Evan Davis: Quiet man of the airwaves bites back

Some of his BBC colleagues are a little too aggressive, Evan Davis tells Ben Riley-Smith

It's 5am at BBC Television Centre. In the corner of an almost deserted first-floor newsroom, Evan Davis is writing his Today programme cues. "What do you call Roman Abramovich?" he asks the handful of producers and researchers that make up the show's night team. "The chairman of Chelsea?" Someone responds: "Owner." Davis nods and edits his lines, muttering the new script. Next to him, John Humphrys picks at a bowl of cornflakes and scrutinises an article on Vladimir Putin.

There's a quiet intensity to the scene, an hour before sunrise, in the office of Today, Radio 4's flagship current affairs programme. Reaching a weekly audience of more than seven million people, the three-hour show is essential listening for Britain's establishment. It is British broadcasting royalty.

The same can increasingly be said of Davis. Since his arrival at the BBC as an economics correspondent in 1993, the Oxford graduate has risen quickly. His time is divided between Today slots and presenting duties for The Bottom Line, leading round-table discussions with business leaders, and the ever-popular Dragons' Den.

Yet Davis remains an enigma. His cheery, measured delivery lacks the accusatory snarl of a Jeremy Paxman or the evident ego of a Robert Peston. Davis's approach suggests a shyness and privacy rare among those who step in front of the microphone.

In person, the 49-year-old is all smiles as the minutes tick towards Today's 6am start. There's not much to suggest he's been up since 3.15am.

"I turned down the job when they offered it to me," Davis says. "I didn't think I would cope with the unsociable hours." But he now works fixed shifts that take up no more than 20 hours a week. Providing you can sleep – Davis goes to bed at 8.30pm, using hypnosis tapes to nod off – it's a great gig, he says. "Don't ever feel sorry for Today presenters."

At 5.57am, Davis sweeps up his notes and heads for the studio. The pips sound. "Good morning. This is Today with Evan Davis and John Humphrys. The headlines...."

Sitting in the production studio, separated from the recording room by a glass screen, it's clear the show resembles that old swan analogy: as the presenters glide seamlessly from paper round-up to interview, backstage legs are furiously kicking. The unseen team – editor, producer, sound man, two dogsbodies – are constantly chasing calls, reshuffling the running order and barking directions at their frontmen to keep to timings.

Davis's failure to do just this leads to his first reprimand of the day. Directed to wind up a discussion on the legal aid bill, he poses a question that results in a 30-second response. "That was just a shit question to ask, Evan," the producer barks. "I told you to wrap up!" They are now running late, but still manage to hit the nine o'clock pips.

Davis is approaching his four-year anniversary on Today. And yet, with the bedding-in period long passed, there remains criticism about his lighter interviewing style. So does he let interviewees off the hook more often than other presenters? "I think that's undoubtedly true," he says, with surprising candour. "On occasion, I'm sure that's true. That's the risk I run.

"But while there is the error of failing to convict people who are guilty, there's the other error of convicting people who are innocent.... Very few people think that is a problem that journalists make, but I do."

He adds: "You've got the Jeremy Paxman style which is funny, in a certain way. You've got a forensic Humphrys style... it's not just about getting the information out – it's got to be a good, conversational listen. So I just try and make mine engaging in a different way."

Davis, an atheist, feels strongly about Today's "Thought for the Day" slot. A decade ago he complained that it was "discriminating against the non-religious". Now he says: "I think there's a very serious debate about whether the spot – which I would keep – might give space to what one might call 'serious and spiritually minded secularists'. I don't think "Thought for the Day" has to only be people of the cloth."

Davis's homosexuality – he is one of the few prominent gay journalists – often makes headlines. How does he deal with the exposure? "How long have we got?" he sighs. "You accept you have to give a bit of your personality. I don't keep it secret that I live with my partner Gio. I'm very proud of my gayness. But there is lots I wouldn't want the press to write about me... it is a matter of regret that being gay is the most interesting thing about me."

Discussion turns to the Leveson Inquiry. "It's unlikely to have a big effect on press freedom," he says. "There's a public-interest defence and the public interest has not been under attack... one or two things have come up that were clearly against the public interest. The Times hacked the computer of the NightJack blogger in order to out him. That was a hacking case, but what was that about? What possible public interest was there in that? Their defence on that was ludicrous.

"I'm somewhat more sanguine about this than other people. The BBC actually had its own Leveson and it affected the Today programme more than anyone else. It was called the Hutton Inquiry. People have always been saying 'you've been tamed. You've been shut up'. I don't get that impression at all. I've never seen us not tackle an issue we think is difficult or unfavourable."

 

This interview also appears in 'XCity', the magazine produced by City University's Department of Journalism.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor