Krishnan Guru-Murthy: ‘I’m sure some people avoid me, others seek me out’

The Channel 4 News presenter on asking proper questions in interviews, why he’d make a terrible doctor and the joys of competing in Bake Off

Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s astute interviews on Channel 4 News have become essential viewing during Brexit. Recent adversaries have included the MPs Ben Bradley and John Redwood. “That is not true,” he repeatedly told Redwood about his claim that most of the public want a no-deal Brexit (he was widely praised when the clip later went viral on Twitter).

Guru-Murthy is also a presenter of Channel 4’s Unreported World and conducts more in-depth interviews on his podcast Ways to Change the World. One of these episodes, with Jameela Jamil, is nominated for best moment at the 2019 British Podcast awards, to be held on 18 May. He lives in west London with his wife and two children.

As Brexit drags on, is it a thrilling time to be covering politics or frustrating? Or even, at times, boring?
The one thing it isn’t is boring. But I hesitate to use thrilling, because thrilling makes it sound like it’s fun. Yes, sometimes it can be fun; I love interviewing politicians and I love big stories that matter. The difference about the news at the moment is that normally you have a rough idea of what’s happening or what’s going to happen. With Brexit, with the votes in parliament, the idea of having a planning meeting or thinking through what you’re going to say has gone out of the window.

Take Ben Bradley, the Conservative MP you skewered for flip-flopping on Brexit. Is it important to call out hypocrisy?
Yes, that was a good example. I was literally told I was doing Ben Bradley a couple of minutes before and that introduction wasn’t scripted – it was just off the top of my head. I knew what his record was, so I thought it was important to make the point that he gets to change his mind, but he’s opposing other people changing their minds. It’s a simple point to make.

You’ve had a few interviews that have been shared widely, both recently and in the past with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Downey Jr. Are you aware that some people avoid you?
Yes, people do refuse to do [interviews with] you. I was in the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago and Downing Street were putting up Chris Grayling. He came out and did all the broadcasters and Downing Street told us: “We’re putting up a cabinet minister but he won’t do Channel 4 News.” And with Hollywood, I’m sure there are some people who avoid me, but on the other hand there are other people who seek me out because of it. I did a big interview with Martin Scorsese and his people said: “Oh we love your interviews.” So there are people who also value the fact that interviewers ask proper questions, even in Hollywood.

Last year, Robert Peston said that the BBC was not “confident enough” in calling out false arguments in debates. Would you agree?
I wouldn’t want to attack the BBC, but I think any big organisation with tiers of management is inevitably going to have a built-in caution. People are never quite sure if they are going to get the blame for something. The strength of Channel 4 News is that we are a small, nimble newsroom with a single editor, who has a single boss above him at the channel. So it’s a very streamlined process. When decisions need to be made about whether to air something or not, they can be made very quickly and there’s no arse-covering. That may account for our editorial confidence if you like by comparison with some other larger organisations.

There’s a real breadth of interviewees on the podcast – from Jamil to the Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi to Jacob Rees-Mogg. Do you like that we get to hear a different side to you?
It’s a totally different interview to the ones I do on the news. The premise is a very positive one, of how to make the world a better place, how to change the world. Your approach with a news interview is to challenge everything that is being said. With the podcast, I’m going with them and seeing where this leads, so that’s a fun, very different thing for me.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy on The Great Celebrity Bake Off.
Krishnan Guru-Murthy on The Great Celebrity Bake Off. Photograph: Mark Bourdillon/Channel 4

What do you do to escape from politics and Brexit?
Playing music is my big escape, I suppose. Particularly with my kids now; we all play guitar and bash around on the piano. We’ve never actually all played together but maybe we will one day. That’s a slightly boring dad dream but I don’t think they are really interested. I also try to ride my bike as much as possible in a vain attempt to get ready for the Duchenne Dash, a 24-hour London to Paris ride, which funds research for a cure to Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

You were all set to study medicine at university but changed your mind. Is there a parallel universe where you became a doctor?
The parallel universe thing I find quite hard to imagine, because the way I am now I’d make a terrible doctor. I’d be far too impatient and my scepticism just becomes heightened after 30 years of being a journalist. But my dad is still a working doctor full-time and I remember he used to say: “You’ve got the personality of a surgeon.” Which I’m not sure was a compliment. He is still professionally disappointed in me that I never did it. And he only stopped telling me that I had the A-levels to go back to medical school when I was 28 and had started doing Channel 4 News.

You were recently involved in a memorable Bake Off moment, when Sandi Toksvig accidentally destroyed your raspberry almond cake. How disappointed were you?
I never fancied my chances, but obviously you have a secret hope that even though you know nothing about it and haven’t practised maybe you’ll just be a natural… But the slightly disappointing truth about Bake Off is that it might be the most seamlessly positive TV experience I’ve ever had. Normally, you go on a show and there’s always somebody who’s a bit of a wanker and somebody who irritates you. But I think there’s something about the smell of baking and all the sugar that just infuses everybody with this rather wholesome warmth.

Contributor

Tim Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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