Ask Jon Snow about his vices and he says: “I talk a lot.” He certainly does. About politics, about sex, about a dread of working for the BBC – and about taking drugs. Mind-warping quantities of them. But the evening we meet, he’s sustained by a legal “high” – the adrenaline gained from live presenting.
Our interview takes place at ITN headquarters in central London, the glass-fronted statement building from where ITV News and Channel 4 News broadcast. One floor up in the vast atrium, Mark Austin can be seen preparing for ITV’s 10pm bulletin; down in the basement, that night’s Channel 4 News has just ended and Snow – in signature lurid tie of orange, navy and lime, with matching orange socks – is still buzzing.
“Live television is as exciting to me as ever,” he says, sprawled on a leather sofa in the programme’s open-plan office. “Absolutely nothing better. This is a brilliant programme, going into things in depth as we do. And I’m still learning, which is good, as I was very thick as a student. I started from dim beginnings, although I believe journalists on TV should have a limited intellect because then you don’t ask questions the medium can’t cope with.”
Within hailing distance of his eighth decade, he has no interest in stepping off the professional gas, helped perhaps since the format of Channel 4 News was remodelled in 2011 to accommodate two presenters. Does he never feel like slowing down?
“Only when my chain is sticking on my bike,” he says. He still faithfully commutes two miles by bicy – cle from the north London home he shares with Zimbabwe-born academic Precious Lunga, 40, whom he married in 2010. It followed the end of his 35-year relationship with human rights lawyer Madeleine Colvin, with whom he has two adult daughters.
“I’m a maverick, a rebel,” states Snow. “I question everything. Because I work at Channel 4, I have no fixed points to prevent me asking anything. I couldn’t do those things at the BBC. They’ve only ever asked me once, 20 years ago. They wanted me to anchor the One ‘Clock News. It wasn’t remotely difficult to turn them down – it was an incredibly boring programme.”
Does he think it still is? “I don’t watch it. Lunchtime news on every channel is a problem. They’re the poor relation, because everyone is aiming for the primetime bulletin. The thought of being strapped in a chair five days a week with no option to run about and find out what’s going on… I’m not just an anchor, I’m an activist.”
He wears the maverick label proudly and unlike many interviewees remains fiercely independent in both thought and deed. There’s an element of mischief about him as well. He agrees to this inter – view against the wishes of his PR minders. But then, hours after giving RT the exclusive on his dabblings with skunk – the stronger form of cannabis thought to be responsible for mental health problems such as paranoia and schizophrenia in 60,000 Britons – shares the story on his online blog.
A frustrating reminder that he does, indeed, talk a lot.
Still, certain politicians who have been skewered over the years by his forensic interviewing may now be chortling at the idea that – thanks to those skunk revelations – Snow is officially off his head… albeit specifically in the context of a scientific trial to be screened during Drugs Live: Cannabis on Trial.