Freelance lifestyle and entertainment journalist Nick McGrath explores an unlikely up-side to coronavirus for journalists
As social distancing restrictions fall away like Keir Starmer’s fragile support, millions of workers – journalists included – are feverishly looking forward to a return to some sort of professional normality.
But despite carrying out just two face to face interviews since Britain was plunged into lockdown on March 21st 2020 – I for one, won’t be raising a glass to in-person meetings.
Not because I’ve grown fond of the clunky technological glitches of video streaming conversations or because I’ve completely forgotten how to converse with actual people in the flesh.
But rather because for the last 14 months – despite my own pessimistic expectations when the global pandemic kicked in – it’s been an unexpected golden era of celebrity interviewing.
When Boris pulled up the drawbridge on social contact 14 months ago – and with it the event-led diaries of most of the celebrities that I habitually quiz – I fully expected my workload to wither.
With few events scheduled, millions of people furloughed, and collective creativity largely put out to pasture, why would any celebrities – with little to promote – want to waste their time speaking to journalists they’re normally desperate to avoid.
Or so I thought.
The reality has been pretty much the opposite.
Celebrities more ‘available’ than ever
Where once singers, actors, models, reality stars, comedians and athletes had the handy get-out clause of, ‘being too busy to do interviews,’ suddenly that excuse just didn’t stand up.
My early pandemic expectations were that my usual workload would slowly fizzle out and I’d be forced to join the hundreds of thousands of other frustrated arts workers in reluctantly swallowing Rishi Sunak’s imprudent advice to retrain.
What has actually happened is that, despite their predilection for sharing their latest choice of mid-morning smoothie or their latest abs-sculpting workout on social media, celebrities have been more ‘available’ than they’ve ever been.
And secondly, in a seemingly relentless, Covid-dominated news agenda, stars have been keener than ever to maintain their profiles with Zoom interviews, even if they have nothing tangible to promote.
So rather than the usual three, four or five-week see-saw between agents, managers and publicists to get in the room with a celebrity, the whole access process has been accelerated.
Where once I’d expect emails to be ignored for days and often weeks, Zoom interviews are now often arranged in hours, sometimes minutes.
There are no tables to book, no complimentary chauffeurs to employ, no travel time to factor in.
The whole process has become infinitely more streamlined and efficient, and – except for the odd occasion where a celebrity’s face has become unfortunately digitally frozen for an indefinite period of time – there has been precious little undermining of actual interview connection.
Initially, I was concerned that video interviews would eradicate the all-important signifier of body language, but again, I was wrong.
Zoom in for added ‘intimacy’
Admittedly I might not have always been able to see what my subject’s legs were doing under the table but their facial expressions are as transparent on screen as they would be in person.
The other major bonus of Zoom interviews is that they add intimacy and a priceless sense of personal space.
Pre-pandemic, I might be invited to interview a celebrity in their home on perhaps one occasion in twenty.
With Zoom, that figure has skyrocketed to probably three in four, which means as well as soaking up the domestic semiotics on view, the subjects themselves inevitable feel way more at home during the interview process, because invariably, they are actually at home.
So as the screening invitations – at an actual screening room, not via a remote link – start to trickle in, as June 21st approaches, the collective sigh of relief is palpable as something resembling normality beckons.
For me; I’m not so sure.
Of course, I’m looking forward to actually connecting in person with my subjects, but will this unexpected golden period continue as normality resumes?
I’m still holding my breath.
Join Nick McGrath for his celebrity Interview masterclass on May 24th,