Michael Portillo: My Life in Media


Michael Portillo, 54, is a broadcaster and regular commentator on BBC1's This Week. He made his name as a Conservative MP and minister and was one of Margaret Thatcher's keenest admirers and champion of her poll tax. Under John Major he became the Defence Secretary. Tonight he rekindles his admiration for the Iron Lady on BBC4, in Portillo on Thatcher: The Lady's Not For Spurning, at 10pm.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

When I was kicked out of Parliament in 1997 I had to find another way to make a living, and my notoriety was helpful in starting a new career in the media. When I was young my two ambitions had been to be a politician or a television presenter, and now I have done a bit of both.

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

The Guardian, and the New Statesman. I read them avidly, and I probably knew more about politics then than I do now.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

It's a Square World, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in, Around the Horn and I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again.

Describe your job?

On Thursdays at 11.35pm I share with Diane Abbott MP a sofa that's too small for us on the This Week programme on BBC1. On Wednesdays I often battle it out on Radio 4's The Moral Maze. On Fridays I often pen 1,300 words for The Sunday Times. I make documentaries as often as I can, and the latest is on the long shadow cast by Margaret Thatcher over the Tory Party. On most other days, I make speeches!

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

Radio 4's Today programme. I simply couldn't start the day without Today.

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

I read The Times and I have the BBC pop-up on my computer. I might catch The World at One or PM on Radio 4.

What do you tune into when you get home?

I am usually late home having made a speech and I flick on Five to see CSI or any of the spin-offs.

What is the best thing about your job?

I am not in a hierarchy. I work for nobody and nobody works for me. Also, after years of sharing collective responsibility I am now free to say what I believe.

And the worst?

Being a freelance is like being an actor. You don't know when you will next work, and especially you don't know when you will be deemed out of fashion.

How do you feel you influence the media?

I have no such illusions! When I write or speak on politics it is from the perspective of someone who spent years on the inside. But whilst I hope that can be of interest I don't expect it to be influential. If I wanted influence I would have stayed in politics.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

I am proud of a documentary I made about my father, who fought in the Spanish Civil War against his brothers on the other side. The film was in the form of a railway journey. I made it after he died and it was a tribute to the suffering of his life.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

I wince when I recall that as Secretary of State for Defence I made a political speech invoking the motto of the SAS "who dares wins". Only once I had spoken did I realize that it was disrespectful to our armed forces.

What is your Sunday paper?

I take The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.

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

I would love to make a documentary good enough to win an award. Then I would feel that I had really accomplished my transition from politics to media.

What would you do if you didn't work in the media?

I would be forced to write a book. That might be no bad thing, because I know that just now I am putting it off.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Sir David Frost visited my school sixth form, which was why a career in the media appealed to me. he remains wholly unpretentious, natural and friendly and I give him high marks for not allowing his achievements to go to his head.

The CV

1975: Graduates from Cambridge joins Conservatives as researcher

1979: Becomes an adviser to the trade and industry secretary. MP for Enfield and Southgate 1984

1997: Ousted in 1997 election. Returns to parliament in 1999, resigns in 2005

2002: 'Great Britons' documentary for BBC, travel show for Channel 4. Begins 'Dinner with Portillo' on BBC4

2003: Appears with Andrew Neil in This Week

2004: Columnist for The Sunday Times and New Statesman's theatre critic

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