Broadcaster Sir Trevor Phillips said pretending to be a “neutral platonic presence” onscreen rather than bringing personal experience to the room is the worst mistake a political presenter can make.
The 69-year-old, who is set to take over Sky News’ flagship Sunday morning politics programme this week, said he refuses to diminish his own experiences on key issues while hosting the show.
Sir Trevor told the PA news agency: “I think that in modern journalism, the pretence that somehow you can’t be part of the story, or you can’t bring yourself to be part of the story, is really rather old school.
“…(The viewers) know we’re human beings and we should not pretend not to be.”
It comes a year after the broadcaster became emotional recalling the death of his daughter in lockdown while he was challenging Conservative MP Oliver Dowden over “partygate”.
“It was not my intention to bring it up,” he told PA, admitting he is “mildly embarrassed” looking back at clips of the interview.
He continued: “I had a discussion with the team about it the day before as we talked about how we were going to handle the interview with Oliver.
“If you are diligent and you’re serious about your work, you have to anticipate all the possibilities and I said to the guys ‘Look, it’s possible that the issue of what happened during that period will come up and it would be quite hard for me to pretend that I didn’t have an experience that, in this particular case, would have been shared by millions of people’.
“So we discussed should I bring my own experience into the room, to which everybody’s answer was yes…it was going to be impossible for me not to bring my emotions into the question.
“But what they helped me to do was to find a way of crafting the challenge to Oliver Dowden in a way that didn’t, I hope, make it feel personal or finger pointing at him because he is not responsible for what happened to my family.”
Sir Trevor also used the example of immigration as a key issue in which he has personal experience, as he was born the youngest of 10 children to parents who migrated to the UK in the 1950s.
He said: “Aside from the economy, the top issue today is immigration.
“It would be just silly for me to host this programme and pretend that on the second of those topics, I literally had no ‘skin in the game’ – I’m using that phrase both literally and metaphorically.
“We have a particular experience and the viewers would think I was being dishonest, and they’d be right, if I somehow pretended to be a completely neutral presence that had no experience, no views, no thoughts to bring into that discussion.
“…I will not pretend to viewers that I am some kind of Olympian neutral platonic presence, because they’d know I’d be lying.
“The worst thing I think you can do as a presenter, particularly in politics, is by omission or commission, be lying to your viewers.”
Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips will see the broadcaster permanently take over the slot from Sophy Ridge, having stepped in during her 2021 maternity leave, describing her as “the future of political broadcasting”.
“I’ve had the longest apprenticeship in media history, so I sort of know what to expect,” Sir Trevor said on hosting the slot.
Meanwhile, he said the biggest problem facing political interviewers is that the “politicians themselves are either not good enough or courageous enough to level with the public”.
He said: “The people on the other side of the microphone are not as courageous, not as willing to share what they believe with the public.
“There’s a kind of interview that I could have done when I started in my first 10 years that I think would be very difficult to do now.
“Not because I can’t ask the questions, but because I don’t think most politicians – even if they had the ability to discuss politics in the way that a (Margaret) Thatcher might or even a Neil Kinnock might – they won’t take the risk.”
Sir Trevor said political shows can often become fixated locally but said it is “not just what happens at Westminster” and he hopes to remind people “there’s a bigger world out there” during his 90 minute programmes.
Among his top interview targets are religious figures such as the Pope, business leaders including JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon – otherwise known as the “biggest banker in the world” – and “leader of the largest country in the world” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sir Trevor also has the Prince of Wales penned on his prospective interview list after he received his knighthood at Windsor Castle, having been named in the 2022 New Years honours list for services to equality and human rights.
“I thought he was incredibly well informed actually, I’d love to interview him because frankly he’s pretty smart, probably smarter than quite a lot of the people who I get to talk to,” he said.
Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips will air every Sunday from 8.30am on Sky News.