Sir Michael Parkinson has spent most of his professional life interviewing celebrities — actors, athletes, comedians and musicians.
- Sir Michael Parkinson will visit Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane
- During a conversation with ABC Radio Adelaide, he discussed the art of interviewing
- He revealed he regards his interview with Kerry Packer as one of his best
But these days, the former TV host tends to find he is the subject of interviews rather than the one asking the questions, and this change in perspective has caused him to reflect on his craft.
“It’s a very interesting psychological thing, interviewing, and I’ve never learnt the real trick of it,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“It’s an imperfect thing because there’s no script and it’s just two people getting on together — or not getting on together, as the case may be.
“It was endlessly fascinating because of that, because you had to try to instantaneously create a bridge between you and that person you’ve never met before.”
Sir Michael is currently preparing for his newly-announced Australian tour, which he said could be his last visit.
In October, he will visit Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, taking to the stage to face questions from his son Mike.
Sir Michael said he believed there were two key ingredients to a good interview — background research and establishing trust — and his son had a natural advantage when it came to knowing a thing or two about his father.
“You’ve got to do the research, you can’t back off that. You can’t just go and wing it, that doesn’t work at all,” he said.
“The important thing [is] to get them settled as quickly as possible — get them to lean forward and trust you enough to sort of open up to you.”
Parkinson visit could be last to Australia
Sir Michael first came to Australia four decades ago, and said he felt the country had much in common with his own homeland of Yorkshire in the north of England.
“My father — who loved cricket more than I did, if that be possible — was convinced that Australia was in fact a tribe of sunburnt Yorkshiremen, and he wasn’t far wrong,” he said.
“If I’d been a younger man when I first came here, I might have first settled here. I enjoyed it very much indeed.”
In 2011, he became the first non-Australian to deliver the official Australia Day address.
“[It] may be that this is my last visit to Australia. That’s the way I’m looking at it,” he said.
“I’m 84 now. I still feel able and up to talking and performing. I’m not totally gaga — heading that way but not there yet.”
Among the thousands of people he interviewed there were many Australians, including the late Bob Hawke and fellow — but fictitious — knight of the realm Sir Les Patterson.
Sir Michael admitted he found former Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and wife Flo “entertaining” and was proud of his interview with media mogul Kerry Packer, which he regarded as one of his best.
“I managed to engage him in a way I hadn’t thought possible,” he said.
‘I very rarely made friends’
During his interview with ABC Radio Adelaide this morning, he confirmed several stories about his long-running show.
Peter Sellers once agreed to appear only if he could be dressed as a German soldier.
Orson Welles ripped up his list of questions.
Richard Burton was interviewed in front of an impromptu audience of catering staff.
He said Muhammad Ali remained his most cherished guest.
“He wasn’t altogether likeable but, my God, he was interesting,” he said.
Of missed opportunities, he reflected that crooner Frank Sinatra was the one who got away.
“He was the biggest star — he didn’t need the publicity, didn’t need to be bothered with interviews, with pesky journalists,” Sir Michael said.
“I admire him so greatly and I met him but the once and I was introduced to him.
“Twenty minutes later I’m leaving, and I said ‘goodnight Mr Sinatra, thank you for inviting me’, and he said ‘goodbye David’ — so I thought I’ve made a real impression there.”
One thing he has learnt through the course of his craft is that human beings are all idiosyncratic and deeply individual.
“Everyone’s a different proposition,” he said.
“You can be as nervous as you like, but you mustn’t show it — you mustn’t reveal it to the person you’re sitting opposite [to] because they’re the ones who are in the strange and alien land, not you.”
He said he never felt compelled to find guests likeable, but said it was easier if he felt a degree of admiration.
“It helps to like people, but some of the most fascinating people I’ve interviewed I wouldn’t wish to invite to dinner,” he said.
“Out of all the people I’ve interviewed throughout my life — as a journalist, God knows how many thousands they are [across] print and television and radio — I very rarely made friends.
“Making friends, proper friends with people you love and share your life with, that’s a different thing altogether.”