I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with some great characters in television over the years, but one person who has always been great fun to be around, and offers great encouragement, is my Sky News colleague Eamonn Holmes.
The Belfast man presents Sunrise on Sky News from 6 to 9am. I guess the hardest part of the job for some people would be getting up for work while the rest of the world is still asleep, so how does he manage to function at such ungodly hours?
“Well I’m only 26-years-old! It’s just that getting up at 4am has done this to me,” he jokes. “I hope I have brought friendliness and approachability to it. There’s a tendency for news programmes to be very ‘matter of fact’, as they have to be.
“But my experience at GMTV taught me that while people want to hear the serious news, that doesn’t preclude bringing a smile to people’s faces when the opportunity arises.
“I came to Sky News knowing the importance of a ‘presenter family’. We’ve a very clearly defined family on Sunrise with my colleagues Charlotte Hawkins, Jacquie Beltrao, Isobel Lang and Nazaneen Ghaffar, plus regular newspaper reviewers.”
Eamonn began his career in his native Ulster having had his formative years shaped by what was happening around him in Belfast.
“I was eight-years-old when ‘the Troubles’ started, they robbed me of any sort of normal teenage years because of where I grew up in Belfast. It meant that I went on a kind of mission to explain it, if only to myself, why this was happening.
“This was in the days before rolling news. I’d listen to the radio a lot. You’d be influenced by watching news crews filming on your street in the daytime and then on the evening news you’d see their work. That’s how I ended up becoming a reporter really.”
ITV’s This Morning is another show that Holmes presents on a regular basis, alongside his wife Ruth. So how does working with your wife in front of millions of people feel? He laughs again.
“It’s troublesome because sometimes we forget to draw the line between what is real and what is public behaviour! I think the danger is that you can become overfamiliar with the person you are with and forget the formalities of television.
“That’s often the case for me and Ruth. The plus side is that the chemistry between us is real and there’s almost a telepathy there.”
His list of previous interviewees is hugely impressive, but if he had to pick one that stands out as an all-time favourite, who would it be?
Given that he’s now 52 and he has been interviewing famous faces for three decades and more, his answer comes back quickly, with barely a second of thought.
“Dustin Hoffman. My dream of getting into journalism came about from watching All The President’s Men starring him and Robert Redford. I remember being 16 and watching that in the cinema, it’s my favourite film of all-time. I was inspired by the characters and their journalism.
“Never did I dream that one day I would meet Dustin Hoffman and he would be in just his underpants! He called me into his dressingroom to do the interview and he was shaving and it was absolutely surreal. I’d waited all these years to meet him and he was in his underpants.
“I told him that I went into journalism because of that film and he said that if he had a dollar for every reporter who told him that over the years he would be a very rich man.”
I ask about less memorable interviewees and here Eamonn deploys a lovely bit of diplomacy. “Let’s just say…some actors are not as interesting as their characters. They are only comfortable being someone else and not themselves. It’s like they are a blank canvas.”
Away from work he is a passionate Manchester United fan, an obsession that again can be traced back to his Belfast roots and his fascination with one footballer.
“At the time that George Best was one of the top three players on the planet, Belfast was known for only negative things. He won the European Cup in 1968 and he was from Belfast, our small city.
“Being able to see him in the flesh at Windsor Park and at Old Trafford was absolutely amazing. And then years later to be asked by his family to host his funeral service, well that was just incredible for a fan like me.”
The morning after Manchester City won the Premier League title I was at work eagerly awaiting Eamonn’s arrival, intending to give him a bit of friendly football banter, but he was conveniently at a wedding and had booked the day off well in advance. (So he claims anyway!) His words about about City’s triumph are few.
“Form is temporary…class is permanent. That’s all I would say about that.”
United’s esteemed manager Sir Alex Ferguson is a friend of Eamonn’s and attended his 50th birthday party in Manchester two years ago.
“He’s like a god to me, he is one of my great heroes in life. I often take inspiration from him, he’s a particularly inspiring person. Very few people could achieve what he has achieved. I genuinely believe that he will have been spurred on by City winning the league this year.
“That has kept him in the job for the next two years. If he had won the league he could have retired, now he will be there for two more years, I believe.”