My Life In Media: Robin Oakley

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The Independent Online

Robin Oakley is CNN's European political editor. He has fronted the network's coverage of elections in Britain, Germany, France and Holland. He was awarded an OBE for services to political journalism. He is also turf correspondent for The Spectator and author of Valley of the Racehorses, a book describing a year in the life of Lambourn in Berkshire.

Robin Oakley is CNN's European political editor. He has fronted the network's coverage of elections in Britain, Germany, France and Holland. He was awarded an OBE for services to political journalism. He is also turf correspondent for The Spectator and author of Valley of the Racehorses, a book describing a year in the life of Lambourn in Berkshire.

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

I always enjoyed writing and received good advice from my schoolmaster. He commented on one essay: "Oakley must learn to give the examiner the cream from the top, and not the whole bottle."

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

My parents read The Daily Telegraph and so did I, especially the sport. I was a voracious reader of anything - from cereal packets to encyclopaedias. I will never understand how people can sit on trains staring into space when there are words to be read.

What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Sport and news were my favourites. I have vague recollections of programmes such as Round the Horne, Much Binding in the Marsh and a quiz show compered by Wilfred Pickles which ended with him saying, "Give her the money Mabel".

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I do my morning exercises as John Humphrys ankle-chews the day's ration of politicians on Today. I read the International Herald Tribune, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, FT and Daily Mail, plus a quick look at The Sun, another agenda setter. I catch US papers on the web and skim French dailies. I check Sky and the BBC News website for British politics, and Google any stories I'm following.

What is the best thing about your job?

Never being bored for a single day of my working life. Politics is the last refuge of the generalist: defence one day, health another, tax or who's slipped down the greasy pole on the next. I write about horse-racing for The Spectator and the FT, which is like a boy being paid to raid a sweetshop.

And the worst?

Days when you wonder halfway through the reply to a presenter's question: "Did I make that point earlier in this interview or was it in last hour's show?" And drunks at parties who half recognise you and start: "Let me tell you what's wrong with today's media."

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

I was once unwise enough to challenge Margaret Thatcher when she was resisting every other country over the apartheid regime in South Africa, asking: "Being so isolated, don't you sometimes wake in the night and think you could just possibly be wrong?" She gave me one of those looks that killed at 30 paces and declared: "If it's 48 against one then I'm just sorry for the 48."

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Drying up on air live on the Nine O'Clock News when political editor of the BBC. Dog tired, I let myself get distracted one night by hammering behind me and stared at the camera with a completely blank mind.

At home, what do you tune in to?

Little; I am usually home late and there is a limit on unsociability even when you are married to a saint. I usually watch the news at 10 and enjoy Dalziel and Pascoe and Bremner, Bird and Fortune. I recently bought a complete set of Inspector Morse episodes.

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

All the heavies plus The Mail on Sunday, who are also kind enough to run my travel features. I have bound volumes of every copy of The Spectator and the New Statesman since the 1960s. My wife wants them out of our groaning loft and I'm open to offers for the collection.

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

I would like to do a lifestyle interview over a couple of days with Sheikh Mohammed, who combines being Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE defence minister with being the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable horse-buyer and owner in the world.

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

Starve. Jeffrey Archer once told me: "The world is divided into those who know how to make money and those who don't. You, Robin, are in the second category."

Who in the media do you most admire, and why?

Adam Boulton, for his cut-the-crap questions. I have great respect for Matthew Parris and Simon Jenkins.

CNN celebrates its 25th anniversary on 1 June

The cv

1970:

After working at the Liverpool Daily Post, leaves for the Sunday Express, where he becomes a columnist and political editor.

1981:

Moves to the short-lived British news magazine Now!, founded by Sir James Goldsmith, and then to Associated Newspapers, where he becomes assistant editor of the Daily Mail.

1986:

Political editor and columnist for The Times.

1992:

Joins BBC as political editor.

2000:

Takes up post at CNN as European political editor.

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