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Devizes Festival: John Humphrys, Corn Exchange
HER Majesty the Queen will never give an interview, least of all to ace radio interrogator John Humphrys.
Mr Humphrys revealed this information during his open and frank revelations before a full house in the Ceres Hall of the Corn Exchange on Saturday night, one of the most prestigious events in this year’s Devizes Festival programme.
Mr Humphrys, looking slimmer and slighter than he does on TV, was in relaxed mood as he admitted to a string of bloomers, mostly early in his career, and revealing insights into the behaviour of the great and the not so good.
But it was in reply to a question from the floor of the hall that provided the most interesting information of the evening. Asked who is left for him to interview, he admitted to an ambition to interview the Queen.
To his astonishment, he had been invited to an intimate private lunch at Buckingham Palace, where he was surprised to see Her Majesty take out her powder puff and repair her make-up at table, something his mother would have frowned on.
After the meal, he took the opportunity to bring up the subject of an interview. He was met with a firm royal “no”. Pushing his luck, he tried again. The Queen replied: “If one were ever to do an interview it would certainly not be with you, Mr Humphrys.”
His career began in his native Wales with a job as a cub reporter on a local newspaper in Penarth. He moved to ever more prestigious papers until he was offered a job on the Sunday Times.
At exactly the same time a job came up on the infant Television West and Wales, the forerunner of HTV, and he took it. Among his first assignments was the Aberfan disaster of 1966 when a coal tip inundated a primary school with the loss of 116 children and 28 adults, the worst incident, he said, he covered in his career.
He worked all over the world as a foreign correspondent before landing a job as a newsreader on BBC’s Nine O’Clock News, a period he described as six wasted years.
So it was with joy and alacrity that he accepted the offer of presenting the BBC’s award-winning Today programme on Radio 4, despite the 3.30am rises.
He has interviewed every major politician in Britain and many other parts of the world during his time on the programme, but the prospect of interviewing Margaret Thatcher had him shaking in his shoes.
Knowing of her religious convictions, he thought he would trap her and asked her what the basis of Christianity was - hoping for a response about love and charity. Without hesitation Mrs T shot back “choice”, rendering Mr H speechless.
Mr Humphrys donated his fee for his appearance to his Kitchen Table Charities Trust, which supports poor communities in Africa. He also signed copies of his books during the interval, the proceeds of the sales also going to the trust.