Exclusive Interview

NMP Live Meets Garry Richardson

With a career working for the BBC spanning over four decades, Garry Richardson has been witness to some of the greatest sporting events in history. 

From Olympic champions, Hollywood royalty and even a President, Garry has interviewed them all. 

In an exclusive interview for NMP Live Garry shared how his career begun, his favourite interviews and the secret to the longetivity of his career. You can watch the full interview here or read the transcript below.

In conversation with Garry Richardson

I've always loved sport, particularly football. And like, I suppose, most boys and girls growing up, you think to yourself, I want to be a pro. And I went for a trial for a couple of clubs and I did okay, but I wasn't good enough. So, I did the next best thing, it's working for the world's biggest broadcasting company.

And I've got to sort of live the dream to go to Wimbledon, to world title fights, to Grand Prix's, to big events, to be there on the finishing line, to interview people as they come down the tunnel.

So, so privileged and in a way where sportsmen and sports women's careers maybe only last 10, or 12 years, I've had one sort of going back to the late '70s right through now to sort of, goodness, 20, 21, 2, 3, who knows how long it'll go on for? So I've been very, very lucky.

What was your first job at the BBC?

My first job at the BBC, the 9th of September 1974. I started at the BBC Written Archives Centre. What was my first job? I was a tea boy. I really was. I was called a junior clerk, but I remember turning up on the first day, half past nine. And my boss said, "right, 10:30, you'll be making the coffee. 2:30, we have a tea break. And in between you'll be doing the photocopying and the filing."

But what was fascinating about the archives, they had all the files for the great stars going back to the '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s. So, I'm thinking people like Arthur Askey, Morecambe and Wise, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett. Any star that you can think of, they had their files. And the files contained their personal letters, where they wrote asking for auditions.

Now, most people write and you think, "am I going to get the job? Maybe, maybe not." Those stars had to write as well. And often they would go for an audition, and they would get turned down. People like Kenneth Williams, Tommy Cooper, and I'd sit and read their audition reports. And they'd get a letter back from the BBC saying, "thanks, but no thanks." But they continued to plug away. And, eventually, they got spots on shows and they became big, big stars. And it was a fascinating place to start.

How would you describe your interview style?

I'm often asked about my style, and about being direct, and sometimes being aggressive in the interviews. My answer to that is if you listen to the interviews that I do, I will only really be challenging with people that can take robust questions. For example, people will have to be a chairman, or a chief executive. What you wouldn't do, you'd never interview a young footballer, or a cricketer, or an athlete and say, "well, why didn't you run as fast as you should?" This is not on.

But I believe that somebody that's running a major company in sport, you can ask them why perhaps they're not doing as well, because they should be able to stand up to those questions. And the key thing is, if you're fair, the interviewee will always come back and say, when you're in them again, "yeah, fine. No problem. You were fair with me." And that is the secret.

What’s been the key to your career longevity?

I think experience is a key thing in broadcasting. And I remember in my early days, I did all my training in local radio. And when I listen back to tapes 40 years ago, you think, oh my goodness. Broadcasting is all about, I think, doing things regularly. You start to feel comfortable and you get to know people, you make contacts in the media, you make contacts in sports. So, you can be in a situation where you will ring up famous sportsmen, famous sports women and say, "can I do an interview?" And they're trusting with you.

It's not quite so easy these days to have the relationship, the direct relationships. Often now, we will have to go through agents. Whereas, in the old days, we would ring up some of the most famous people, not on mobile phones, because mobile phones didn't exist, but you'd leave a number, a message on their mobile phones, and they would ring back. And they'd call you back. And you'd think, my goodness, I can't believe that's X ringing me. And you would do the interview. That is the hard aspect of the job now, access isn't quite like it was.

What is your most memorable interview?

The interview with Bill Clinton was the biggest one I'd ever done. 18,000 people on Centre Court. Millions of television and radio listeners and viewers. And I got the interview simply because I wrote him a letter. I'm sort of a big believer that if you don't ask, you don't get. And it sounds a bit of a cliché, but it was pouring with rain and we were filling on the TV and I literally wrote a letter, and handed it in. And 10 minutes later, I got a phone call back saying, "Bill Clinton will talk to you." And literally within the space of three minutes, I was sitting next to him in the royal box.

