Jeremy Thompson: My Life In Media

'There's been the odd moment when I've found myself why I wasn't spending more time with my family'
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Jeremy Thompson, 58, presents the Sky News flagship show Live at Five, linked to his own weblog. Among the major stories he's covered are the Yorkshire Ripper case, the Gulf War, the Balkan conflict, the Bhopal disaster, Rwanda genocide, Somali war and famine, southern Sudan, Sierra Leone, the end of apartheid, OJ Simpson trial, Louise Woodward trial, Hong Kong handover, 11 September terror attacks, Soham murder case, Iraq war, Madrid train bombings, the Asian tsunami, the death of Pope John Paul II and last year's London bombings. He lives with his wife in south-west London, has two sons and four grandchildren.

So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

An inquisitive nature, a need to know and a penchant for précis.

When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get and did you read it?

My dad always bought The Daily Telegraph. As soon as he'd finished reading it, I'd grab it and devour the sports pages. I don't remember news being that important in those days!

What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Radio had more of an impact in my youth with great plays and serials on BBC, Radio Luxembourg for music and a dollop of humour from The Goon Show and Round the Horne. On TV I used to watchThe Avengers, The Man from Uncle and Doctor Who for fun. That Was the Week That Was with David Frost gave me a taste for satire, while Panorama and World in Action inspired the nascent newsman in me. And, of course, I watched all the sport ever broadcast.

Describe your job

To deliver the news as swiftly, fairly, succinctly and accessibly as I possibly can.

What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?

I switch on Sky News Sunrise to get a feel for the moving pictures marking the day and Today to sense the likely news agenda. Later I get stuck into the papers.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

As soon as I'm in front of my PC I call up an array of news websites, including Sky News, BBC News, The Times, The Guardian, CNN, NBC News, The Washington Post and The New York Times. I also keep a Google page up for quick research.

What is the best thing about your job?

Unpredictability. I've rarely come into work knowing for certain what lay ahead. News, for sure. But where, when and what type - that you can never be sure of. And the biggest buzz of all: a breaking story!

And the worst?

I don't believe in downsides. There's been the odd moment when I've found myself in Srinagar at Christmas or Mogadishu for New Year or facing a gun-toting tribesman in the back of beyond and wondered why I wasn't spending more time with my family. But no regrets.

What's the proudest achievement of your working life?

Achieving far more than I ever expected and surviving in a tough business without compromising.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Getting caught by the editor of the Cambridge Evening News playing rugby in a match I was supposed to be reporting. In fact I managed to do both, running off to file half-time and full-time copy from the nearest red phone box. But he wasn't impressed!

At home, what do you tune into?

The Green Wing, The West Wing, Waking the Dead for entertainment. I've usually had enough of news by the time I get home, unless there's a great breaking story. And I still can't get enough sport, especially cricket, rugby and golf on Sky Sports.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

I like the Indy for its quirky stance. I appreciate The Observer. I read The Sunday Times and I scour the rest. The Economist is great for background briefing and Decanter for wine.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.

To present cricket and rugby coverage on Sky Sports. But the jobs are all taken!

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

A travel writer. I love travelling and writing, so it could be a great combination and I might one day find out if I really do have a book in me - or whether it's just others who insist that I do.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Charles Wheeler has always been my hero as a journalist - a man of great integrity, consummate broadcasting skills, an instinctive eye for the essence of a story and, above all, an unfailing decency.

the cv

Trained on the Cambridge Evening News, moved on to BBC Radio Sheffield, then BBC TV's Look North in Leeds

1977 Appointed first BBC TV News North of England correspondent

1982 Moved to ITN as its chief sports correspondent

1987 Set up and ran new ITN Asia bureau based in Hong Kong

1990-91 Covered the first Gulf War and start of the war in the Balkans

1991 Appointed ITN Africa correspondent based in Johannesburg

1993 Moved to Sky News as its chief Africa correspondent

1995 Set up and headed new Sky News US bureau in Washington DC

1998 Returned to London to present Sky News evening programmes