#1 Are you available to speak at public events?
Yes, there’s nothing I like more than to get out of the office and give talks if I can get the time. In September 2014 I started a new job at Newsnight and sadly the change in working pattern has meant I’ve had to concentrate more on the day (or evening?) job whilst I get settled in, and that has impacted the number of events I’ve been able to do around this time.
I like to think I can give a serious talk on economics with a light-touch but I don’t think of myself as a comedian so I prefer to avoid giving after-dinner speeches to large audiences of people who’ve each consumed a bottle of wine. I’m often asked to chair events, and am generally happy to do that if the event is one I think can handle.
I am sometimes paid for external events, but there is no point in quoting some generic price for my services as I ruthlessly price discriminate. It may cost you nothing, it may cost you thousands.
I need to stress that I am an employee of the BBC and the corporation rightly limits the kinds of external activities I can engage in. So there are a lot of terms and conditions that apply to the work I’ll take on.
I cannot endorse any product and I decline invitations to take part in events that are explicitly aimed at drumming up business. I can’t take a side in a debate on a subject of significant controversy and I try to avoid most events that are politically imbalanced.
I generally won’t do paid work for any clients that I might expect to be scrutinising on Newsnight (although on occasion I have done such events for charity). And I don’t take part in events where I am expected to read someone else’s script or say things I don’t believe. I can’t allow the BBC’s name to be used in any promotional material.
Also (and this is just a small obsession of mine) I don’t sign contracts for events. I just work on the basis of a verbal agreement.
#2 Who is your agent?
I do not have an agent. I do not think I need one to negotiate on my behalf with the BBC, as the BBC pays me quite well enough without one. And I do not have one to arrange speaking events for me either. I don’t do nearly enough paid speaking to merit having one.
In addition, it is obvious to anyone who looks at the whole market for speaker agents, that it is quite dysfunctional. If you go online, you will find many agents who purport to act on behalf of vast catalogues of celebrity speakers. In reality, these agents have usually never spoken to these celebrities; they simply hope to take calls on their behalf and then offer the work to them and take a commission.
It has annoyed me on many occasions to receive calls offering a paid speaking event from agents who I have never met, never intend to meet and who have advertised my services without my permission. They have obtained a request from a client who wrongly perceives the agent to be the only way to get hold of me.
This is not unusual though, it is normal practice in this sector. The economy would be better served if the practice was made illegal and the sector shrank by about 50 per cent.
#3 Can I get a work experience placement with you?
I’m afraid not, for three reasons. First, my working life is not regular enough to make it very easy. Large swathes of it are spent at home looking at the computer. Secondly, I get too many requests to accommodate them all. And thirdly the BBC rightly wants the work experience system to be organised and fair, not based on who knows who.
If you would like work experience at the BBC, there is an organised scheme. You can find details here.
#4 What are your politics?
I have many views on many topics but generally find it is better not to pronounce on them publicly. Even if we don’t meet the high standards of impartiality expected of us all the time, it is a matter of good practice at the BBC that we should not bang on about our own opinions but should strive to ask questions about those of other people.
In terms of party politics, I was a member of the SDP in the 1980s. I’m not committed to any party now and could not tell you with any certainty who I might vote for at the next election.
#5 Are you blind?
No. But I do have slightly squiffy eyes. One eye is looking in a different direction to the other. Both eyes work, they just don’t work as a team. The main consequence is that my brain uses one image at a time rather than two making it hard for me to see well in three dimensions. You can emulate the effect by closing one eye. Or, you can read more about the condition here.
#6 On Dragons Den, why does your commentary always tell us what we already know?
Fair question. Believe me though, it was much worse in the early series than it is now. It really was the case back then that Duncan would say “I’m out” and then I would say “Duncan Bannatyne is out”.
As it happens, I do not write the commentary for Dragons Den, but back in the early days there was some uncertainty as to whether people would follow what was going on. It was felt that a commentary would ensure all viewers were up to speed, even if the advanced viewers had to tolerate excessive explanation.
Since then, it is clear that viewers do follow and a great effort has been made made to reduce the repetition.
Go back and watch Series 1 if you wish to see how far it has improved.
#7 Who is your favourite dragon?
#8 Why do we have to listen to Thought for the Day each morning on the Today programme?
Fortunately, decisions on things like this are well above my pay-grade. And now I’m no longer presenting Today, I expect to be asked about this much less!
In defence of TFTD though, I would say that there are a number of ancient institutions on Radio 4 (like the national anthem on the Queen’s birthday, the shipping forecast, the Archers, the chimes of Big Ben) all of which subtly contribute to the brand of Radio 4, establishing it as a station of heritage. (I thought the same of the old UK theme music in the early mornings). All these things add character to Radio 4 and you don’t want to abandon them with impunity.
In my own view, it is worth the BBC looking at whether secular views could be accommodated on Thought for the Day. They have done this once and chose to reject the idea.
#9 Is this a good time to buy a house?
My own view is that it is best not to buy a house at the peak of an obvious bubble.
Aside from that, it is a good time to buy a house if you need a house to live in, you can afford the payments on it and expect to keep it for quite a few years.
Personally, I don’t think you should buy a house simply to make speculative gains on upward movements of price. The prices go down as well as up.
Indeed, it is worth reminding people that even if you buy a house, you may well be better off if house prices fall.
This is explained in the most read blog I have ever written (back in June 2004) called “Why I’d like a house price crash”, which you can find here.