John Whittingdale: My Life In Media

'I have a subscription to 'Heat'. It covers the things that the majority of people in the country talk about and it is important that MPs are in touch with those things'
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The Independent Online

A self-confessed libertarian, John Whittingdale, 46, cut his teeth as Margaret Thatcher's political secretary before becoming a Tory MP himself in 1992. Having spent time as shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, he now wields more power as chair of the culture and media select committee grilling MPs, executives and industry officials on topics ranging from the licence fee and digital switchover to music piracy and the 2012 Olympics. He is married to Ancilla, and has two children, Henry and Alice.

What inspired you to start a career in the media?

The media is immensely powerful and decisions relating to it are controversial and can have huge political significance, but at the same time it is something that everyone enjoys. I love TV and music so getting involved in this area allows me to pursue an area that I enjoy and is important.

When you were 15 years old, what was the family newspaper and did you read it?

My mum got The Times for the crossword, the racing pages and the obituaries - for some reason. She also got the Daily Mail. I read both of them.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

I liked The Professionals and The Sweeney. Going further back I was always a sci-fi fan so Star Trek and Doctor Who. Jon Pertwee was my favourite Doctor. I went to boarding school so if I missed Doctor Who, my mum had to write to me each week, detailing what had happened in the previous episode. She was very good at it.

Describe your job

As chair of the media and culture committee my job is to monitor and constructively criticise the ministers and the DCMS. If there is an area of concern that you feel is being paid insufficient attention then you can highlight that.

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

Every politician listens to the Today programme on Radio 4. It is very often frustrating but it has no equal.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

Sky News for the headlines. I scan most of the papers at some point.

What's the best thing about your job?

It allows me to play a part in setting policy in the area I am most interested in, and one that is becoming more and more important economically for the country.

What's the worst thing about your job?

I can only make a case. I can't change a decision. As the select committee chairman you have a lot of influence but at the end of the day you don't make the decisions. It's not as frustrating as being opposition spokesman, but if you really want to change things the only way you can do that is by being in government.

What is the proudest achievement in your working life?

Being elected to Parliament. It not only fulfilled a tremendous ambition but it is also extraordinarily humbling knowing that tens of thousands of people have voted for you to represent them.

At home, what do you tune in to?

I listen to Radio 1, 2 and 4. I also listen to Dream 107.7FM, which is a local Chelmsford station, and BBC Essex. I really enjoy Dead Ringers but only on radio, not on television. I like Simon Mayo on Five Live. As for television, I know it has been axed but I was a big fan of Footballers' Wives and even, on occasion, Footballers' Wives: Extra Time.

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

The Sunday Times as it has good news coverage, a good overview of the week and particularly good commentators such as Rod Liddle and Andrew Sullivan. I also take the News of the World. I have a subscription to Private Eye and also to Heat. It covers the things that the majority of people in the country talk about and it is important that MPs are in touch with those things.

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

I'd like to be a government minister.

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

I'd like to have worked in music. The other career choice would have been to be a journalist or perhaps an astronaut.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Rupert Murdoch has transformed the media in Britain not once but twice. If it wasn't for him we would still have grubby newspapers run by trade unions that strike at the drop of a hat. And he launched satellite TV. Also Kelvin MacKenzie - because he is courageous, funny and very often right.