Why busking interviews does not work for Boris

By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London

It’s been a long time coming. But finally London Mayor,  Boris Johnson’s method of not preparing thoroughly for media interviews has spectacularly come off the rails.  The really amazing thing is that he has lasted so long without crashing and burning. 

Boris has always been what broadcasters call a busker. Someone who busks his way through interviews relying on his flair, intelligence and minimum preparation.  Because Boris is a very clever man who has charm and a winning personality, this can work for him.   But it will never work if he wants to be prime minister of the UK or even (as his sister Rachel has helpfully told us his boyish ambition was to be) ‘World King’.

In his disastrous television  interview with the BBC’s Eddie Mair, Boris  was caught out in a very simple fashion.  Asked about previous problems in journalism and politics where his personal veracity was called into question, he had no answers.  He had not done the essential preparation for an interview which means not just looking at what positives you want to put across but also always preparing what you will say to negative and hostile questions. 

Everything that Eddie Mair asked Boris Johnson about is on the public record. Boris is an experienced politician and he has done hundreds if not thousands of broadcast interviews. But he still seems to be making the elementary mistake made by inexperienced interviewees on radio and TV who assume that if they know their stuff they can answer anything the interviewer throws at them. Wrong. So wrong.

‘I know my stuff and I’ll see what they ask me’ is a method of interview preparation that , as a media trainer myself, I always advise strongly against. 

The best advice is – Know your messages and how you can make them convincing to the public with facts and anecdotes.  Remember if anything is on the public record, then you need to prepare so that you are able to answer/deflect/deal with questions about it. Interviewers will look you up online where there is more stuff published than ever before in history.  If you don’t prepare for media interviews with this in mind, you can feebly sink into the swamp like Boris.   

The secret of success for any media interview is preparing what you want to say and then making sure you say it.  At least Boris is consistent.  I have heard him stumble in previous interviews over producing some basic  boring old facts to back up his messages.  Stumbles that should never happen to a politician of his standing.

If Boris wants lessons on how to handle the media using the charming posh boy approach, he can take the apparently arch bumbler Hugh Grant as a role model.  As a campaigner for ‘Hacked Off’ Hugh has always delivered clear messages. No bumbling in real life. He writes himself good lines and delivers them clearly and, unlike Boris he pre-empts talk of his public faults.  ‘I’m the guy who was caught with a hooker’ he reminds his audience if things start to veer onto personal faults.   

Wonder boy Boris needs to learn that being World King takes more than flair and charm. Grown-ups, including Hugh Grant, work at it.

Published 25 March 2013