Eamonn Holmes – television presenter, broadcaster and the longest serving breakfast anchor in the world – popped into our office for an exclusive chat for our NMP Live Meets interview series. Eamonn discusses his early years in journalism, how he got into TV, working alongside Ruth, corporate events and he dishes the dirt on some of his more famous interviewees. Watch the full interview or read the transcript below:
In conversation with Eamonn Holmes
When did you decide that you wanted to be a journalist?
Growing up in Northern Ireland during the troubles there were so many questions to answer… why is this happening? Who's doing this? Who's involved? Why am I in the middle of all of this?
As a teenager, I was deprived of that life; a normal life that anyone else in the UK or USA would have been having. It's very hard to explain to people how there were no cinemas, the dance halls were bombed, that you just didn't go out, there were no street lights at night, that the buses stopped at 8pm – there would be no buses to go anywhere after that. It was very hard. We're not talking about the 1930s or 1940s, we're talking about the 1970s and the 1980s in Northern Ireland.
I ended up watching an awful lot of TV, listening to people explain this conflict to me as I sat in my home, and I knew from the age of ten or eleven that I wanted to be a journalist. I just didn't want to be a print journalist, I wanted to be a television journalist. I knew that from an early age. Thankfully, that's what I became.
What was your first job in the media?
In October 1980 I was offered an audition with Ulster Television. Trouble is, it was for a farming programme. So I phoned my journalism lecturer, and I said "Mrs Fitzpatrick, I don't know anything about farming, why would I audition for a farming programme?" And she said, "Rule number one of journalism, Eamonn; find out!" So I've always found out!.
No matter what the subject is; whether it is politics; whether it is sport; whether it is entertainment; whether you know nothing about soap operas… find out! Research. Find out! And the same applies in any interview or any subject that you're doing. Those were wise words; I went, and I found out about farming, and amazingly I got the job! My first job was as an agricultural reporter.
How do you cope with the early starts?
I just love doing what I did so much that I never thought about the early mornings. Just to get the opportunity to anchor a breaking-news programme, to give people the opportunity to see something and learn something that they didn't know when they went to bed the night before, is the most amazing privilege.
However, having done it – having been the longest-serving breakfast anchor in the world... and we're talking about twenty-six years there – it has an effect on you. For instance, I am thirty-eight years old, look what it's done to me… it's no good! Early starts get you in the end.
What's the secret to your longevity?
I think you've always got to change, you've always got to remain relevant. If you have a passion for what you do, and an enthusiasm, I think that probably comes across to people.
I always push the boundaries; I think when people get me, they know they get a sense of mischievousness… I don't care if I'm interviewing the Prime Minister, or if I'm interviewing a pop star.
It is amazing the pretentiousness that some people can surround themselves with. I'm very happy to give people respect but you can spot a prat a mile off, and that's when I have the most fun... à la David Cassidy, or someone like Meg Ryan, or most politicians – most politicians I have to put into that – who just will not answer the bloomin' question! I don't know who trains them; they think they're so smart, it will be like [Politician:] "I think what the public really want to know is…" [me:] "…yeah, well that's the public, here's what I really want to know… just, just humour me on this one… just for me, just answer this one for me", [Politician:] "but I think the real issue is…" [me:] "that might be the real issue, I give you that, that's probably the real issue… but here's the issue I want to know…". I mean, the pomposity of politicians, the system, they just dodge the question.
The public are wise to it and therefore we see a whole re-alignment of politics, and people are voting for what they believe – rightly or wrongly – are real candidates now; people who say it as it is. I think mainstream politicians have only got themselves to blame for that.
Are there any celebrities you wouldn't want to interview?
There's people now who I don't think I would want to interview. Russell Crowe's got a bad reputation, you know if he wants to play ball, then play ball, but why go through the hassle, why bother? There's a few English actors, that you think "…no!"
I didn't know Meg Ryan had a bad reputation, and I interviewed her many years before Michael Parkinson did, and had a terrible interview with her in a hotel room in Paris, where she just wouldn't answer the questions. I mean she was just phobic about interviews. But no one believes you, because she has an image of When Harry Met Sally, and all of that sort of thing.
People believe the image, and that's the trouble with a lot of people – if you can create, as an actor or actress, an image on screen that people love – and there's certain people that spring to mind immediately – the public think that's what you're like. But they're so not! They're so not! Often, people who have a bad image on screen are the most lovely and adorable people.
But often it's not them, it's the people around them... Rihanna a case in point… where could I begin there. It's the people around her. A guy around her once thumped me on the arm and said "hey, you wanna talk to Miss Rihanna, you do it through me!" and I said, "I'm sorry, I'm terribly sorry, I didn't realise; are you being interviewed with Rihanna?" he said "No, no, I'm not being interviewed with Rihanna!", and I said "Exactly! And if you touch my (beep, beep, beep) arm again, I will break yours and stick it up your (BEEP!)", and I said that in front of her, and that was fine, because I didn't give a rat's arse whether I interviewed her or not.
