"It occurred to me, as she spoke, that I identified with something inside of her very strongly"
Published: 17 February 2021
On 25 January Newsnight presenter, Emily Maitlis, was interviewed by 1st year medical student Mujgana Hussainy as part of the latest event for the Big Read. This year’s Big Read book, Airhead, was authored by Maitlis and dives into the challenges of producing nuanced, contextualised coverage in an ever-accelerating news cycle.
Mujgana begins, “I didn’t expect to be chosen to interview Emily Maitlis, it hadn’t even crossed my mind. I’d watched her interviews, read her book, sent in my application, and then gone back to my studies, assuming it was a long shot to be in the running. So, imagine my surprise when I got an email letting me know that I had been chosen to do so a few days before the interview. I hurriedly wrote up the few questions I had in mind and sent them through.
“My first meeting with the Student Experience team immediately put me at ease. Their warmth and unwavering patience reassured much of my underlying anxiety about the interview - after all, Emily Maitlis was a woman with a very impressive resumé. They gently guided me and my co-interviewer Jada whenever questions arose.
“However, by the time the interview came around, I was a ball of nervous energy, all rapid heartbeats and breathing exercises. I worried that the audience could hear the panic in my voice, see it etched into my face, in the way I held the tension in my shoulders. In the end, the interview passed quicker than I thought it would.
“Emily Maitlis was interesting and clever, smart, and well-put together. What I realised during the interview was that she was also kind, introspective, and self-critical.
“It occurred to me, as she spoke, that I identified with something inside of her very strongly. When she spoke about how having ‘inherited’ another language opened her up to a greater understanding of the human condition by pushing against the imperialistic nature of the English tongue, I felt it. She ended the interview by admitting that the evening would find her contemplating all the ways she could have answered the questions better, the anecdotes that she could have included, all the things that she should have done and didn’t.
“Maitlis’ interview was faultless - but not to her. In her face, I saw my own desperate longing for perfection. In her book, I felt the self-flagellation and agony of a person who beats herself up, who feels the embarrassment keenly, who tries again and again, and then walks back into the quagmire once more. She is the person I might have become, had I been braver. I hope she understands how comforting it is, how unburdening, to hear from a voice of a success, how ordinary it is to self-doubt, to be unsure, to feel like an ‘airhead’.
“In the immediate aftermath of the interview, I recall being both relieved and mortified — certain I’d made a fool of myself, but glad that it hadn’t been worse. In one instance, I stumbled slightly over my words, started a sentence unsure of how it would end, and, all in all, failed to compose my features into something that looked a little less like terror. And yet, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t about me.
“Reflecting now, I couldn’t tell you how the interview went. I suppose that’s something each viewer will have to decide for themselves. What I do know is that Emily Maitlis was profound and interesting, that she said many things that meant a lot to me and that I will remember for a long time to come.
“Maitlis has often said that her bestselling book, Airhead, was a chronicle of all of her mistakes. I take solace in the fact that my fears, founded or not, might make for reading as interesting as hers someday, and that this interview might even mark page one: the day I interviewed Emily Maitlis.”
If you missed it, you can view Mujgana’s interview with Emily Maitlis here.
Students can also claim a free e-book copy of Airhead as part of the Big Read. If you have not done so already, please email email@example.com.