Jeremy Paxman on why he’s trading news for comedy in this year’s election

The veteran journalist will be co-presenting Channel 4's alternative election coverage alongisde David Mitchell, Richard Osman and other entertainment figures

It seems nothing can diminish his good mood. He is excited about the election, he says. “I think it really matters… I’ve no sympathy whatsoever with people who say ‘I don’t vote’.” (He did admit to RT 18 months ago that he had once abstained from voting.)

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He once described himself as “a one-nation Tory”. Who is he going to vote for this time?

“Mind your own business.”

He has no sympathy – “none whatsoever” – with the comedian Russell Brand (below), who previously encouraged people not to vote in protest at the deficiencies of our democratic system [though since the time of this interview, Brand has encouraged people to vote Labour].

“I’m just astonished anyone would take that position [not to vote] seriously,” says Paxman now. “It’s the position of an idiot.”

Would he be in favour of the introduction of compulsory voting, as in Australia?

“On the whole, I’m in favour of the state getting out of people’s lives, but I would not have a problem with voting being made compulsory. But if you did that, you’d have to have a box for ‘None of the above’.”

He acknowledges there are serious shortcomings in the way politics is conducted in Britain, most notably the “self-selecting bunch” of MPs currently sitting on the upholstered green benches of Parliament. The choice at this general election, he says, “is between one man who was at primary school with Boris Johnson and one man who was at secondary school with him, both of whom did PPE at Oxford.” He snorts. “What a high old world!”

If it were up to him, Paxman would dust off the cobwebs, make the House of Commons into “a museum” and build a new Parliament “in some garden city in the Midlands”. As for modern politicians? “I really wish they just had a bigger interest in the world.”

In the week that we talk, Nick Clegg is pictured with the reality TV star Joey Essex at a Liberal Democrat press conference. During a bout of laser-sharp questioning reminiscent of Paxo’s most incisive interviews, Essex asked Clegg why his party has such a “weird” name. It turned out he mistakenly believed they are called the Liberal Demo-cats.

Does Paxman know who Joey Essex is?

He guffaws. “Of course I know who Joey Essex is!”

Has he watched The Only Way Is Essex?

“I have. I didn’t like it as much as I like Take Me Out, which I think is a fantastic show.”

I’m sorry, I say. I thought I just heard you say you like ITV’s downmarket dating show…

“I do!”

In fact, it turns out Paxman has quite an extensive hinterland when it comes to trash TV. He has seen Made in Chelsea (“Just because I don’t like the people in it… it’s probably a reflection on me, not them”) and makes a knowledgeable passing reference to The Voice UK.

Yes, Paxman certainly has mastered the knack of being unexpected. As it happens, this isn’t the first time I’ve interviewed him. On the last occasion, I was a 17-year-old wannabe journalist and Paxman kindly agreed to talk to me for the Malvern Gazette on the recommendation of my French teacher, Mr Leng, who had been Paxman’s housemaster at Malvern College in the late 1960s.

Back in 1996, I asked Paxman which Winnie- the-Pooh character he most related to. He said Eeyore. What about now, I wonder?

“It’s still damp in my part of the forest, I’m afraid,” he says. “But I think I’m getting slightly more Tiggerish in my old age.”

It’s true: he’s bouncier than he’d have you believe.

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Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night begins on Thursday 7th May at 9.00pm, and runs until 6.00am