One-on-one with Sky News's Jeremy Thompson

2008-10-02 08:05

WHEN an international news story breaks, the chances are that Jeremy Thompson will either be at the scene or covering it from London. He presents Live at Five on Sky News and has become something of an icon in the news industry. The channel recently collected the Royal Television

Society News Channel of the Year award, to add to its impressive list of accolades.

At a conference meeting in Johannesburg this year, I was surprised to see how relaxed and fresh Thompson looked, having just stepped off the plane from Heathrow after covering the developments in Iraq. I asked him whether he ever gets tired of the constant travelling.

“Luckily I'm a good traveller,” he said. “I love the thrill of heading off to a news story, particularly if it's somewhere new.

“I long ago got used to the idea of flying for hours and then getting straight off the plane and broadcasting live around the clock.”

“Is jet lag not an issue for you?” I asked.

“I've always said that it's the figment of the tea totaller's imagination,” he said.

Thompson and Sky News by now are synonymous entities, perhaps because he's the face of its prime time viewing slot. But he's also an easy-going guy and was a pleasure to chat to when I contacted him to talk about life in and outside Sky News.

Thompson has close ties with South Africa. “It's still one of my favourite holiday destinations. After living in the country for over four years and falling in love with it, my wife and I try to head back for a holiday at least once a year.”

Thompson's career at Sky News began 13 years ago when he was based in Johannesburg.

“I'd been the Africa correspondent for rival British network ITN when Sky asked me to jump ship and set up a bureau for them based in South Africa. In late 1995 I moved to the United States to head up Sky's America Bureau in Washington DC. I returned to the United Kingdom three years later to start presenting.”

Thompson's career spans 30 years in the news business and he hasn't grown tired of it.

“The best part of my job is being on air when a big story breaks,” he says. “I still get a buzz when a really major story begins to unfold live. It's great in the Sky News

studio, but even better if I'm out in the field. Having spent most of my life as a correspondent roving the world, I still feel most at home as a reporter on the frontline of any news action. And it doesn't have to be wars like Iraq in 2003 or Israel or Lebanon last year. I'm still fascinated by natural disasters like the Asian tsunami or the emotion in Rome when the Pope died or witnessing a new president elected in the U.S.”

What does a day in the life of a Sky News presenter entail?

“On a typical day, I read the newspapers at home, watch TV news and listen to the radio to absorb the background to the day's news. Then I head into work around 1 pm, and have a ‘look-ahead' meeting with my executive producer to discuss the likely running order of Live at Five.

“Then I spend the next three hours or so reading up on the stories we're expecting to cover and the probable interviewees. After a quick visit to make-up around 4.30 pm, I'm into the hot seat in the studio at two minutes to five, ready for three hours of non-stop news action.”

“Enough about work,” I say. “What do you do for fun?”

“I like to play golf, but never seem to have enough time. I always enjoy the South African courses when I'm out here staying with friends. I also go to watch cricket and rugby whenever I can. I live within walking distance of Twickenham, so I try never to miss an England home match.

“As for exercise - apart from a round of golf, I try to go to the gym most mornings before work.”

Thompson is also a lover of the outdoors.

“We have plenty of friends to stay with [in South Africa]. We've also had a few holidays in recent years with our South African pals in the Zambezi Valley, on the Zambian side, canoeing, fishing and going on safari. We also love Benguerra Lodge off the Mozambique coast for a great place to chill out, read, rest, swim and fish.

“And we have a property in southern Spain where we spend a few weeks a year.”

Outside of his job, a number of films have also roped him in as a news presenter.

“Volcano and Shaun of the Dead are often seen on Sky or Dstv movies,” he says. “And I [recently did] a scene for the new Matt Damon film, The Bourne Ultimatum.”

And how was that?

“It all sounds very glamorous, but that latest scene was shot in dreadful wind and rain outside Waterloo Station in London. It didn't feel very movie-star like.”

Ah well, not many people can boast that they have been head-hunted to play themselves in big budget Hollywood films.

• Jeremy Thompson presents Live at Five on channel 52 on Dstv every weekday at 6 pm.

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