I was interviewed on the radio the other day. It was a strange thing as I normally find myself in control of interview situations; I’m generally the one asking and not the one being quizzed. But it was fun. And despite BBC Sheffield’s Rony Robinson saying that he felt uneasy about it (I suspect he was joking) the presenter did a great job of it, keeping me on my toes throughout the live broadcast.
We spoke about my life and my endeavours, and I was prepared for most of it, but one thing threw me. Rony wondered about my interviewing techniques; how do I get people to open up the way I do?
He had seen my interview with Lucy Spraggan from last year and pointed out, somewhat surprised, that it seemed informal and relaxed – and it was. As I answered it was my turn to sound surprised as I hadn’t done anything different to what I normally do.
I enjoy interviewing people and I’ve gotten plenty of people to talk about plenty of things too, often personal.
Saying that sounds horrible, as if interviewing someone is all about “getting” them to say something. It isn’t. A good interview, in my opinion, is a two-way conversation where one person leads the other through a range of topics. One human being responds to questions from another, who is genuinely interested in the answer, hence asking.
I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying many fulfilling conversations like these.
During a particularly heartfelt interview American rock god Phil Demmel (from Grammy Award nominated Machine Head) spoke to me about heartbreak and forgiveness, sitting in a staircase in Leeds. “You just have to let go,” he told me when I asked how you would ever forgive someone who cheats. He was right.
The Sounds’ Maja Ivarsson opened up about her bisexuality in a bar in London, telling me about her struggles of being in a long distance relationship, and Janne Wirman of Finish heavy metal rockers Children Of Bodom spoke about saunas and sexuality after we’d bonded over our hatred for the never ending snow.
But how do you get people, who are expecting to be promoting a new album or show and who are used to being interviewed time and time again, to talk about the gooey stuff; the pink matter that’s closest to their hearts?
Rony’s question surprised me and listening back I don’t think I gave a completely honest answer. Knowing that I was being asked live on air and with a clock ticking, I said something about the importance of starting off easy and getting into the difficult stuff as you go along. Because that is important, too. But the biggest trick, I think, is the act of listening; of tuning in. You need to be open to the conversation, take the other person in and genuinely, truly, care about what they have to say. When they feel that their answer really matters to you, they will be happy giving it.
Although it can be scary asking those questions (because ultimately you’re worried that the question might open up too much about yourself or that they’ll simply shoot you down) it is when it gets a little uncomfortable that it gets really interesting. It is in those grey zones, outside of chit chat and general conversation, that we discover new things not just about others but about ourselves.
I was once asked to find and contact a couple that had helped save victims of the Utøya tragedy in Norway a short time after it had happened. I remember feeling uneasy about it as I really didn’t want to cause these people any more pain after everything that they’d gone through. I called up and braced myself for insults and shouting down the phone.
Waiting for the other side to pick up I remembered the two shifts I had managed in a call centre during my uni days. Whilst ringing up to read out a script about payment protection insurance I heard the kids screaming in the background and I already knew that there was no way I would make these people rethink their mortgage. I was actually pleased as my score on the leader board remained zero for the duration of my short employment.
The Norwegian woman eventually picked up and she was hesitant, as expected. But once I’d told her of my true intentions; to tell her story as it was, she agreed to talk to me. Sick of journalists hassling her she said it would be her final interview but she was happy to give it to me.
As we spoke I trod carefully whilst I learnt about her trauma; dodging bullets and bodies in order to save lives. She shared her experience and I passed it on, just as it was, ultimately making the cover of a magazine. What stays with me is her selfless courage and kind heart.
In a world full of door step journalism, phone hacking scandals and hard elbows fighting over the best view of a new born baby I can’t help but wonder; if there was more genuine interest and honest conversation, would we see a different media landscape altogether?
There we are, me quizzing you again.
My interview with Lucy Spraggan last year. Images by BigCat Media
Text: Bella Qvist
Header image: www.facebook.com/bbcsheffield