This week I interviewed Michelle Guthrie for One Plus One, a year after her appointment as the ABC's Managing Director.
What was it like to interview your boss? people have asked me.
Everyone has an opinion about Ms Guthrie and the ABC. The opinions are not always pleasant. I felt I had the weight of expectation on my shoulders. Apart from that complexity, the interviewer part of me was curious to know why someone who had reached such heights in the media and digital world, had such a light digital footprint herself. It was very hard to find detail about her life and what has influenced her trajectory.
For me, the most anxious moments were the hours BEFORE the interview.
I am approaching this in good faith, I told myself, just ask her about the pieces that you need to make this puzzle complete.
But as well as being an interviewer who overthinks everything, I am also a long-term employee of the public broadcaster, a 23 year veteran. Many of my peers have left either by choice or through redundancy. Media as an industry is in turmoil. So what changes are in store for a traditional TV journalist in the Michelle Guthrie era of my career?
It was a bubbly Michelle who stepped briskly into my studio arena this week. Immediate thoughts were that I towered over her( incredibly). She didn't want to shake hands. She opened her arms to give me a hug. I sensed quickly that she was not someone to mess with, and yet I could relax and know that she would give me the space to probe her. We chatted about clothes and finding the right style. I loved her swan shirt :)
So, who is Michelle Guthrie? From what she told me she was a good student who worked hard and then took the opportunities that lay in front of her. She said 'yes' a lot. She took risks. She has fantastic insights into women and leadership. She has a husband (who is a chef) living in Singapore and two lovely daughters. She wants to make the ABC relevant for our time, which means a greater connection to the world many of us call home: online. Change IS her buzzword. But, she prefers to be out of the public eye.
In summary, I'd give her the hashtag: #quietdisrupter
The question I get asked most about One Plus One is how do we choose our guests?
We do around forty-four interviews a year. We have a big wish-list and then lots of other fascinating names came forward too, all worthy of attention in their own way which, in our estimation, can hold the television viewer’s attention for 30 minutes. The guests are drawn from a variety of sources selected by producer Barbie Dutter and me.
This week my guest is Indian comedian Vir Das and I was lucky enough to speak to him hours after he stepped of a plane on his first ever visit to Australia. He's on his first international tour, performing in Sydney and Melbourne (May 18 - 27).
In preparation for the interview I watched Vir's hilarious Netflix show Abroad Understanding. I read widely and watched his You Tube channel, where there are some very touching videos. Every year around exam time, he does a video for school-kids. There's a worrying suicide-rate among Indian school-children because of exam pressure.
I was very interested in the movie 31st October based on the anti-Sikh protests after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Via played a serious dramatic role in that art-house film but he’s also a familiar Bollywood actor.
India has always fascinated me. In fact, it was the first country I fell for, even before China. Maybe because I grew up in colonial Hong Kong, I enjoyed books about the English view of colonial life: Heat and Dust, A Passage to India and I particularly enjoyed Sarah Lloyd’s An Indian Attachment (and later Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance).
However, on my first visit to India - when I was nineteen - I was shocked by the poverty. One day my brother and I bought some cakes in Delhi’s Connaught Place. I carried them in a box, suspended in a plastic bag. As we walked around I could feel something hitting my leg, but when I turned around in that tight sea of humanity, I couldn’t see what was knocking me. Something hit me again and this time I looked down. It was a person. A legless person. A legless, handless person whose arms finished near the elbows - in stumps. The person made eye contact with me then pointed to the plastic bag. The one holding the cakes. I handed it over immediately.
Apart from poverty I’d seen in Hong Kong (yes, there was much poverty in the seventies and early eighties) I had not experienced anything like India. And yet I loved it. It was so... alive!
Now the sub-continent is a whole new world from the place I experienced in the 1980’s.
It has 1.3 billion people but still, there are great divisions between the wealthy, the middle-class and those who dwell in slums.
A few hours before Vir arrived for the interview I went to the BBC website to see what was making news in India. Sadly, the main story was about rape and whether Indian doctor would allow a 10 year old rape victim to have an abortion. The 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey still looms large in my mind.
So, mingling in with the research I had done, these were some of the issues playing in my mind when I sat down to interview Vir. He admits he speaks from a perspective of privilege. And I interviewed a comedian for some light relief, right? But my head is still awash with more questions that I need to unravel for myself over the next few days, through books, news, discussion. Vir Das opened a door.
(Photo credits: Vir Das and Jane - Tom Hancock, Sadhu - Jane Hutcheon, Protest - Getty Images)