See the cringe-worthy interview with Tim Bell on BBC Newsnight yesterday?

Lord Bell was interviewed by the ever-astute Kirsty Wark about the fall from grace of the Bell Pottinger PR firm he founded – now labelled ‘Bell Rottinger’ by the tabloids because of the shameful campaign it ran to stoke racial hatred in South Africa.

It seems incredible that a figure with 50 years in the PR industry, credited with helping Margaret Thatcher win three general elections, should appear on live TV so utterly unprepared with any defence of his role in a scandal engulfing a company with his name over the door.

Much of the media commentary on the interview has focused on his mobile phone loudly ringing twice during the live exchange. But honestly, that was the least of his problems.

With the obvious intention of distancing himself from the saga, he started by admitting he’d gone to South Africa on behalf of his firm – but claimed he rejected the unethical business deal.

Wark then read out an email from Bell to his team talking excitedly about how:

“The trip was a great success and we will put forward a deal whereby we will earn £100,000 per month plus costs and I will oversee this.”

Instead of having a credible response, Bell absurdly insisted this email conveyed “exactly the same as what I just said.”

The interview unravelled further from thereon in, descending into farce as his phone rang repeatedly and he fumbled in vain to switch it off.

Ultimtely, Bell’s claim that it’s “almost certainly” curtains for Bell Pottinger – with 240 jobs at stake – “but that’s nothing to do with me” came across as childlike and implausible.

It’s a sobering reminder to be prepared to respond to the worst in any media interview – not least a live Newsnight interview about a scandal in your firm.

See the full car crash of an interview here:

Media interview disaster


And for any help with your media interviews, see information on our our spokesperson training services.