Mariah Carey, oh-my-God that woman is poison! Whoever the latest man is who has escaped her clutches is a very lucky guy! She's awful. Once I went to do an interview, and she said she'd be doing the interview lying down. I said "brilliant, I'll do it lying down with you!" Her people went ballistic! They couldn't believe this! They said, "Miss Carey's very tired", I said, "She's very tired, I've been up since four o'clock this morning! So, don't talk to me about tired; it's now four o'clock in the afternoon!" So, I said, "bottom line is, either she lies down and I lie down, or she sits up and I sit up." I said "that's the way it's gonna be", and they said there's no interview, and I said "fine!...", so I walked out on that. Too often TV companies give in. GMTV then sent around another reporter to do the interview, which the other reporter did.
The pomposity with a lot of them, you really don't want to interview actors – they're often a pain in the backside. They're often usually all called Jessica and they're from America, and you're never really sure who they are… "Jessica who?... what's she done?", but she thinks she's done a lot, whoever she is. So you get that. Those junkets in hotel rooms, they're awful. Absolutely awful. Does the actor no favours, does the film no favour, does you no favour doing them!
So, there's quite a list of people who you really don't want to see in front of you, and who you'd just say, "nah! life's too short!"
Who have you enjoyed interviewing the most?
It's always nice to meet people who are contagious, who are infectious, who have incredible positivity, who want to change the world, who do change the world – and often that is the most ordinary people. They can be people who are medical, people who are teachers, people who just through their endeavours, maybe in sport, make the world feel a better place.
And then there are very charismatic people, who whether good, bad or indifferent, definitely affect people around them. I found Bill Clinton to be one of those people. I found him – whatever you may think of him – I can see why people would want to follow him, or people would be influenced by him. He's very, very charismatic. And I did the first live interview with Monica Lewinsky after the scandal, and she sat down, and it was a live interview, and I said something about the president, and she said "why you know the president!?" and I said, "no, not as well as you do obviously", I said, "I met him, but I only shook his hand!" and she did laugh. In fairness to her, she did laugh.
What's it like to present alongside your wife Ruth?
Two header presenting is very difficult, I don't care what anyone says, and you know, when they all say "oh, we get on perfectly", they're telling fibs. I don't care who they are… even Ant and Dec must have to have fall outs! It is just akin to two people driving a car, it cannot work, it's impossible.
At least I do interactive presenting. The most awful type of two-handed presenting is where one presenter looks at another one when they speak, and then the other one jumps in next because they can't wait to read the next piece of auto-cue. It's about knowing when you've spoken for too long, and then letting the other person speak. Which then gives you a problem if you're with my wife, because she doesn't listen to anything, either in real life or professionally as well.
That's the difference I suppose between Ruth and I, and other couples; is that the real-life thing carries on on-screen, where it's not supposed to be real-life. And my wife doesn't listen to me in real life, so why would she listen to me on the screen? She's like her mother, she just doesn't listen full-stop. So she is just in her world, and if I ever interrupt, the only thing the viewers notice is that a bloke has interrupted, and therefore the bloke has to be in the wrong.
But it is a tremendous privilege, that said, to work with the person you love; it's a tremendous privilege to be able to do that. And my wife, Ruth, is a naturally funny person – sometimes she doesn't mean to be, but she is naturally funny – and we do bounce off each other quite well.
But it is lovely when you have a co-presenter who you trust, especially when something is so not your subject, I don't understand what they're talking about here. It's like cooking, most cooking things, I glaze over, I don't care – just give me it, let me eat it, I just want to eat it! I don't really care how you cook it, how long it takes, just give me it, fine, lovely, thank you!! Whereas Ruth wants to go "… and do you get the juice from that, and from this…", but I don't really care, it smells lovely, let's eat it. So it's nice to have her, so the public can think I'm remotely interested in this item that is happening.
Does being well-known help when hosting corporate events?
The lovely thing is that people do feel that they know you, and people feel that they can come up to me, which I realise is a tremendous tribute, because I also realise that there are lots and lots of people that the general public feel they can't approach, and I could name them, you can see it when people come into studio. You can see the people who folk think 'I can get a picture taken, I can go and ask for an autograph, they're one of us, I can deal with them', and you can see the other people who send out this vibe 'Do not come near me!'. And therefore, it's a great compliment when people think that they can approach you. So therefore you know you're doing your job well.
Why would you want to be booked for a corporate event if you're not going to mix with people? If you're not going to press the flesh, if you're not going to genuinely want to share in their joy of the evening. Because the truth is, it's not my evening, it's their evening. I'm not the star, they are the stars to that particular night.
What qualities do you bring to an event?
I think that what I would bring to an event is an interest in what the company does, and an interest in what the people who work for the company do. An interest in wanting to meet them, talk to them, chat to them, and actually praise them for what they do.
Most people go through life and their yearly business, without anybody ever saying to them "Well done, that was fantastic, you're different, you're special, I really appreciate that". And my job that night, hopefully people recognise me, hopefully people want to see me there, and hopefully then it means something more to them when I come up to them and I give them a hug, and I pose for a picture with them, and I say, "well done, well done!".
I don't care if they have the best-kept toilets in the business, or the best-kept accounts files in the business, or whatever it is – you are the star tonight! And we're here to tell you that. My job is just to make people feel special.
If you're interested in booking Eamonn Holmes to host your awards dinner, facilitate your conference or deliver an after dinner speech, you can enquire online, email us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our friendly booking agents. For further information about Eamonn, client testimonials and video clips, view his profile.