My abrupt end to TV stardom
Stating firmly and without qualification that I will never agree to appear on television again is a bit like stating firmly that I would no longer accept being asked to play football in midfield for Spain, or would no longer consider sharing “quality time” with Maria Sharapova; a futile gesture perhaps, but one about which I am adamant.
For the second time in a year I have found myself staring mournfully into the TV screen like a headphone wearing lemon as a great debate takes place on BBC1’s “Sunday Morning Live” (SML), waiting for fifteen minutes of fame which never arrive; once again it seems I am at the back of the auto-cue.
When SML contacted me last Saturday night inviting me to speak about Islam and the media – possibly not unconnected to the fact my new novel, “Out of Office”, concerns this very subject as well as centring on a terrorist plot against the London Olympics – the House of Piggott went into overdrive.
As children were despatched to quiet corners of the house, under strict instructions not to emerge or shout “there’s daddy!”, my wife and I agonised over outfits (I finally plumped for a black jumper which my son said make me look skinny), completely rearranged the living room to accommodate an Ethernet cable and then texted, IM’d and called anyone we could think of.
On Sunday morning, after troubling dreams in which I appeared on webcam naked, I was awake at six, testing and re-testing my Skype connection; the nice lady at BBC Belfast suggested I wear headphones just in case there are last-minute problems; quickly I checked a few stats concerning Islamophobic violence following negative coverage; and drank gallons of coffee to shake off the hangover induced by copious amounts of celebratory red wine the night before.
Five minutes before the show “went to air” (as we seasoned broadcasters say) children were tied up and sat on, cats removed in case they rubbed their bottoms against the webcam at a vital moment and I took several deep breaths, shaking with fear but also delighted that my admittedly off-the-wall views would at last reach a wider audience.
The show started; being an old hand I turned off the TV and waited for my Skype call.
At five past ten I’m called from Belfast: there’s a problem with Skype, would I mind doing the interview by phone? Disappointed – because my son said my black jumper makes me look skinny – I agreed, and listened on my phone as SML’s fragrant presenter Samira Ahmed spoke to “Dame” Ann Leslie, the Ramadhan Foundation’s Mohammed Shafiq and some plank from the BNP.
The more I heard the more I became incensed; though a nervous public speaker I was relishing the opportunity to take issue with Miss Leslie, Mr Shafiq, and the BNP doughnut. Compared to this bunch – the usual suspects – my views not only make more sense, have more resonance, they are ones I believe the nation needs to hear.
Five past becomes ten past; even at twenty past I haven’t given up hope. Then, at 10.23, Ms Ahmed winds up the conversation. Aaron from BBC Belfast comes on the line, apologising for not getting me on air; this, apparently, was due to technical problems.
Through gritted teeth I point out that I checked and re-checked my Skype connection endless times, and spoke to his far prettier female colleague this morning without any problem; furthermore, I also heard the entire show over my phone (twenty-three minutes I’ll never get back).
I also point out that this is the second time in a year I have been asked to “appear” (in a webcam sense) on SML, have told my family, friends, and the neighbours, and then been made to appear extremely silly – by not appearing at all.
Aaron from Belfast apologises; it is not enough. I tell him that unless he can guarantee my appearing next time, the show (and, by implication, the BBC) shouldn’t bother to waste my Sunday mornings in future. Aaron agrees:
“Don’t worry Mark, we won’t be doing that.”
Aaron hangs up. Somehow – without even appearing – I have just scuppered my chances of ever appearing on television again. Mentally I congratulate myself on this honourable stance.
Then the phone rings: it’s my nan. Now the explaining really begins…Tagged in: bbc, islam, Sunday Morning Live, television, tv
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