Working for an NGO can be pretty routine sometimes – meetings, papers, teleconferences. And then the press office phones up and asks ‘would you mind going on Al Jazeera to discuss the food price crisis with Sir David Frost and Carl Lewis?’ Hell yeah. For those of you who are too young to remember, Carl Lewis won 9 (that’s nine) Olympic gold medals as a US sprinter and long jumper, sported a memorable flat top, and was probably the coolest man on the planet. David Frost did/was none of those things, but he did crack open Richard Nixon over Watergate.
So it’s off to the Al Jazeera office in a swanky part of London, where I am ushered into the waiting room with the other panellists (or rather sofa-ists, given absence of a table), Sir Gordon Conway, former chief scientific adviser at DFID, and Matt Ridley, the token sceptic. Just before we go on air, the TV in the waiting room flicks across to the food riots on the streets of Cairo, a reminder that the topic is deadly serious, however friendly the studio chat. A spot of make-up and then we’re led to the sofa and David Frost, resplendent in pin stripe suit and startling red socks. Meanwhile Carl Lewis, who still looks gorgeous, though a bit greyer, comes over the satellite feed from Philadelphia.
Recording starts. Frost kicks off by asking if we face a dystopian future of riots, hunger and chaos. Carl is clearly the star turn, and Frost turns to him first – he is now ambassador for the FAO, and is clearly sharp and well briefed. Then to Gordon Conway on the science, and then it’s my turn. ‘So Damian’, begins Sir David. Damn, what do I do? Change my name? No, it’s a pre-record, so I correct him. I don’t think he likes me much after that. Not a good start …… But I recover and make a few points (which hopefully they won’t edit out)
I thought the 25 minute conversation was a bit too amicable to make good TV, but judge for yourself here.