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Channel 4 news presenter talks about career ahead of Winchester visit
A MONGOLIAN economist, two deaf men and a journalist are on a train.
No, it's not the start of a joke, but a day in the life of Channel 4 anchorman, Jon Snow.
A familiar face to millions, the former Pilgrims' schoolboy has carved a niche as the serious newsman with an easygoing, cultured air about him. It's a persona that pays off.
“The wonderful thing about being on the tele is that people come up and talk to you: they tell stories and they tell jokes.
“I was sat at a table on a train and there were two people in front of me who were evidently deaf. One of them, who had no speech, was drawing a square on his hand and showed me four fingers. He was telling me I was on Channel 4 news. I opened up my laptop and started asking them questions. They both had meningitis when they were five and six, but were both in their sixties now.”
He adds: “At the same table was a Mongolian economist from the University of Warwick.”
Snow clearly delights in the randomness of what must be one of the most diverse meetings ever assembled on a train.
To be approached while minding one's own business is an occupational hazard for many of the familiar faces beamed into our homes each night, but it tells us more about Snow's personality - that he began firing back questions - than it does about “being on the tele”.
In a 40-year career he has interviewed everyone from notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Snow admits that he considered shooting him when he fell asleep), to Nelson Mandela and controversial comedian Russell Brand. But he still displays a boyish enthusiasm for the job and makes a point of shunning the studio for conflict zones whenever possible.
“People surprise me every day. The people who surprise me most are the people you meet shopping though, not the celebrities.”
Snow's stature as a journalist means he is one of a handful who make the headlines themselves - sometimes for his natty socks, sometimes for reasons more personal.
In 2012 he gave evidence at the Leveson inquiry into the practices of the press, holding no punches and describing the Daily Mail's publisher, Associated Newspapers, as “insidious” and “pernicious”.
With the kind of insouciance that comes with the moral high ground, on leaving he is said to have turned to the press bench and asked whether they thought he might “get spanked” for his comments.
“The Mail on Sunday once ran a whole load of garbage and I took it up and they withdrew it all and recognised it wasn't true,” he explains, still cool as a cucumber.
But as a reporter himself - a career in which ruffling feathers is considered routine - does he take it on the chin?
Sounding more resigned to his fate than he was at the inquiry, he says: “I think you have to be fairly thick-skinned as a journalist. Sometimes the Mail says nice things about me, I suppose.”
Speaking ahead of a talk he will give at Winchester Cathedral, the event is something of a homecoming for him, having spent five years at Pilgrim's School as a Winchester chorister.
“It's a fabulous, blessed place: the cathedral itself, the funny little place where as choristers we used to get dressed. All these things as a child are a very important part of your biological makeup.
“When I have supper with the dean afterwards, it will be the first time since 1960. Sometimes we would have a special dinner and all the austere, drab connotations with the clergy were blown away and it was all very jolly.”
He thinks he owes his experience as a chorister some credit for his broadcasting success.
“You had to pronounce consonants very clearly, so they projected,” he says.
But it was his father, the Anglican bishop George Snow, who had him interviewing the great and the good from an early age - even if the trademark charm was yet to emerge.
“I was at the back of the chapel and observed a man in an oversized coat and I asked my dad who it was. He said it was Mr Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister.
“I didn't know then that this unhappy looking figure was unhappy because his wife was having an affair with Bob Boothby, so I think he came to the chapel for solace.
“He asked me if I knew what a Prime Minister was, so I asked him if he was married to the Queen!”
Jon Snow will be at Winchester Cathedral, in conversation with John Miller, on April 25 at 7pm. For tickets, call the box office on 01962 857 275.
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