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What a Head Master taught me about Humility — at 41 4 October 2017

You’re busy, I’m busy.  So I keep these newsroom-based thoughts to five pithy paragraphs.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them. 

I was rather nervous when I arrived, camera crew in tow, to interview Anthony Seldon back in 2006.  Even then, as the ground-breaking Head Master of Brighton College, he was one of the most respected educationalists in the country.  (Now Sir Anthony, it’s said he created a quiet revolution at Wellington College, and may well be doing something similar as Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University.)   More than ten years on, here’s the story of why he remains one of the most memorable people I’ve ever interviewed, and the life-long lesson he taught me.

Sir Anthony is a busy man, but had set aside an hour to be filmed for BBC South East Today speaking about his latest book, a cri-de-coeur about the architectural future of Brighton.  My task was not simply to get this edited and on air by 1.30pm (it was by now just gone 10am), but to coax him to be filmed, not in his grand study, but delivering three ‘pieces to camera’ standing in front of three separate seafront buildings down the road that he had strong views on.

“Gosh, yes, how interesting, let’s try that!” he cried, much to my delight and surprise: so often senior figures want to do little more than answer questions in their office, and get it over with as soon as possible.  We shot down to the Brighton Centre for the first take.  And this is where I learnt the lesson — a lesson in humility.

This accomplished author, this lauded expert, this dynamic leader, showed a touch of anxiety over whether his performance would be good enough. He asked my advice, offered to do it again, flattered me with observations about the speed at which TV journalists have to work.  For much of our time together, he allowed me to be the master, he the pupil.

It’s something I try to remember when I find myself preparing news reports on complex topics, or hosting a conference on a subject I’m not familiar with.  Ask, check, and ask again.  Realise what you’re not sure about, and be prepared to reveal it.  A touch of humility begets authenticity, and in business as well as broadcasting, authenticity is surely a good thing.

If you’re looking for someone to host an event you’re planning — and maybe film vox pops of the delegates afterwards — give me a call.  If I’m not the right person, I may know somebody who is.   

Pic courtesy of anthonyseldon.co.uk

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