton's first television appearance of the day. Returns to Sky studios. Then on to Conservative press conference at 9.20am on "Labour's Emergency Budget", where John Major, Kenneth Clarke and a grinning Brian Mawhinney issue dire warnings on Labour's planned July Budget. Unhappy with their answers to his questions, Boulton spends 10 minutes haranguing Tory strategist Danny Finkelstein before filing another live piece to camera. "Not a bad morning," he concedes, mulling over a rare (if mute) election appearance by Virginia Bottomley. "Sometimes I get woken up early to do something at 7am."

10:00am Boulton sets off for Labour's press conference, accompanied by Sky's election psephologist, Professor Michael Thrasher. "The last general election, we finished at about 5.30am. I went straight to bed; he went on to do interviews at Downing Street. I thought he was mad," Professor Thrasher says. Boulton's schedule, he observes, is exhausting. "But you get pulled along. You think, "if he can do it, then I should be able to".

After the press conference, Boulton files an update and then finds time for a quick election analysis for a Middle Eastern television crew in a nearby park. "You have to assume you could be on camera at any moment," he says.

Returns to office for forward-planning meeting. "Everyone else does split shifts. He's the only one that goes straight through," says a producer admiringly. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph's Petronella Wyatt phones to cancel an appearance on the evening show. "Aha! Petronella's got a crush on Adam!" exclaims a colleague. For the first time that morning, Boulton is momentarily flustered.

12:30pm Another live link from outside the Commons, about the parties' tax "black holes", followed by a further three promotional slots for his Sunday show - all different, to account for an unfinalised guest list. Boulton, apparently famous for his dishevelled appearance, is bullied into combing his hair. ("There's a joke in the office that Adam's the man Armani would pay not to wear his suits," says a colleague).

A colleague says it is not unusual for Boulton to do a live interview every hour. Stops to talk to elderly couple who, despite hearing he is not from the Referendum Party, reveal their fears for post-EMU pensions. He will later use these as the basis of his interview with Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat's economic spokesman.

1:15pm To the Ivy for lunch with Major adviser Jonathan Haslam, to meet on planned documentary series, Major in Power. ("It will work whatever the outcome"). Boulton has been sent a free packet of Clorets mints. "Not a bad idea," he concludes. "Some politicians have breath so bad it could slay you." The Independent notes these names for future reference.

3:30pm Into make-up in pre-paration for 10 min-ute interview with Malcolm Bruce. Large amount of concealer applied under the eyes. Emergency sponge applied to the remains of lunch on shirt. Boulton apparently does not mind if people think him slovenly. "Apparently, it makes for high viewer recognition."

3:50pm Interview with Malcolm Bruce, followed by stint on telephone. Then lengthy discussion with Sky colleagues on how President Clinton's style compares with British political leaders', in preparation for appearance on the 6pm show of Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors, the semi-fictionalised story of the Clinton campaign.

An internal memorandum reveals that Boulton is on call for 20 hours a day during the election. "I do get ribbed about the amount of time I spend on screen," he admits. "Some people are surprised to see me off it." Does he ever fluff his interviews when he gets tired? "No, but the - er, er," Boulton pauses. "The ... verbal dexterity goes a bit."

4:30pm Labour's heritage spokesman, Jack Cunningham, arrives for interview. He stands in the office for some minutes before anyone notices. "That's alright," he says. "I've done so many interviews today it's quite nice to be left in peace."

Boulton works on rewriting scripts for his 6pm programme. The Independent rejoices at his first yawn of the day.

6:00pm Boulton hosts his live one-hour show, including a debate with Suzanne Moore about the female vote. Afterwards, he changes into two different suits to do further promos until 7.35pm.

At this point, he says, he usually has some "quiet time" where he telephones his family. ("I think he sends them photos too," jokes one colleague.) But does he have any interests outside politics? "My family. Plants. These are all mine," he says, gesturing towards the office foliage. But earlier in the day, a political writer revealed something of a scoop. "I saw him at the pictures on Saturday. The Screen on the Hill, in Belsize Park. He does have a social life." At 9pm Boulton breaks off from his supper to do another live link, his fifth of the day.

At 11pm, he hosts his second hour-long live show, including a satellite interview with Joe Klein, and debates the day's issues with Bea Campbell and Des Wilson. Grins all round when Klein compares Blair to Clinton thus: "We've seen these lines rehearsed by the political equivalent of Olivier. A great politician, Blair is. Olivier, he's not."

12:10am Boulton, removing make-up, has brief logistical discussion with remaining staff about following day's trip to Birmingham.

Returns to the hotel. He will go to sleep at about 1am, and be ready to leave for Birmingham at 7am.

How does Boulton wind down? He is teetotal for the duration. "I read tomorrow's newspapers," he says. "Oh, and I might watch Vincent Hannah's (political) programme." Your reporter, shaking her head, makes her excuses and leaves.