Thursday, February 5, 2015
Whenever I have a camera pointed at me, I am aware of all the times I used to watch ex-cons on the telly. Often it was painfully frustrating – “tell them about X!” – and sometimes toe curlingly bad. When the little red light goes on, then, I am acutely aware that my harshest critics, the most important audience, is the one I never get to see or hear from – you guys inside. It is important that I do a good job for you, as best I am able.
I am not a spokesperson for prisoners. No one can claim that position and I’d quickly slap down anyone who claimed it. The best that any of us outside can do is try to reflect the pains of imprisonment, the concerns, to educate a wider audience. The longer we have been out, the harder that can become. Of course, I could be making a complete hash of it; I daresay someone will let me know!
The weird thing is, none of it phases me. My first media thing came a few weeks after my release. Channel 4 News with Jon Snow, responding to some silliness the Prime Minister had spewed. Evening primetime. Millions watching. My first glimpse into the world of telly! And its always a big deal. Not just because I somehow have to get to London and back from Somerset, but because if I screw it up then it gives people an excuse to slag off cons and ex cons even more than they do. Having gone through 13 parole hearings may have helped me develop a tolerance for pressure.
The process begins with an Email or phonecall from a producer. They explain the story and explore your views. If they think they can use you, the process rolls on. The news agenda is a fickle beast, though, and it is common to be told later in the day that the story had been dropped because something else more interesting had happened. There comes a point when the news agenda is settled, though, and the gig is definitely on.
Off to London I trekked, to find a car waiting for me at Paddington. I could get used to this… Whisked to the studio – I forget where! – and the Green Room. This is where guests sit around awaiting to be shoved into the studio. Channel 4 had the makeup artist in the corner, who faced one hell of a challenge. The night before I has fallen down the stairs face first, skinning a line from my chin to my forehead. I ended up with more makeup than Coco the Clown, although through the magic of TV none of this was obvious.
TV studios are strange. Some are actual sets. Some are merely concrete boxes with a couple of chairs; all the images, walls, etc are special effects. Its odd being told to look at a cross chalked on a concrete wall and told to pretend its another person. Channel 4 is pretty much how it looks on screen.
While I always know the topic being discussed, particular questions aren’t shared beforehand. This makes quick thinking essential. And a thoughtful use of language – swearing is a no-no! I think I’ve only been caught by surprise once, when I thought a co-guest, an ex copper, was advocating vigilante justice. I was all “Well I never, I’m appalled”, when what I’d usually say is “fecking muppet”…
Perhaps my best day was when Grayling announced his new horrible regime changes. Sixteen interviews around London, giving my opinion of our dear Minister. The highpoint was at Sky; I was leaving the studio as Grayling was entering. “I’ve just spent ten minutes in there giving you a kicking”, I told him. “That’s alright”, said Grayling, “I’m up next and I’ll return the favour…”
It’s been a busy couple of years. I’ve popped up on every channel and endless radio stations from here to Russia. But I don’t buy into much of it. I’m not called by the media out of kindness, and I know there is always another ex con round the corner who can become media flavour of the month. Perhaps Inside Time should take over the role, become the “go to” source for media interviews?
Courtesy of Inside Time Newspaper