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Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News by Emily Maitlis @maitlis @MichaelJBooks #bookreview #nonfiction

April 21, 2019

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18th April 2019 from Michael Joseph
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0241362853

Emily Maitlis has a really uplifting writing style which makes this book a joy to read. Coupled with a sense of self-doubt and a humour that is sometimes wry and which she occasionally turns on herself, this makes Airhead a delightful and fast read.

This is not an autobiography; rather it is a series of anecdotes and memorable interviews Maitlis has conducted.  She wanted, she says, to show that more often than not, broadcasting is more cock-up than conspiracy. She does that, but in doing so, she also shows us that in a fast moving news environment keeping your head is everything if you are to deliver that interview.

Her interviewees range from Donald Trump at the Miss USA Beauty Pageant to Sheryl Sandberg on grief to Emma Thompson and the Chippendales on #MeToo and Theresa May after Grenfell.

The Grenfell Tower chapter is particularly poignant. Maitlis and her neighbours were volunteering after the fire, helping to find clothing, personal hygiene materials, food and shelter for the rescued residents. Interviewing Theresa May in the aftermath of a completely horrendous situation, her own feelings were less than calm.

She discusses Piers Morgan in an almost affectionate way but her best moments come when she is commenting as an aside on people or events. She relates the story of being in India to interview Bill Clinton on part of the Clinton Foundation’s work there on HIV. Afterwards, in her hotel, she is looking longingly at a cashmere pashmina when she sees the former President walk in. Embarrassed to be seen coveting such luxury after spending the day contemplating the poverty of India, she winds the pashmina over her face, only to see Bill Clinton walk over to the book table and pick up a beautifully decorated copy of the Kama Sutra.

She is very funny on her interview with the Dalai Lama, whom she slowly comes to realise will not give her a straight answer to any question she asks. It is, she reflects, just like talking to any blustering politician.

She worries about her frizzy hair, lack of sleep and hastily put on make-up when she’s out on location, yet she leaves us with the impression of a woman who is at the top of her game; who can balance the personal and the political in interviews and come out with the right mix and who is thoughtful and intelligent when considering the questions to be asked.

Airhead is anything but vacuous; it is a series of beautifully observed interviews from the interviewer’s perspective, told with compassion, wit and elegance – much like the lady herself.

Verdict: Well written, wry, perceptive and intelligent anecdotes from a well-travelled journalist.


Emily was born in Canada and raised in Sheffield. She began her career in news in the Far East, in the lead up to the Hong Kong Handover – and reported from Cambodia, China and the Philippines, before joining Sky news in the UK as a business correspondent.

Emily came to the BBC in 2001, initially as the main presenter of the revamped BBC London News, before joining Newsnight. She became the programme’s political editor in 2012, briefly, before moving into full time presenting for Newsnight and reporting much of its US political coverage.

Alongside the BBC Two programme she has a primary role in covering the US, UK and European elections for the BBC. She has made documentaries for BBC Two, on Donald Trump, Nicolas Sarkozy, Mark Zuckerberg and, for Radio 4, on Madonna. She writes regularly for UK newspapers and magazines.

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