Boyd Hilton revealed to journalism students that he still gets nervous interviewing celebrities even 30 years on in his career – but he had some helpful advice on managing the nerves.
Hilton, the current entertainment editor for Heat Magazine, confessed he thought “…it would be weird to not be nervous if you were interviewing Elton John.”
Speaking to students at Leeds Trinity University’s Journalism and Media Week, he reassured them that it is normal and there are ways to deal with the nerves.
“Dealing with that and finding a way around that can be a challenge, ” he said.
“Try to remember this is a normal human being as much as you possibly can.
“Chat as you would if you were interviewing them over a coffee at Starbucks.”
Hilton also runs the weekly Pilot’s TV Podcast where he speaks to celebrity guests on their ventures in TV and film, an area which has been a major interest for him since his college days.
He explained that it is helpful to have a niche interest when breaking into the industry so that interviewees feel comfortable knowing that you have an understanding around the projects they are promoting.
He said: “Being armed with knowledge about a person…that to me, helps out.”
Hilton divulged that he was to interview actor Gary Oldman about his show Slow Horses straight after his talk.
“Last night I read up on recent interviews and watched the show in its entirety.
“Research and remind yourself of what his greatest hits were in his career…that’s important.
“I’m never going to put myself in a position where I’m interviewing someone…where I barely have an idea about what they’ve done.”
To relax in a nerve-wracking interview, Hilton said that he likes to give himself time to remind himself of what the interviewee is like.
Hilton said: “I do quite a lot of preparation even for a half an hour interview”, as he explained that having over an hour with an interviewee these days is rarer.
When asked about how to maintain a good relationship with the interviewee, Hilton explained that “eye contact is absolutely key” and the questions should be fresh.
He said: “You have to find a new way in and new things to talk to them about.”
When hosting live Q and As, he advises that you need to have a natural conversation with the person.
“Forget about the audience. If I’m doing a live event in front of 300 ppl at the BAFTAs, I will completely blank out the fact that the audience is there.”
He emphasised to journalism students that doing as much background research is most important and is what eventually makes his job “intrinsically enjoyable”.
Hilton told students that doing online remote interviews had revolutionised his business.
“Publicity junkets are just horrible situations where you get maybe 20 minutes to speak to an actor and the whole thing can be quite stressful,” he said. “I know for a fact that a lot of the publicists and often the stars themselves prefer to do things on Zoom where you can take more time.
“Zoom has really helped and was an unexpected offshoot of Covid.”