My Greatest Mistake: Lynn Barber, Writer for 'The Observer' and 'The Daily Telegraph'

Catherine Nixey
Wednesday 02 October 2013 07:59

In the early days, I was very nervous about interviewing anyone at all. Practically my first interview was with Robert Robinson. I jumped into a taxi and went to his house in Chelsea - a very exquisite house, with very exquisite antique furniture.

Robinson let me in, and almost immediately the doorbell rang again. He opened it to find the taxi driver there, purple in the face, shouting and swearing. He was going berserk at me - he hadn't noticed Robinson opening the door. It turned out that I'd left some chewing gum in the ashtray of his taxi. The taxi driver then produced the piece of chewing gum and slammed it into my hand.

Suddenly he caught sight of Robinson standing in the hall. He said simply: "Oh! You're Robert Robinson! Oh, well!" And he disappeared again. So I was left walking into this lovely house, clutching the chewing gum.

Robinson was very polite and found me somewhere to dispose of the offending piece of gum. But it was a bad start.

There is one common interviewing mistake - especially if you're not used to heavy drinking. I was interviewing Christopher Hitchens. We went to The French House, in Soho, and Hitchens stoked up for lunch with a couple of malt whiskies. Then we proceeded on to an extended lunch, during which we got through about three bottles of wine.

I was keeping my end up, too. It's noticeable that as the tape goes on, he remains coherent and crisp while my questions become more and more terrible. I have no memory of what was said. But, for all that drink, the piece turned out fine. In fact, I think it was probably better.

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