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Lessons from the storyteller: a blueprint for better – Gavin Esler

About This Episode

Gavin Esler is an award-winning television and radio broadcaster, journalist and author. His 40-year career at the BBC included a decade as one of the anchors of its flagship news and current affairs programme Newsnight, prompting the Financial Times to note that Gavin “understands the political beast better than anyone.” It is an understanding that has focused his thinking on the power of storytelling in public life: the who we are and the where are we going. And it is his ability to tell these stories and provide answers to these questions that has seen him interview the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton, address challenges of Brexit and the USA’s political discontent, and more recently turn his abilities to a successful collection of novels, focusing on world leaders’ tips for getting to the top.



Gavin Esler, Journalist, Presenter & Author

Gavin is known for his reporting and presenting work at the BBC and has been the main presenter on Dateline London on the BBC News Channel and BBC World, and numerous other programmes, including Hardtalk. He left the BBC in 2018 and is now a freelance journalist and writer. Formerly Gavin was the BBC’s Chief North America Correspondent for eight years, based in Washington and frequently reporting from the White House, mostly during the Clinton presidency. On returning to the UK, he joined the presenting team on the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme Newsnight. He is a voting member of BAFTA, Chancellor of the University of Kent and a visiting lecturer in various academic institutions, large corporations, and public service organisations including the British military. He is the author of five novels and four non-fiction books, most recently How Britain Ends, published in February 2021.

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Lockdown List

What is a book that has changed your life?

All of them

What are you watching at the moment?

Not much. I watch a lot of movies but manage to miss most TV, except some news programmes.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My father, and my wife, the musician Anna Phoebe 

In one sentence, describe your ‘new normal’.

New normal is reading more, travelling less, swimming more and walking or cycling more by the sea

What is your best tip for life?

You have to believe you can actually change things for yourself. You need to have people around you who think it is possible to live a better life than the one you’re living in. Being a change maker is a mindset.

A quote for life (if you have one)

Just do it

What five tracks would make up your lockdown soundtrack?

1. Raymond Carlos Nakai – he is an amazing Navajo flute player and I met him in Navajo lands where he was taking some ‘western’ ie traditional scientists through sacred ground and gave an impromptu concert on a red rock ridge as ‘expiation’ to the spirits of his ancestors.

2. Nova Lima – they are an Afro-Peruvian band. “Machete” from the album Afro, although almost anything from that album is great. They make me think not just of the Andes, but also about time I spent filming the burning of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. I traveled up beyond Porto Velho towards the Peruvian border, and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had – we even saw river dolphins. It was slightly marred by a heavily armed gang burning the rainforest and threatening to kill us…

3. Bob Dylan – almost anything but Tangled up in Blue sums up the transient nature of moving around the US (a kind of lyrical Nomadland). I used to listen to endless Dylan on long trips, Arizona was always my favourite state

4. Anna Phoebe – my wife, and anything from the new album Sea Souls 

5. The Braes of Balquhidder (pron. ‘Balwhidder) – it’s also known as Go Lassie Go / Wild Mountain Thyme and is a poem written by Robert Tannahill, a contemporary of Robert Burns. It’s a gorgeous tune with the cheerful subject of a boy asking girl for a date, but somehow really mournful. It makes me think of the North West Highlands

6. I’m tempted to add a final choice of So What by Miles Davis because I always enjoy listening to jazz

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