Giles' mission statement is well worth listening to
As John Giles bade farewell to a monumental television career on Sunday, I found myself deeply grateful our paths have crossed.
In particular, I remembered the first time I interviewed him. It was March 2013. I had quite suddenly found myself in a presenting role on Off the Ball and over the course of that interview I probably made a point of wowing John with my in-depth football knowledge. He was, after all, John Giles. He also saw straight through me.
We finished the recording and sat chatting in the studio about football and the media. At one point John shifted, 'Do you want some advice?' I absolutely did.
He said, 'Your questions were too long. That's only my opinion, you go back and listen yourself, but I thought they were. In my experience, the best presenters keep it short. No disrespect, but people tune in to hear what the expert thinks, not the presenter.'
He continued, "I'll watch the golf and the reporter will be talking to Tiger Woods after his round and he'll say, 'Tiger on the third you did this and on the sixth this happened and on the 12th you did this brilliantly…' and I'll be at home thinking, 'Just ask Tiger what he thought about his round!' Do you get me?" I got him.
He added: 'A lot of things in life are about ego. The best presenters don't let their ego get in the way. The really top guys are like referees, nobody talks about what they're doing because they're doing it well. But after a while, over time, people will start to realise they tend to enjoy your interviews. That's only my take for what it's worth."
We shook hands and he was off. I've remembered the words clearly. Instinctively, as with so much of his punditry, it was obvious he had hit on something profound and simple and true. And it was advice I instantly followed. It remains the best broadcasting mission statement I've heard. There are certain interviews where more is needed, of course, but generally, just listening and allowing the guest to shine is the surest route to good radio. I've also never listened to an interview the same way since; there are lots of egos interrupting good interviews out there.
Over three years on, I still don't know John very well. If he's in studio, we'll stop and have a chat, generally about golf. And I've filled in on plenty of Thursdays, so we've spent some time on air together.
But back in 2013, he didn't know me at all and he shared this really valuable advice. It's rare in any industry somebody will take the time to criticise you to your face, for the right reasons, constructively. By far the easier thing to do that afternoon was a quick shake of the hands and out the door. So on Sunday night, like so much of the nation, I was watching, thinking, 'Johnny Giles, what a legend'.