This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.


"I don’t know that I’ll ever see an interview like that again in my lifetime," says Billie Piper. "Especially nowadays, where everything is so censored and controlled. That access and exposure… that self-exposure."

She pauses. "Actually, I’m not sure that I saw anything like that before."

There is, of course, only one interview that Piper could be talking about – the fateful 22-minute conversation between Prince Andrew and Emily Maitlis on Newsnight on 17th November 2019.

It has become one of the most raked-over TV moments of our times. You might wonder if we really need to revisit it so soon. What can we possibly learn from a drama that we haven’t already seen ourselves?

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The interview largely came about because of two formidable women: the former Newsnight interviews producer Sam McAlister, played by Piper, and Amanda Thirsk, played by Keeley Hawes, who served as Andrew’s private secretary until 2020, and who met McAlister several times before the actual interview went ahead.

Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil’s script, adapted from McAlister’s book Scoops, gives a fascinating insight into the workings of two troubled British institutions: the BBC and the royal family.

"It’s a bit like The Crown," says Hawes. "What’s really interesting is seeing behind the curtains. And it read like a thriller! It was unlike anything I was expecting it to be."

It’s a particularly great showcase for Piper, who says she had been following the Jeffrey Epstein story for many years – even before the Prince Andrew interview.

"Whenever there’s a story about abuse of women, I pay attention," she says. "I’m an ambassador for Refuge [the domestic abuse charity], so this is something that I feel passionately about: the protection of women and children specifically."

Still, she’s careful to point out that this isn’t a story about Epstein or his victims - rather about the women who brought a particular aspect of the story to our screens.

"The interview, whatever you feel about it, was such an important part of exposing this story. And [Sam and Amanda] were integral to that. So telling their story felt important to me. And seeing the things that we didn’t know about the interview, like the fact that it was signed off by the Palace, was fascinating to me."

Keeley Hawes as Amanda Thirsk in Scoop standing in front of a crowd of people with hands folded in front of her.
Keeley Hawes as Amanda Thirsk in Scoop. Netflix

This, indeed, is one of the extremely surprising aspects of the interview: not only that it happened at all, but that almost all of the talking points were raised in discussions between the two teams beforehand.

As far as Thirsk is concerned, Hawes believes her intentions came from a "good place".

"I think that was probably a consequence of being in that bubble. She simply thought, 'This is what we need.' I think she was probably right: we did need to hear from him at that moment."

If Thirsk is the consummate palace insider, McAlister cuts an outsiderish figure in the newsroom. Her Newsnight colleagues prefer to stage endless debates about Brexit rather than chase down royal stories, and are sceptical about her ability to land the interview. The tenacious McAlister is determined to prove them wrong.

It’s clear that Piper feels a strong admiration for her. "When I met her, I thought, 'Oh my god, your spirit is unlike anyone I’ve ever met in your industry!' And it’s obviously the key to her success.

"We have quite similar working-class backgrounds. She’s also this absolute force of nature. Not chilly. Not steely – although I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her – but incredibly likeable and bright. Those are the kind of women I feel compelled to be more like as a person, but also to play in my work."

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It’s not so long ago that we saw Piper in I Hate Suzie, a panic attack of a series in which she played a celebrity whose private life becomes public property. Here, she plays a woman who is working to expose someone else’s deepest secrets. I wonder if she enjoyed seeing things from the other side?

"It’s all fascinating material for me, to be honest," she laughs. "But when it comes to people in positions of power, people that have to be accountable, I feel a bit differently. I think we deserve to know the truth about what they’re up to and what they’re doing. More so than, let’s say, Britney Spears on a Friday night."

As for what the interview achieved – that’s harder to say. Piper declines to be drawn on the royal family as a whole. "I have very strong feelings about them – but it’s not necessarily helpful for me to put them into the world. It just contributes to this endless discourse that I can’t be bothered with."

But when we know so little of what goes on behind the scenes, it’s drama that fills in the gaps. Hawes notes that there has been a trend in recent years for dramatising the recent past. "I suppose it’s just a question of wanting more," she says. "It’s a bit like doom-scrolling through the never-ending news. People are just there for it. Every single bit of information."

Overall, Hawes hopes that Scoop will serve to celebrate an "extraordinary piece of journalism". "It doesn’t feel like we’re sensationalising it – and it’s not something that should be sensationalised," she says. "It’s celebrating the work these women put in. And it’s just horribly entertaining."

Scoop Radio Times cover with the stars of Scoop on the front
Scoop in Radio Times magazine.

Scoop will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday 5th April 2024. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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