My Life In Media: John Simpson

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The Independent Online

So what inspired you to start a career in the media?

I was heavily involved in student journalism (editor of Granta, when it was a Cambridge University magazine) and it seemed the natural direction. I was also greatly influenced by the film Z, which showed that journalism could be a way of defending political freedom; well, some journalism, anyway.

Cast your mind back to when you were 15. What was the family newspaper and did you read it?

We took the News Chronicle, and what was then called the Manchester Guardian. I skimmed them occasionally.

And what were your favourite television and radio programmes?

We didn't have a television; my father thought it ruined the intellect, and I suppose he's been proven right. My favourite radio programme was the anarchic Goon Show.

What is the best thing about your job?

It's different every single day, and it takes me to some weird places.

And the worst?

I miss everything: parties, films, plays, television programmes, the christening of my grandchildren, Christmas, birthdays (especially my own), and the last day for applying for things.

Scroll on to the present. What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

Shouldn't that be "medium", or am I just showing my age? The first medium I turn to is the BBC World Service if I'm in the wilds, and BBC World if I'm in reach of a television set.

You've arrived at the office. Will you be consulting any media sources during the day?

I don't have an office to arrive at, thank God.

What is the best achievement in your working life?

Still keeping on reporting, I suppose.

And your most embarrassing moment?

Live television provides plenty. I once ripped my trousers from top to bottom in Zambia, thus mooning 60,000 people; among them was the Queen.

Now you're back home. What will you tune in to?

Channel 4 News at 7pm, BBC News 24, and, most frequently, BBC Online.

At the weekends, what is your Sunday paper and do you have any favourite magazines?

Ah, these nice comfortable British notions. I check out the broadsheets on the web. I take lots of magazines with me: The Economist, NY Review of Books, Prospect, New Statesman, New Scientist, History Today.

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

I'm looking forward to reporting on the first free election in Tibet - after having covered the entirely peaceful departure from office of Robert Mugabe, of course.

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

I'd have been a rather tiresome academic, I expect. Nowadays I'd be a full-time writer. And I'd carry on travelling - but at my own expense, instead of the licence-fee payers'.

Who are your best friends in the media?

Humphrys, Sergeant, plus some editors, producers and cameramen. Even a few BBC bosses.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Humphrys, Paxman and Snow, for sticking it to people. Jeremy Vine, Nicky Campbell and Robert Elms (BBC London) for being good listeners. Adam Boulton, for being clever. Lyse Doucet and Nik Gowing (BBC World) for being so articulate. And in the past, of course, Sir Hugh Greene: the BBC's best director-general ever.


1966: Joins the BBC as a trainee sub-editor in radio news.

1970: Becomes a reporter on BBC radio news. In 1972 becomes Dublin correspondent, before moving to Brussels in 1975 and then South Africa. Stints as diplomatic editor, political editor and presenter of the Nine O'clock News.

1988: Appointed world affairs editor.

1990: Named Journalist of the Year by the Royal Television Society and awarded a CBE in the 1991 Gulf War Honours. Associate editor of The Spectator from 1991-96.

2000: Named Journalist of the Year by the Royal Television Society for his reporting of Kosovo conflict.