‘Saying what everyone secretly thinks’: An Interview with Janet Street-Porter

This is a review I wrote with a journalist training class at my local literature festival when I was about 17.

Opinionated is the adjective that comes to mind at the mention of Janet Street-Porter: controversial and successful, as the title of her new book suggests: “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down”. From a journalist whose career started at just 21, she rose to one of the few female executives at the BBC.

This interview gave us a little more than just a sneak peek into her life. The King’s Hall was full, as people filed into the dark room, quite a contrast from the blazing sunshine outside. The audience, mostly women around Janet’s age of 64 and their husbands who had no doubt been dragged along, responded vibrantly to Janet’s anecdotes and her shocking use of taboo language with one woman shouting out in agreement. It was clear a lot of people were strong supporters.

 The interview opened with Janet being introduced to Ilkley, her jokey comment about remembering “being stood in that bloody queue in Betty’s” set the event off with a light tone, accompanied by a roar of laughter from the crowd who could all empathise.

 As she gave us her opinions on money, diet (“eat whatever you like”), staff away days (“I don’t do bonding”), and supermarkets (“giving something back? What a load of bollocks!”), the atmosphere was buzzing. On reflection Janet stated, “People like to hear my opinions because I say what everyone secretly thinks”.

 Now onto to her career with some welcome inside information. Janet explained how she found her way into journalism, which was accompanied by a question from a budding young journalist in the crowd. “Make yourself indispensible” was the advice she gave. That, and good old-fashioned discipline.

 Finally, an interview with Janet Street-Porter wouldn’t be complete without the topic of walking. Her description of the countryside as “a museum” gave her inspired audience an insight into her unique way of seeing things. The audience was engaged.

 As the floor opened to questions, it was clear she was admired and respected by the crowd. One woman described her as “refreshing”, and another woman said to Janet: “You paint pictures with your words”. However, the audience had a bite too as one woman briefly silenced Janet (and we all know how hard that is), as after Janet gave her answer the woman said “That wasn’t what I meant”. Another asked “You seem fearless, but are you really fearless?” To which Janet replied with characteristic honesty “I’m not fearless in everything I do”.

 After watching the interview, it was clear why so many people had sacrificed their time in the unexpected and record-breaking heat of the October afternoon. It was an event I would definitely recommend and the audience left with Janet’s final advice fresh in their minds: “Learn to like yourself just the way you are: it’s cheaper, less demanding and a whole lot more fun”.

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