Why Emma Barnett doesn't model herself on interviewers

Emma Barnett attending the Action for Children's The Ultimate News Quiz 2022, at the Grand Connaught Rooms, central London. Picture date: Thursday March 17, 2022. (Photo by James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)
Emma Barnett at the Action for Children's The Ultimate News Quiz 2022 in March. (PA Images via Getty Images)

BBC Radio 4 presenter Emma Barnett said she doesn't model herself on veteran interviewer Jeremy Paxman, though she is 'very appreciative' of the praise he has sent her way.

Barnett, 37, who has been the presenter of the Radio 4 show Woman's Hour since January 2021, also said her friends and family are not always pleased with her slipping into 'host mode' in social situations.

Like Paxman, Barnett is known for her relentless and insightful interviewing, and was reminded by Kate Thornton on the White White Question Time podcast that Paxman had once called her 'his favourite interviewer.

The broadcaster said: "He did say that, which was very nice, and [I'm] very appreciative. I think people always want to compare you to somebody, so that then did lead to those sorts of comparisons.

"But I feel quite happy about the fact I've always been how I am. I'm not modelling myself on him."

WATCH: Emma Barnett on the shocking first host of Woman's Hour

Barnett said she had interviewed Paxman twice, once at a literary festival and once during her time on BBC Radio 5 Live, where she worked for six years.

Thornton described it as 'quite the compliment coming from quite the Rottweiler'.

Barnett also explained she never went into an interview with an idea of how it might go, or that it might end up being a viral moment, such as in 2017 when Jeremy Corbyn could not answer her questions on the costs of a proposed childcare offer.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Talks to Emma Barnett: Emma Barnett; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe; Richard Ratcliffe. (BBC)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Talks to Emma Barnett: Emma Barnett; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe; Richard Ratcliffe. (BBC)

She said many people who thought of her as a 'hard interviewer' probably didn't really know what she did or about her range of work, and that the many years she had been working in TV and radio had helped her to 'find her voice'.

Listen to the full episode to hear Emma talk about interviewing Kate Bush, going into 'host mode' with her friends and family, and why she loves her landline phone so much

"When my interviews, or clips of them, have gone viral, those things only escalate in response to the person potentially not answering. It's never the design," she explained.

"You always are onto a losing ticket if you go into an interview and think: 'I'm going to do this'. You have to go in curious and you have to try and go in humble."

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She said the most important thing she had learned as a journalist was the need to listen, be well researched and to not rely too heavily on a plan.

"Everyone's got a plan until they get punched in the face," she said. "Then that's the end of that part, that interview is just not happening because now we're doing this.

"So you can't always do any planning at all. But if you feel good about the research, at least you can go where it goes."

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, President of WOW - Women of the World Festival, meets Emma Barnett as she hosts a reception to mark International Women's Day at Clarence House on March 8, 2022 in London, England. The Duchess of Cornwall was met by Jude Kelly CBE, Founder and CEO of The WOW Foundation, which runs WOW - Women of the World Festival.  Ms Kelly introduced guests including singer Melanie 'Mel B' Brown, former Prime Minister The Rt Hon Theresa May MP and the author and journalist, Elizabeth Day. (Photo by Arthur Edwards-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Emma Barnett at Clarence House in March with The Duchess of Cornwall. (Getty Images)

Barnett also said her husband, who she met at university, had to ask her not to go into 'host mode' in social situations, while she admits she likes to help when people 'can't tell their own stories very well'.

"I think I did frighten one of my friends recently," she told Thornton, "when I did mention that if I think something's getting quite dull, I might spice it up with something, socially.

"And she said: 'We can all tell when you're doing that, and we wish you wouldn't.'"

WATCH: Emma Barnett on hosting Woman's Hour, her most memorable conversations and how she scooped a rare interview with Kate Bush