By threatening to confess all to Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong shows us what we sorely miss in Britain

The disgraced former cycling champion is on a long and winding road - but to what exactly we cannot know. Oprah might help us find out, through a very American ritual

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The road to redemption can be long and painful, and is usually strewn with honest admissions, frank confessions, self-sacrifice, humility, and genuine expressions of regret. It doesn't usually involve talking to Oprah Winfrey.

But on Thursday, Lance Armstrong, the defenestrated former cycling champion, who won the Tour de France seven years in succession, appears on The Oprah Show, and, if the advance publicity is accurate, he will give some sort of tacit admission for the first time that he took performance-enhancing drugs while competing.

Hero to zero

Given that Armstrong has a number of legal cases pending, and that any such admission may open himself up to a charge of perjury - he made a sworn admission in court in 2005 that he had never taken drugs - this would seem to be a high-risk strategy on his behalf.

Thus far, Armstrong has maintained his innocence in the face of an official report which said he had “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”. He was stripped of his Tour de France title, dropped by his sponsors, banned from all competitive sport, and has journey from hero to zero was quicker than if he'd free-wheeled down Mont Ventoux. He even had the key to the city of Adelaide taken away from him.

Leaving aside the wider implications of any confession he may make on Oprah, it will surely make for gripping television. Jodie Foster may have thought she had captured the nation's attention with her seven minutes of freestyle soul-baring at the Golden Globes, but that will be nothing alongside Armstrong's encounter with the queen of the chat show.

It will be a news event in its own right, and will be broadcast in two parts on Winfrey's very own cable TV channel, giving the network a huge boost in viewing figures and ensuring that, whatever the fall-out, Oprah will end up a winner.

We do things differently in Britain, partly because we no longer have a television interviewer of stature, reach and seriousness of purpose like Oprah. Ever since Michael Parkinson disappeared from regular view, we've lacked a chat show host who was capable of tackling real issues. Do you remember, for instance, the sensitive, honest and dignified way in which Parky dealt with George Michael when the singer made his first, post-scandal, appearance?

Going the distance

We still have great news interviewers - Paxman, Humphrys, Eddie Mair - but, in light entertainment, we are just... well, light. Can you imagine a set of circumstances in which a disgraced public figure would choose to make a serious admission to Jonathan Ross, or on the Graham Norton Show? Yes, we know you've cheated your way to a world title, but let's look at this picture of you as a child wearing a cowboy outfit.

Whatever we may think about a man accused of grave misdemeanours choosing a chat show to come clean, we can be pretty sure that Oprah will ask the right questions, even if she won't have Paxman-like doggedness in seeking the answers.

The future for Lance Armstrong is uncertain, to say the least. For him, redemption may be some way in the distance. He is still, I fear, on the road to perdition.