18 | NEWS
Sunday Life 24 APRIL 2011
24 APRIL 2011 Sunday Life
NEWS | 19
GAIL MEETS SIR TREVOR McDONALD
NEWS KNIGHT CONFESSIONS Sir Trev on bombs, pills, Saddam and George Bush GAIL HENDERSON NEWS veteran Sir Trevor McDonald has confessed that he was terrified when reporting in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The Trinidad-born broadcaster, who was dubbed ‘News Knight’ after being knighted in 1999, reported regularly from Ulster during the 1970s. While he says his career success is partly due to his work here, he admitted he felt like a coward. Sir Trevor said: “I was hoping my cowardice was a personal and private thing but it was very public. “I had come from a country where the most vicious thing that ever happened was at weekends when people got drunk at the rum shop they would fight on the village green. “To come here and see that kind of dramatic violence was a great, great shock to me. “When the bombs exploded – even when I knew it was a controlled explosion – I would always take off running the other way. I was terrified. “Paradoxically, for me it was a great, happy experience in one sense because it meant that it got me noticed. “Belfast then was on the news every night - it was probably the top story every night. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that a lot of the early praise I got as a television journalist - if ever I got any - was due to Belfast.” Sir Trevor was back in Northern Ireland to host an annual fundraiser in aid of Depaul Ireland, a charity supporting homeless people. During an interview at Belfast’s Fitzwilliam Hotel he also revealed: ■ why he took pills to prevent sleep in the days prior to interviewing Saddam Hussein; ■ why he was drawn to journalism despite his parents’ reservations; and ■ his fears about leaving ITN’s News at Ten. In 1990 Sir Trevor became the only British broadcaster to interview the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He said that in the days prior to the interview he became obsessed by it. “I couldn’t get it out of my head,” he said. “I walked around with pieces of paper in my pocket and asked everybody what would you ask? I was also terrified because he was so unpredictable.” It was Saddam’s unpredictability which made Trevor decide to take tablets to stave off sleep. He said: “I took pills to make sure I didn’t drop off because he had the habit of calling people up in the middle of the night to say ‘We’ll do it now’.
ACCOLADE: Sir Trevor with Belfast’s Lord Mayor Pat McCarthy and Ceo of Depaul Kerry Anthony
ANCHORMAN: The newshounds, Sir Trevor and Gail at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, Belfast
“I said to the team we have to be prepared and I took things to keep awake.” Sir Trevor said confronting the dictator was a frightening experience. “I was scared,” he admitted. “My worst moment came at the end of the interview when he said ‘I would like to have a word with you’ and I thought he was going to say you have been very rude. “One of his people said to me much later, ‘You have been effing rude to our president!’.” As well as that scoop Sir Trevor also secured the first interview with Nelson Mandela on his release and interviewed Bill Clinton and George W Bush. He said going to the White House was particularly thrilling. “In the White House you know you are in a place where big things happen. Bush was very kind to me and gave me a tour of the Oval office. “My thought was if my mother could see me now she would think the boy hasn’t been a total failure after all!.” Growing up in Trinidad in the 1940s, there were only a few careers that would impress his parents. He said: “You had to be a lawyer, doctor or engineer - or a famous cricketer.” One reason he chose journalism was his desire to get information out. “I like things out in the open - I’m very much of the ‘publish and be damned’ school,” he said. The other was his desire to travel. “I listened to the BBC World Service and to guys reporting from Beijing and Johannesburg and Hong Kong and they were getting front row seats at big international events. “I also suspected that they were travelling at someone else’s expense. I thought wow, what a life!
STELLAR PLACE REBUILDS LIVES
“I was drawn to what I thought was the glamour of it all - I discovered that the glamour comes at a price of a lot of hard work!” It was his hard work ethic that meant he became consumed by his work as News At Ten’s anchor. He says a work/life balance was out of the question. “It wasn’t a very good balance,” he admitted. “If you do News At Ten you are in there from mid-morning and you leave just before midnight. “I would be lying to you if I said I was kept awake by the adrenaline because after a bit you are not, but somehow you just couldn’t leave and sit in the car and switch off. “I used to be silly and come home and watch programmes in the evening featuring tomorrow’s papers so having finished one day you were moving on to day two.” He was concerned that he would miss the buzz of live television when he left News At Ten. “I worried about that constantly. Before I left I thought how am I going to survive without this drug? But I have never missed it for one second. “I suppose I came to a point where I thought I have done it now - I have done my bit.” After being the face of the News At Ten for so many years, Sir Trevor is used to being approached by members of the public. He mused: “People are very kind but you have to treat all these things with a certain degree of equanimity. “I don’t think anybody comes up to you and says ‘I think you are the worst broadcaster’. If they have that view they keep it to themselves and that’s very sweet of them. “It’s nice that people say nice things. I am delighted that they don’t want to throw stones at me.”
DEPAUL Ireland has been shortlisted for a UK Charity of the Year accolade at the prestigious Charity Awards to be held in June. The cross-border charity works with homeless and disadvantaged people and was highlighted for its Stella Maris project. Stella Maris is the only ‘wet hostel’ in Northern Ireland and has supported 104 people with reducing their alcohol consumption, improving their diet, prioritising their health and rebuilding their lives. Sir Trevor, who was in Belfast recently to host a charity extravaganza at the City Hall in aid of Depaul, said: “I have been involved with Depaul for almost two decades and their work with homeless people is particularly close to my heart. The aim is always to help people to a better life. “Stella Maris is a wonderful place and there are some great characters there. It isn’t a straight line towards salvation, but people do improve their lives.” Kerry Anthony MBE, CEO of Depaul Ireland added: “Stella Maris first opened to address a gap that existed for street-drinkers who were sleeping rough.” n For more information on the charity go to www.depaulireland.org
AND FINALLY... SIR Trevor was so wary about Lenny Henry’s comic character Trevor McDoughnut he avoided watching it at first. He was worried that Lenny had magnified his ‘tics’ or ‘oddities’ for comic effect but was nagged into watching it by a switchboard operator at ITN. Since then he and Lenny have struck up a friendship. He shared: “I thought he was great and we are firm friends now and see each other for lunch. He is very kind and says ‘thank you very much for helping me get my first car’. I suppose it’s flattering to be imitated.” Sir Trevor wasn’t told in advance about the Comic Relief sketch which featured his photograph during Susan Boyle and Peter Kay’s rendition of I Know Him So Well. He quipped: “It’s a source of profound sadness for me that I can’t say I know Susan Boyle so well.”