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June 28, 2024updated 04 Jul 2024 1:20pm

Sky’s Sam Coates reveals his election formula: 18-hour days, power naps and gallons of Huel

Sky's deputy political editor describes a "bin fire" June schedule that he "wouldn't swap for the world".

By Bron Maher

Sky News deputy political editor Sam Coates has lifted the lid on what a typical day covering the general election looks like, revealing a lifestyle not for the faint of heart.

Coates’ alarm goes off at 4.45am each morning. His first appointment of the day is with Politico’s UK editor Jack Blanchard with whom he hosts the Politics at Jack and Sam’s podcast, which has gone daily for the duration of the election campaign. They record it between 6.35am and 6.55am.

“I won’t lie, 4.45 is a painful time for the alarm to go off,” Coates says.

Next he works with his producer, Tom Larkin, to schedule the day, with the goal of putting together a package “of campaign visits, polling, interviews, manifesto launches” for broadcast on Sophy Ridge’s Politics Hub at 7pm.

Coates is speaking to Press Gazette on Monday from a taxi taking him from a Keir Starmer appearance in Kettering to a Wes Streeting event in Stoke-on-Trent. “We speed off around the country, two, three days a week and both take the temperature of what’s going on,” he says.

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His day usually ends with a live appearance on Sky News at Ten. “I’ll do a 90-second live from wherever I am, or just outside Parliament if I’m in Westminster, and then I get to go home or go to the hotel or wherever I am and collapse into bed for usually about 11.30.

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“Then we rinse, repeat: the alarm goes off at 4.45 again.”

Asked how he gets by with so little sleep, Coates laughs.

“It’s actually gone surprisingly well. I think there are some tricks that I’m using at the moment. I mean, boringly, I avoid lots and lots of food and big sugar crashes.

“I’ve restricted myself to one meal a day, which is one of my secret tips for getting through this election campaign. So rather than having big, carb-y meals all day long — and then you have a carb crash — or bingeing on sweets all day long, I have one meal a day, either lunch or dinner. 

“And then the whole of the rest of the day, if I need anything, I’m afraid I’m something of an addict of Huel.”

Huel users mix powder with water to produce a liquid that the manufacturer promises is “nutritionally complete”. Coates says Sky bought £120 worth of it at the outset of the election campaign, which is equivalent to approximately 80 meals’ worth, or ten gallons.

Coates had unwittingly made plans for June, oblivious to Rishi Sunak’s looming election date. Less than a week before naming 4 July, Sunak told ITV’s Loose Women they could “book your holiday”, leading many to believe a July election would not happen.

“June has been a bin fire,” Coates says. “June is my favourite month, late May and June… it’s been a bin fire of fun things with friends that haven’t happened.”

Despite it all, Coates says he “wouldn’t swap this schedule for the world”.

“Doing the podcast, plus the whole day of TV and filmmaking, being out on the road, has allowed me to experience all of it to the maximum extent possible, and if I’m being honest, I’ve loved every second of it.”

But the weekends “have been largely protected, thank goodness” to spend time with his family.

‘Sam, you are going to sleep, aren’t you?’

Coates held a Parliamentary pass as an 18-year-old on his gap year at The Independent during the 1997 election and he was at The Times when Gordon Brown’s government gave way to the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in 2010.

“A lot of people think that the campaign rhythm is the busiest bit,” he says. “But if we get a new government, and that new government wants to do things differently, and lots of things are going to change in Westminster, Whitehall, in Parliament, and then ultimately people’s lives — that’s as important of a story as this side of the election day. So don’t think it’ll get any calmer in ten days’ time.”

Coates will not be reporting overnight for the election (that job will be done by Kay Burley) but will join Sky News presenter Sophy Ridge from 7am the next morning.

“The two of us will be ushering in a new government, or marvelling at the incredible Lazarus-like recovery of the Conservative Party, from 7am for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours.”

[Read more: Election 2024 – How broadcasters are covering UK general election]

He says he will allow himself to watch the exit poll but then go to bed.

“I’ve already had the conversation with my boss, where they go: ‘Sam, you are going to sleep, aren’t you?’

“Actually, going to sleep is one of my skills, when I’m not needed — I’m quite good at power naps.”

‘A politician side-stepping the answer speaks volumes in of itself’

Politicians are adept at dodging journalists’ questions — something that has been particularly visible on this campaign amid Labour’s so-called “Ming vase strategy” of avoiding risk “at nearly all costs”.

But Coates suggests this does not particularly frustrate him as an interviewer.

“Provided that the journalist themselves is sufficiently focused asking a question, then a politician side-stepping the answer speaks volumes in of itself and should tell a clear story to the public, and they can make up their view on that.”

Coates recounts an interview he conducted with Nigel Farage a week earlier, during which he asked the Reform UK leader “seven or eight times” whether he would rule out joining the Conservative Party if he was elected and invited to defect.

“At one point he said that Sky viewers wouldn’t be ‘interested’ in the question, at one point he called it a ‘moronic’ question… at the end of that exchange I was like: ‘You can see from space that you haven’t answered that question’. And he hadn’t.

“So was I frustrated by that? No, I was quite pleased that we had got a bit of hopefully quite engaging telly that showed his answer.”

Coates’ comfort with stonewalling politicians may since have met its match, however. Three days after his interview with Press Gazette, he tweeted a clip depicting his attempts to ask Rishi Sunak whether his aide Craig Williams knew the election date when he made a bet about it — under the caption: “A frustrated PM. A frustrated interviewer.”

Quick questions 

What’s the scoop of which you’re proudest?

“The one I’m really proud of… there was a Police and Crime Commissioner up in the North East who was getting police investigations from the force he oversaw into his rivals

“It was not only a complex story to get over the line legally — and just to explain it – but also it’s in a part of the world [Cleveland] that does not get enough coverage.”

The PCC, Steve Turner, subsequently referred himself to the police and crime panel, who determined he had been “within his rights” to make the reports and said it would not refer Turner to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

What’s been the most dramatic moment of your career?

“I mean, ever since a couple of weeks before the Scottish referendum in 2014 British politics has moved at just such an incredible pace. My feet haven’t touched the ground.”

You’re stranded on a desert island. You can take a Lobby team from any news outlet besides Sky with you. Who do you take?

“Oh God. Which one would have me? That’s just gonna cause terrible rivalry and jealousy. I’m gonna duck that question.

“Honestly, I think one of my mild superpowers is actually to be able to relax. So if you were to give me a desert island, I don’t think I’d want any other Lobby team there at all. And if they were there I’d try and go to the other side of the island.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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