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Lifestyle  Features Article

Terry won't be upsetting anyone

By Graham Kebble-White


Terry Wogan, the king of light entertainment and arguably the UK's best-loved chat-show host, has returned to the interviewer's sofa with his brand new show Wogan: Now and Then.

It's been 14 years since he gave up the mantle of Britain's talk-show king, following the cancellation of his thrice-weekly BBC One teatime show, Wogan, which started in 1982.

Although he's since become slightly greyer at the temples and ruddier of cheek, meeting him in person it's clear the 67-year-old has lost none of his sparkle.

When I suggest his new programme sounds like it's going to be thoroughly entertaining, he splutters: "No, don't make that mistake".

It's typical of the Limerick-born entertainer's brand of self-deprecating wit.

"After the Wogan show finished," he confesses, "I said, 'That's it, I don't really want to talk to anyone again as long as I live'."

But Sir Terry - he now has dual British and Irish nationality which allows him to use the title, although he doesn't plan to flaunt it on-air - found himself lured back to the conversational arena for this new series on UKTV Gold.

"This was slightly different," he says. "It's the retrospective aspect that's the attractive thing as far as I'm concerned."

In the series, Terry will be talking to a mixture of guests, some he first encountered on his eponymous chat-show, and others he's never interviewed before. In both cases they'll be examining footage of themselves from 10 or 20 years ago, and commenting on how their lives have turned out since then.

"What impresses me is the bravery of people who are prepared to come on and look at themselves 20 years ago and talk about if their dreams or aspirations came true. That's what makes it interesting to me."

Although the series is being billed by UKTV Gold as Terry's "Second Coming" - although as he points out with a sniff that his Radio 2 breakfast show is "getting eight million people in the morning, so I haven't been anywhere" - the host is keen to underplay it all.

"I don't care," he says when asked how he feels about resurrecting his talk-show career. "Interviewing isn't some archaic art. It's just a question of asking the right questions and hopefully you get the answers you're looking for.

"My own style is basically what I do on the radio, which is slightly tongue-in-cheek, looking for humour and trying to have a bit of a laugh. So we won't talk too much about bird flu or indeed the current situation in the Ukraine.

"I'm not going to be confronting people, challenging them and demanding to know their innermost secrets. I don't really do that kind of stuff. Old Paxman does that, and it normally leads to tears. Dear old boy.

"I've been criticised in the past for doing interviews that are bland, but if you're confrontational, after a month you'll find you'll get no guests.

So - what? - you've got to try and be nasty to people? What's the point of that?"

One element he isn't keen to resurrect from his old show is the incessant knee-touching that used to accompany his chats.

"That whole business used to drive me mad!" he exclaims. "It was the most irritating thing of all time. Of course, increasing numbers of PRs would say to the guests, 'Touch Terry's knee, everyone likes that'. When I'd see a hand reaching out, a cold fear would come over me. For God's sake, get off!

"This time I'm going to make sure the seating arrangements are such that the guests are too far away to be able to reach me. We'll have a bit of a hug to start, but apart from that there will be no contact whatsoever.

"Well, perhaps another hug goodbye, unless it's been a really bad interview, in which case they'll probably storm off."

Talking of bad interviews, I ask Terry how he feels if one goes off the rails. When he's in that situation, does he secretly think, 'This is creating great television'?

"No, my threshold for embarrassment is too low for that," he explains. "Instead I'm thinking, 'God, isn't this awful'. But I've got to make the best of it, of course, and keep smiling, because that's what I do.

"But that doesn't stop me thinking inside, 'You are a complete eejit.

" 'How dare you do this? Why did you come on the show if you're not prepared to talk?'."

One encounter that went memorably awry was in 1991, when former TV sports commentator David Icke appeared on the Wogan show claiming to be the son of God.

To the increasingly hilarity of the audience Icke declared: "The best way of removing negativity is to laugh and be joyous ... so I'm glad that there's been so much laughter in the audience tonight."

"But they're laughing at you," said Terry softly. "They're not laughing with you."

The cutting comment brought the host almost universal acclaim, but it's one he feels uncomfortable with in retrospect, and something he's going to have to relive, as Icke who, along with Ulrika Jonsson and Christopher Lee,was one of the guests on the first edition of Now And Then.

"I don't know whether or not to apologise to him for that," he confesses.

"Although it got a huge round of applause, and I suppose it was relevant at the time, maybe I shouldn't have said it.

"I don't want to be upsetting anybody. His beliefs are entirely his and sincerely held. I think you've got to be kind. Why be nasty? Only kindness matters."


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Lifestyle  Features Article

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