I mean, it was an amazing experience. He was so charismatic. He was my best friend for 15 minutes. When we actually even finished that interview, and I just sort of wanted to go out of the royal box and punch the air and think, well, yeah, I think that was okay, he sat with his arm around the back of my seat. And he said to me, he said, "to think we're here in this wonderful arena." He said, "we've been live on the TV." He said, "would you tell me one thing?" I said, ‘yes, Mr. President.’ He said, "how did I do?" He wanted to know. He was excellent.

Is your after dinner speech only appealing to sports fans?

What I'd say about my after dinner speech is you don't really have to be interested in sport to get the stories. It helps if you have a bit of a working knowledge. But what I don't do is stand there and lecture about offside, throw ins, scrum halves, fly halves, playing out from the back. The stories are very, very general. They're all to do with my life. They're all very, very offbeat. And I'd like to think they give you an insight into a side of broadcasting that you probably won't know. And I'd like to think that it's reasonably amusing as well. But in terms of who it's suitable for, it's suitable for absolutely everyone.

What makes a great after dinner speaker?

To be a good after dinner speaker, you really do have to do an apprenticeship. I started back in 1986. I've always been fascinated with comedy and comedians. And I love to watch them perform. And I remember when I first started, there was a huge circuit in the north of England.

So on a Tuesday, I'd be in Liverpool. On Wednesday, Leeds. And Thursday, Manchester. And it was basically at like a working man's club type venue, and I would be on with another speaker and a comedian. And I didn't have really a proper routine. I didn't know how to do it. And I would stand there night after night and I used to die.

And after five minutes, the audience would sit there like this. And I'd be thinking, this is not going well. And then, I'd think to myself, I'll go to my funny bit now. And my funny bit was worse than the bit that has already been on. And you drive home in the car and a little voice would say, "that wasn't very good." And then, the voice in the other ear would go, "it really wasn't." And then you knew the next night you had to go on to Leeds or Liverpool.

But slowly but surely you learn. You build up the material and you learn to stand there, and deliver it at the pace you should. You learn about timing, which is a huge thing. Where to pause, wait for the laughter to die. And that is the secret.

The secret is to turn up on time. If they ask you to be there at quarter to seven, be there at half past five, because there's nothing like walking into the room and saying, "I'm here." Sometimes you hear stories where they say, "oh, the speaker was here very, very last minute." So, get there really early and talk to the client a month, two months before so you know exactly who's going to be in the audience, where you're going to be performing from in the room, because that's absolutely vital. And what time you're going to get on. Leave nothing to chance.

But you never stop learning. You can never say, "oh, I've mastered after dinner speaking. I know how to do it," because nobody does. You can only ever be really as good as your audience will let you be.

Do you give motivational speeches?

In terms of motivation, I tell a story about my life, how I started as an office boy, a clerk making the coffee and making the tea. But I had this dream to be a broadcaster. And I did my apprenticeship really in local radio. But I applied for loads and loads of jobs. And you'd go along for the audition and you'd record your voice. They'd get you to read a script. And then, at the end of it, you'd get a letter two weeks later saying, thanks, but no thanks.

And I think what I learned was you can actually just sort of give up and think, oh, it's not for me. But if you plug away, you've got a chance. And that's the message that I put across.

And I also talk about the sportsmen and women that I work with in terms of the interviews that I've done with them, where you've seen people.

Frank Bruno's a great example where he fought for the world title three times, and he lost three times. And people said, "Frank, call it a day." But he had another crack at the world title and he won it. And that showed such drive, such spirit. It was, no, I'm going to do it. And to sit there ringside, as I did, to hear the ring announcer say, "new heavyweight champion of the world," you think, great, he's done it. He could have walked away. And that's the message that I like to put across.

You have to keep plugging away. I hope that doesn't sound like a cliché and I've got lots of stories like that to back it up.

Are you also available for awards hosting and auctioneering?

I've done lots of award ceremonies over the years. I've done lots of auctions as well. Auctions can be great fun because there's lots of interaction from the people. And especially when you get down to sort of the nitty gritty, and the items that are 100 pounds or 90 pounds, and you say, "Can we get it to 100? Can we get it to 150?" You can have lots of fun doing that, so there's lots of banter.

Awards ceremonies can be very, very good as well, depending how many awards there are. Sometimes you don't like it if there's 75 awards and there's a huge script like a telephone directory. But, again, you can have good rapport with the audience. I've done lots over the years and they're very good fun.

If you're interested in booking Garry Richardson you can enquire onlineemail us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our friendly booking agents. For further information, testimonials and video clips about Garry view his profile.


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