Interviewing top riders always feels like both a privilege and a responsibility.
It’s a privilege because they are busy people. They’ve got a lot to do. They’re also interesting people. People who have reached the top of their game and are very successful at what they do.
You get to sit down with them — in their tack room, or their lorry, or their house — and ask them questions. You decide the questions. They might not answer, but actually, that’s rare. People nearly always answer the questions in interviews.
It’s often intense. I like to record interviews, rather than taking notes, because it means you can look people in the eye, concentrate on what they are saying and think about what you want to ask next, rather than worrying about whether you’ll be able to read your writing later.
You feel like you are locked in this weird world, just the two of you. You get to the point where you feel like you can ask anything and they would probably tell you.
It’s a responsibility because you’re the lucky one who’s there, so you have
to do the readers justice.
They’re not there, so you have to make sure you choose the questions they’d want to ask.
And you have to ensure you then select the most interesting parts of the answers — 40 minutes of talking turns into 5,000 words of transcribing, which has to be condensed back into perhaps 1,000 words of copy.
The interview I did with William Fox-Pitt for this week’s H&H is a perfect example. I know William quite well — I was eventing editor for four of the years he was an H&H columnist — and I’ve spoken to him lots of times at events.
But to sit down in his lorry at Bramham, just him and me, and be able to ask the questions I’ve always wanted to ask? That’s a different thing.
What did your Badminton win really mean to you? Not in the five minutes you get at an event, when it’s too soon for anyone to really know. But now, in a quiet, considered way, which might take 20 minutes to really explain.
What do you feel you have to do before you retire? Are there boxes you still have to tick?
William smiles. “Why am I here? My wife asks me that. What keeps you going? Why can you still get up at three in the morning and go off and ride four novice horses round Tweseldown?”
As we wind up the interview, William glances down at the copy of H&H on the table. Bertram Allen’s incredibly young face stares out.
“Can you make me look as young as him? You can quote that.”
Readers, I hope I did him justice. I hope I did you justice.
The H&H interview: William Fox-Pitt is this week’s magazine, dated Thursday, 9 July 2015.