By Anthony Stavrinos

Former Simon Townsend’s Wonder World star
Jonathan Coleman has become a ‘big
kahuna’ in the UK
radio industry. So it’s no surprise he hosted a packed out session
at last week’s Commercial Radio Australia
conference, discussing the “art of the celebrity interview.”

The breakfast announcer on BBC London’s 94.9FM began
by paying homage to his TV roots and doing the same on behalf of Sydney’s Vega 95.3FM
breakfast host, Angela Catterns.

“People like Angela Catterns and I cut our teeth on
things like Simon Townsend’s Wonder World,” he told the session. “That was a TV show admittedly, but from that you
get the experience and the knowledge and the know-how to keep people
entertained and to keep them enthralled.”

And for the remainder of the session, Coleman took
the audience through a slideshow of post-interview photos with celebrities,
offering some anecdotes about what they were like to interview. First on the batting list was movie star Tom Hanks,
who Coleman interviewed at the Dorchester Hotel while breakfast host at another
London station,
Heart FM.

“The first thing you do, if you’ve got ten minutes
with someone like Tom Hanks, is you suck up to them,” Coleman said. “Rule one in getting the best out of someone is say
‘Tom this is fantastic’ you’ve gotta say ‘I love the movie, I love
this’….whatever. Get them on side instantly.”

He said it was important to get the celebrity on
side quickly because their media minders often tried to rigorously enforce time
limits. “Renee Zellweger, we had (been given) eight
minutes…. An interview that’s gonna run eight minutes, you push it to ten or
twelve,” he said.

“There are great guests and not-so-great guests,
someare great live, some are absolutely crap live,” he said. In the latter category, Coleman nominated Meatloaf,
who he said was great at the start of an interview, but then you just couldn’t
get rid of him.

“For 15 minutes you’re looking at your producer,
saying ‘anyway I better, we’re gonna have to, can I just say thank you so much for coming in Meat’, he goes ‘I’m gonna
stay here this is fantastic, I’m having a ball,” Coleman explained.

“Meatloaf
was on my show for over an hour and then when I finished that show he was going
to stay on for the next show, until security came up.”

He recalled an interview with Billy Idol that he did
in his Triple-M Sydney days with co-host
Ian Rogerson. “He scared the shit out of both of us,” Coleman said. “He turned up drunk – lucky it was a pre-recorded
iinterview – and he’d had some bad press in a Rupert Murdoch newspaper.

“For the first 15 minutes he was going ‘Rupert
Murdoch, he’s a child killer, he murders people, Rupert Murder-och.”

“I guess one of the hardest interviews to get at the
moment would be Kate Moss because you’d have to go to the priory clinic or nip
over for a bit of rehab.

“One person I once worked with said that the best
way to get the great interviews is to go to rehab.

“But.. they usually take your microphone or your
tape machine away from you as you’re going through the front doors at rehab.”

He said Hugh Grant was probably one of the worst
people to interview, pointing to a photograph with him where the pair were both
sporting a frown.

“It was amazing, it was like one day at the Dorchester. In one room it was Pierce Brosnan talking
about his movie and he was a dream,” he said.

“But the difference between someone like Pierce
Brosnan and a Hugh Grant is that Hugh, you go into a room somewhere and he’s
slouched in a chair, he doesn’t want to be there.

“And all the interviews, whether it was BBC,
Capital, Heart, Virgin, Radio 5 Live, it was all slouchy Hugh going ‘Oh I don’t
know, I’ve really had it, I think this is going to be my last movie, I just
don’t like doing them’.

“And you think to yourself as your time’s ticking
away – this is also a guy that takes fucking ages to answer a question – why
didn’t they just get Colin Firth to do the interviews.

He said one of the corny things that was often used
was an announcement of the radio station then the introduction of the guest
with applause from within the studio.

“That instantly puts them on their edge,” he said.

“Didn’t quite work with him (Grant). Either that or
he’d had some very strong Kate Moss analgesic substances.

Coleman said that with Russell Crowe, he was told he
had a five-minute interview.

“And 20 minutes later, we were still talking,” he
said.

“I had a (Paul) McCartney interview a couple of
months ago. That was meant to be 20 minutes – 45 minutes later we were still
talking.

“I think it’s a question of if the person is
enjoying themselves.”

He said a lot of the publicists are obsessed with
“we’re just talking about the film”.

Coleman said he recently interviewed director Guy
Ritchie about his new film Revolver and was told beforehand it would be a very
serious interview, not to ask for a picture and not to talk about his wife
Madonna’s injury after falling from a horse.

But Ritchie ended up being playful and Coleman and
Coleman got a picture with him and even asked the tabou Madonna question.

“I just think that you can’t always believe what the
publicist says,”

But he couldn’t speak highly enough of Zellweger,
Jackie Collins, Will Smith, George Michael, Ron Howard, Uma Thurman

  1. Suck up to the celebrity and tell them how good their
    film/album/show is to get them on side quickly
  2. Try starting the interview by announcing the station then the
    guest with applause in the studio.
  3. If the celebrity give you short answer like ‘yeah I love it’ in
    response to whether they liked a place they had performed or worked in,
    always “throw it back at them” with a question like: ‘Why?’ or ‘What did
    you like about it?’
  4. Always have a few extra questions standing by after the initial
    suck-up to see if you can tap into one of their personal likes and become
    “their best friend for ten minutes”.
  5. Don’t always believe the publicist – ask the forbidden
    questions in a clever way and break their rules.

Peter Fray

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