Landmark interviews that changed the game
Tell-all interviews usually reek of sex. Mostly adulterous, always complicated, sometimes violent and just like an old-school western – with the “goodie” and “baddie” laid out plain for all to see.
Tragedy, celebrity, victory, great wealth or misfortunes get a look in too. Ditto multiple childbirth, homosexual offspring and gender transformation surgery.
They’re trashy, melodramatic, addictive and moving. They can be tragic. But the best tell-alls give us something else as well.
A portrait of inner life
Newsweek hit the internet traffic jackpot on Monday when they scored the first interview with Nafissatou Diallo; the Guinean woman at the centre of the ex-IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex scandal, otherwise known as the “DSK-maid”. But this is no ‘Maid in Manhattan’ fairytale.
Among the brutal details of the alleged attack in room 2840 of the Sofitel Hotel in New York this May; is a revealing portrait of the life of an illiterate New York immigrant; a single mother who escaped rape in Guinea in 2003; living in the Bronx, full of pride for job she held down at the hotel.
How her tell-all interview will impact her legal case is unknown but exposing the subject’s vulnerability isn’t a new tactic either.
In 1962 Marilyn Monroe gave an exclusive interview to Life magazine. It was weeks after she’d been fired from the set of Something’s Gotta Give and four months before she committed suicide.
The Guardian called it one of the best interviews of the 20th century and it’s hard to disagree; it’s a powerfully raw revelation of her inner life.
Instead of just breasts, hair and legs, the interview revealed an intelligent, emotionally sensitive woman, who grow up in foster homes and was constantly looking for approval:
“Some of my foster families used to send me to the movies to get me out of the house and there I’d sit ….up in front there with the screen so big, a little kid alone and I loved it.”
Elin Nordegren waited for confirmation of her divorce from Tiger Woods before giving her exclusive interview to People last August – almost a year on from his scandalous revelations.
People said they spent 19 hours in Nordegren’s home, rifling through old family snaps, and sold 1.5 million copies of the magazine.
Somewhere way down the other end of the spectrum comes Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern who spent a lot of quality time with President Bill Clinton.
According to Barbara Walters, Lewinsky was offered millions from other networks to tell her story, but she turned them all down because the most important thing to her was to “clear her name”. And 74 million people watched it live.
By far the most seductive of all are the interviews that take us “inside” the world of scandal, power, celebrity, royalty and glamour.
Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana was so powerful, the phrase “Her Royal Highness” was stripped from her title and the Queen demanded the couple be granted an early divorce.
And who can forget Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch interviews? Oprah in 1993, watched by 100 million and Martin Bashir in 2003, watched by 14 million. Jackson answered questions on everything from his childhood abuse, sex life and plastic surgery.
Influencing the public record
Television tell-alls take things up an octave.
Three years after Tony Blair stood down from Number 10 he gave an exclusive interview to BBC journalist Andrew Marr and the close-up camera shots said it all.
Blair looked tanned, focused and relaxed but in truth the interview revealed his grief and regret over the Iraq war casualties that “weighed down on him”.
Matthew Johns’ visible shame and regret as he faced the music with Tracey Grimshaw seven years after his involvement in a group sex scandal was also great television.
Grimshaw was “blindsided” by the responses; receiving accolades from within the media for her “tough questioning” and a mixture of abuse and praise from the general public.
Johns’ best television weapon was his loyal wife Trish, who sat through the hour long ordeal, holding his hand and was said to have thrown up in the Channel Nine studios when they came off air.
Call it sordid, or tacky, or voyeuristic, but many of us love the tell-all interview. What’s your favourite?
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