Ben Shephard: "It's a really important moment in British culture"
You’re involved in a campaign to make sure everybody knows how to cook five dishes by the age of 25. Did you know how to do that?
I didn’t. I was part of the heat and eat generation. I left university and I was about as useful at cooking as a handbrake in a canoe. After becoming a parent I’m much more conscious about the food that I eat and how it’s prepared.
What’s so bad about just eating ready meals?
If you can apply yourself in the kitchen there’s every chance you’re going to be more creative in the other areas of your life. If we can get kids eating really healthy produce and cooking for themselves you’re also helping them become independent, which is really a key factor.
Has the Olympics made everyone think more about leading healthier lifestyles?
Yeah! It’s been a really important moment in British culture. There was a lot of fear about it, a lot of cynicism, but we’ve all been blown away by Team GB. I’d like to think the athletes I was lucky enough to meet inspire young people not only to get out there and get physical, but also take care of themselves better.
You presented from the stadium every day during the Games. What were the standout moments you were lucky enough to witness?
The atmosphere on Super Saturday with Jess, Greg and Mo winning was like nothing anybody had felt before. The highlight of my career was interviewing Mo Farah and Usain Bolt trackside on the final night. I saw Michael Phelps win and young Tom dive. He looked so small on that board, and not just his trunks. I’m probably boring you now.
At the velodrome, Chris Hoy’s wife tapped me on the shoulder and introduced herself. She was physically shaking with nerves. I’ve got wild dreams of my kids being Olympians, but in a moment of clarity I realised the pain and trauma the families go through. Everything in the last four years revolves around that one moment when he gets to the start line. We all took it for granted because Team GB made it look so easy!
How long do you think the positive energy can last?
My boys are 7 and 5 and they’re training for Rio already. They’re desperate to be athletes. To be honest they’re desperate to be doing judo so they can fight more. We’re very quick to criticise ourselves, to have a cheeky snipe, but we should be all be proud. I had a great conversation with Louise Hazel who is one of our heptathletes and she had a really good idea. She was saying they need to be given mentoring and ambassadorial roles and ambassadorial roles in education. That would keep the momentum going. It’s too good an opportunity to miss.
In a decade of GMTV and beyond, you’ve interviewed countless stars. What’s the trick to getting them onside at the start?
Something I pride myself on is I’m passionate about people. I’m quite an inquisitive person so it’s my job when I’m interviewing people, whether it’s a footballer as it often is now on Sky Sports, or a Prime Minister, or a business leader, or a member of the public, you have to make them feel comfortable as quickly as possible because you’ve only got a few minutes to get their story across. Bring references from your own life, try find a bond with them, but it’s not an exact science, Steven. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
I remember the first time I saw you on TV was on The Big Breakfast…
You know what, my director at the Olympics was the floor manager at The Big Breakfast. There were moments that felt equally as crazy. How do you sex up collecting javelins and hammers? Get remote control minis! That’s classic Big Breakfast.
The old Big Breakfast house is right next to the Olympic site. Did it feel like your career had come full circle?
It had been such a long time since any of us had been there and there was something quite poetic about it – this is where it all started for me.
You presented The Xtra Factor when it first began. Can the promise of instant fame survive in a post-Olympics climate?
We all love being entertained and the reality is The X Factor is a TV show. Anybody who’s in it for 15 minutes of fame gets found out very quickly. There’s no yellow brick road to success in any pursuit, whether it’s music, or sports, or TV presenting.
Ben Shephard is supporting the Red Tractor beef and lamb 5by25 campaign to get young people cooking. Vote for ‘Ben’s Shepherd’s Pie’ and master this dish at www.5by25.com