An Audience With Sir Trevor McDonald at Kingston University

On Thursday October 3rd, Sir Trevor McDonald came to Kingston University for an “An Audience With…” lecture, an event organised by the university’s careers service, KU Talent.

The room was packed out and everyone was extremely patient when we discovered Sir Trevor was stuck in Kingston traffic and was eventually to be half an hour late; some people are worth waiting for. Unfortunately the talk was also blighted by an uncooperative microphone that kept cutting in and out, which mostly affected those in the back half of the room, but Sir Trevor’s actual words (if you could hear them) were a delight to listen to, being both inspirational and funny.

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Sir Trevor began by imploring us all to embrace the world’s interconnectivity by travelling, because it’s almost impossible to replicate the integrity of actually be in a place. He went on to back up this broad statement with some very specific and fascinating examples.

First was the story of a Japanese Minister inviting Trevor and his crew into his house, which caused Trevor to plan to get in and out as quickly as possible as he’d heard that the Japanese were very private about who they let into their homes. However, when the Minister’s wife bought slippers for the whole crew, saying that she knew that they’d want to respect the house but might not have had time to buy their own slippers, Trevor was taken aback by her thoughtfulness and acceptance of their different cultures.

Secondly, the tale of one trip many years ago to the Middle East when he needed to get a cassette tape of footage from Beirut to Damascus; as a self-proclaimed coward, Trevor didn’t want to travel through such a dangerous area unnecessarily, and so gave the tape and $100 to a taxi driver, asking him to deliver it. On receiving a phone call from London thanking him for the tapes, Trevor was filled with a renewed faith in the human spirit that he believes is less likely to be found here in the UK with our rushed way of life.

Finally, on interviewing Saddam Hussein (also a long time ago), Trevor disliked the number of men sitting in on the interview as he believes it’s supposed to be an intimate affair (as the name could imply), but one of them later explained to him that Saddam never had to answer questions to anyone and so it was a very big occasion for them. Later on, men who work directly for Saddam in the Information Ministry visited Trevor in his hotel to ask what he’s really like, because no one is privy to that information. Imagine that level of mystery around David Cameron!

It was also interesting to hear Sir Trevor’s take on his ethnicity in relation to his job and the wider world, as prompted by a couple of the questions at the end. In a then and now comparison, he said “it’s a different world out there”, and stated that from everything he’d seen in the US, he especially never expected to see a black President; Barack Obama’s inauguration is therefore probably the most iconic moment he’s ever witnessed.

Regarding another US President, Trevor used George Bush as a reference to warn us against pre-judging people by pointing out that he didn’t agree with a single thing he did during his Presidency, but found him to be an extremely charming man. In this way, Trevor is influenced by the fact that people can be so different and there is always a different side to things that you haven’t yet considered. Similarly, he finds the geography and choreography of putting an interview together is often more fascinating than what is said in the interview itself.

Throughout, Sir Trevor spoke both wittily and intelligently, as you would expect from someone who has been broadcasting for over 50 years. He also demonstrated his range of cultural influences, from quoting various poets including Tennyson and Wordsworth, to using the vernacular and saying “you strutted your stuff.” It was an absolute pleasure to hear this man speak, and, from the atmosphere in the room, I am sure that everyone would agree wholeheartedly (except perhaps those who only heard 50% of what he said…)

Sir Trevor McDonald’s most inspirational quotes of the night:

“Don’t cultivate a little island mentality about anything – see the broader picture.” This may be particularly relevant for any Isle of Wight readers!

“I don’t believe that anything can be accomplished without utter dedication and hard work.”

“Don’t let people find their limits for your ambition.”

“Always, always, always be professional and always do as best as you can.”

“I had huge slices of luck but I occasionally did a bit of work!” This shows almost anyone could get that big break!

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