Alastair Stewart: My Life In Media
"I think we got [Beslan] right, and I managed not to break into tears, but it was a damn close thing on several occasions"
Monday 31 July 2006
The ITV newsreader Alastair Stewart, 54, co-hosts London Tonight with Katie Derham, and presents Lunchtime News and the 10.30pm bulletin. This month he has been anchoring bulletins from Beirut. Since joining ITN in 1980 he has presented three general elections, Budget specials and live coverage of the Lockerbie and Challenger space shuttle disasters. He has four children and lives in Hampshire, with his wife, Sally, where he relaxes by listening to Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. He was appointed an OBE this year.
What inspired you to start a career in the media?
I was offered a job! I had intended to qualify as a barrister and go into politics. An appearance as a guest on ITV as the deputy president of the NUS led to a job offer. Initially I rejected it, but I've never looked back.
When you were 15, what was the family newspaper and did you read it?
My father took the Telegraph and my mother the Mail. I can't remember us taking a Sunday. I read and admired the Telegraph, though I don't remember the fashion pages being as saucy as they are now. The Mail didn't seem as irritating or irascible then.
What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?
Top of the Pops. I was a mod. The Flintstones every Friday. On the radio it was weekend comedy. Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue is one of the funniest creations in the world. Desert Island Discs is good for chat and musical education.
What's the first media you turn to in the morning?
I have radios in the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, and I can't live without Radio 4's Today programme. It irritates, condescends and can be painfully self-satisfied. Despite that, it offers the most intelligent and comprehensive news "prep" for the day. I also put Ceefax on in the kitchen.
Do you consult any media sources during the working day?
On the train I scan the tabloids and dip in and out of most of the broadsheets; I read the Indy, Routledge in the Mirror and Kavanagh in The Sun; in the office I read PA and Reuters wires constantly; and The Guardian and BBC sites, plus government department and think tank sites. At the close of play, unless I am presenting it, I will watch ITV's 10.30pm bulletin and I tape Newsnight for a fast-spin-random-selection viewing before retiring with Radio 4.
What's the best thing about your job?
Being given the responsibility to have the first stab at making sense of major events for our viewers.
And the worst?
Being beaten by the opposition or hearing that resources are in the wrong place.
What is the proudest achievement in your working life?
I used to say broadcasting live from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: bulletins, specials, newsflashes - the lot. But I now think it was getting through Beslan in 2004, when the bombs went off and the surviving kids came out. I think we got it right and I managed not to break into tears, though it was a damn close thing on several occasions.
And your most embarrassing moment?
I missed a line on the teleprompter and said that a horse breaking loose at a three-day event had sent a "seriously injured" Diana, Princess of Wales to hospital. It was a spectator in fact, but my over-zealous and over-egged apology caused the real problem, as I implied Mrs Ordinary Person didn't matter as such as HRH!
At home, what do you tune in to?
News, Formula One motor racing, anything with Rik Mayall, and a lot that my older children insist on watching (usually Channel 4, but I'm thankful for The OC!). And lots of docudramas, an exciting genre that has yielded great stuff, ranging from a murder in the Alps to the volcanic threat beneath Yellowstone Park.
What is your Sunday paper and do you have a favourite magazine?
Most of them, but The Observer for business and The Sunday Telegraph for news. I enjoy Vogue and Harper's Bazaar - another, beautiful world away from the harsh realities.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.
I am consistent on this one: I want to interview Mick Jagger about rock'n'roll, Europe and cricket!
If you didn't work in the media, what would you do?
I fear I would be reading low-yield briefs at the bar, but I might be girding my loins as a candidate for the general election.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
The Independent's Hamish McRae. His agenda, grasp of historic context and ability to put vital economic and political issues before his readers in an accessible fashion mark him out as good and important.
1976: Joins Southern Television in Southampton as a reporter and presenter
1980: Joins ITN as industrial correspondent
1983: Becomes a reporter-presenter for Channel 4 News; presents ITN's News at 5.40 and The Parliament Programme
1989: Joins News at Ten as a presenter, spends a year as Washington correspondent and anchors coverage of the first Gulf War, presenting News at Ten live from Saudi Arabia for two months
1992: Presents ITV's regional news bulletin London Tonight
1994: Starts a Sunday programme on GMTV and hosts Police, Camera, Action!, which runs for eight years
2003: Returns to ITV News and anchors coverage of the Iraq war
2004: Presents Live with Alastair Stewart for two years; wins RTS News Presenter of the Year in 2005
2006: Appointed an OBE
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