RIYADH: In his 2016 memoir, “A Life in Questions,” Jeremy Paxman, the prominent British journalist and presenter, outlines how he has been inquisitive his entire life.
The autobiography uncovers Paxman’s early years, interviews with prominent figures, insights into journalistic integrity, political engagement, and the power of asking the right questions.
Paxman takes a humorous approach in recounting past experiences, notably an incident involving Marks & Spencer underwear. He described an occasion when he put his leg through his briefs, causing the elastic to detach from the cotton.
Paxman asked the other people in the gym: “Any of you blokes had any trouble with pants?" His concerns about the quality sparked a media frenzy, resulting in an abundance of underwear being sent to him, even from strangers.
The book showcases Paxman’s recollections over four decades of journalism. However, when considering his interviews, I hoped for more insights into his technique and style. Renowned for his unconventional approach, his interviews often left interviewees feeling unsettled or nervous, as if they were “quaking in their boots.”
At times, the narrative becomes monotonous, particularly in sections where Paxman delves into less compelling aspects of his career, making the reading experience somewhat laborious.
However, Paxman’s recounting of iconic interviews and behind-the-scenes anecdotes kept me from looking away. A notable interview showing his commitment to getting answers, which was widely praised, took place in May 1997, where Paxman questioned former Home Secretary Michael Howard a total of 12 times about his potential overruling of the head of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis.
The writing style can feel a bit disconnected, shifting between different times in Paxman’s life with abrupt transitions. This might make it a little harder to follow his story. Paxman’s memoir might be more relatable to those familiar with the UK’s political and cultural scene, as it assumes a certain level of knowledge about the figures and events discussed.
Learning from Paxman’s methods can help journalists develop their own style and ensure that they can engage with and extract valuable information from interviewees.
Overall, “A Life in Questions” is recommended for those fascinated by unconventional interviewing styles. It not only tells stories but also acts as a guide for journalists seeking to enhance their interviewing skills.