My Secret Life: Gaving Esler, 59, journalist

'God laughs at people who plan'

My parents were… wonderful aspirational Glaswegians who wanted me to be the first in our family to go to university.

The household I grew up in… was a three-bedroom council house in Clydebank shared with my gran, two aunts, mum and dad.

When I was a child I wanted to be… alive. I was very sick as an infant and needed an operation at three weeks. Of course I remember none of it – but the possibility of dying before I had really lived is something I think about.

If I could change one thing about myself… my left knee. It hurts since an accident.

You wouldn't know it but I am very good at… skiing (despite the accident).

You may not know it but I'm no good at... anything requiring a screwdriver. Or reading instructions.

I wish I had never worn… my father's kilt as a teenager. It put me off kilts, though I might finally change my mind.

It's not fashionable but I like... prog rock. It's British, creative and eclectic.

My favourite work of art… I don't understand how anyone can have a favourite work of art, or a favourite book. A top 100 maybe. Or 500.

My favourite building… same as above, though I have a very soft spot for the Mezquita in Córdoba, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and a bar called the Boetzow in Mitte in Berlin.

A book that changed me… L'Etranger (by Albert Camus). Although eventually I realised that those who wrote about the absurdity of existence were often the most driven to create great literature and films, which could seem paradoxical.

Movie heaven… when nobody eats while I'm watching a movie. Is it not possible to last two hours without chocolate?

The last album I bought/downloaded... Anouar Brahem, The Astounding Eyes of Rita.

My greatest regret… not being able to compete in the Men's Downhill on the Hahnenkamm.

My real-life villains… are people who think freedom of speech gives them the right to talk but not listen to others.

The person who really makes me laugh… Those people I have interviewed who think viewers are so stupid they can get by with a prepared script no matter what the questions. They always come across as idiots.

The last time I cried… I cried at the births of my children and the deaths of my parents.

My five-year plan… What makes God laugh? People who plan.

What's the point? To give it your best shot.

My life in six words… He gave it his best shot.

A life in brief

Gavin Esler was born in Glasgow in 1953. He studied English, American and Irish literature at university, before joining The Belfast Telegraph. He moved to the BBC in Belfast at the height of the Troubles, and went on to report from all over the world, becoming the BBC's Chief North America Correspondent. He now hosts BBC2's Newsnight and Dateline London on BBC World. He is a regular newspaper columnist and the author of five novels. His latest book Lessons from the Top, a study of modern leadership, is out now.