PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 March 2016
As he prepares for a special fundraising event in Norwich, Sir Michael Parkinson talks cricket, sporting chances and Donald Trump
IN HIS unmistakable Yorkshire brogue, Sir Michael Parkinson is keen to extol the virtues of his lifelong passion – cricket.
This month his love of the game will bring him to Norwich for a special event to raise money for The Lord’s Taverners, a charity which very much has its heart in the sport. And, with his chat show guest list reading like a who’s who of some of the most famous and influential figures from the worlds of film, television, music, politics and sport, there will be no shortage of anecdotes and stories when he entertains his audience at Carrow Road.
Whether trading verbal blows with Muhammad Ali or interviewing John Lennon from within a sack, Sir Michael’s affable yet persuasive style created some of the most iconic television moments of his day as he unfaltering went where other interviewers dared not go. Yet, he laughs, he does sometimes forget even some of his more memorable meetings with the stars during his 50-year career.
“I know it might sound strange, but I interviewed more than 2000 people over the years and you do forget. When David Bowie died, a friend of mine told me that an interview I did with him was trending on Twitter. Honestly, I had no idea what he was talking about it – then it all came back to me, and of course, I am so glad it did.”
He has been president of the Lord’s Taverners since last year and is incredibly proud of the work they do.
“When I was in my 30s I was a pretty decent cricketer, even if I do say so myself, so when I came down to London to work, I got involved playing with the Lord’s Taverners. When they asked me to become president, I was honoured.”
The charity supports children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with disabilities to participate in sport; funding facilities, supporting talented youngsters and running community cricket schemes.
“There are so many demands on the school curriculum that unfortunately sport has become neglected. Cricket is not only an amazing sport, it is rich with tradition and is very convivial, enabling young people to learn really great communication skills. This, I believe, is extremely important because as you go through life you will meet people from all different backgrounds, and if you can learn to talk to anybody, it can really give you fresh perspectives on life.”
And Sir Michael should know. Born in a Yorkshire pit village, he left school at 16, determined to become a newspaper reporter.
“I just walked into the newspaper office and asked for a job, I wanted to cover the local news and maybe the football and cricket. Then I went to Fleet Street and had only been there a while when I was called by Granada. They had no in-house training schemes and relied on us print reporters.”
It was his grounding in newspapers which, he says, shaped his incredible rise to the top of prime time television.
“If you are sent to report on a murder in a small town, the first place you go is the local pub. When you walk in, generally people are not that welcoming,” he says. “So in order to get any story, you have to get people to trust you. You have to be prepared, you have to do your research and you have to know how to speak to people – to be honest, it’s exactly the same as being a chat show host. I always felt my show was not just light entertainment, but a chance to use those journalistic skills to get the best out of people.”
He describes Frank Sinatra as his “big miss”, but, quickly adds: “He never did interviews with anyone so I never took it personally.”
“But if I were to choose someone to interview now it would be Donald Trump - and I would definitely ask him about that hair,” he laughs. “I am fascinated by him, I think it is the journalist in me. It is not as simple as just saying he is a clown. Something in him appeals to a section of modern society in the USA and you cannot ignore that, even if he clearly says clownish things.”
Having spent a short period working for Anglia Television during the 1950s covering football, he is looking forward to visiting Norfolk – especially as he has managed to coincide it with the Norwich game against Manchester City.
“I am excited about the event and hopefully it will raise lots of money for a great cause, but I will also be going to the match and can’t wait – I love sport and you never know, Norwich might just do it.”