Kirsty Wark greets me at the front door of her London pad wearing a pinny and no make-up. Truly impressive: here is a woman so comfortable in her skin (and in HD) who instantly inspires trust and warmth – the latter greatly helped by the spring sunshine that splits the sky.
Setting up our camera on a balcony with a view over New Broadcasting House seems apt for an icon of BBC News. There is nothing easy about the prospect of interviewing such a formidable interviewer, even if she is the most personable news and current affairs Rottweiler you could meet.
Her easy and expansive smile makes me realise how little we know about the ‘other’ Kirsty Wark. Her Central London balcony seems a universe away from the Isle of Arran in western Scotland, the place that inspired Kirsty to write her first novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle. When I ask if Jeremy Paxman, her co-host on Newsnight has read the book she says, “Oh I’m not sure I gave him a copy…” Ships in the night.
Rothko said you really have got to come to a point with a painting where you have to walk away from it and end the emotional engagement with it, or you’ll never leave it alone… I understood that idea that you have to stop and think, I’ve told my story now.”
I’m keen to know what it felt like to write a book of her own when she has spent so long reviewing other people’s work. How daunting must that have been? Did she hear Tom Paulin’s critical voice in her head as she wrote a beautiful line, of which there are many in the book? Was she self-conscious? Her answers are emotionally honest and generous. An art that people who are used to being on camera strive for, but very few perfect. Her passion and enthusiasm for her characters come through in vivid tales of how she found their voices. She makes it sound like they all had coffee together just last week. On the page too, the reader feels instantly close to the three generations of women she has given life to. Perhaps the greatest character in the novel is Arran itself. She successfully transforms her personal connection with the island into a deep longing in the reader to visit this magical place. I am no exception.
In our interview, she moves seamlessly between historical facts, and quotes from artists while recounting personal experiences of loss in a way that I guess you would expect of someone who’s knowledge base is so vast. Her winding interests, from gardening to a love of New York, confirm she’s someone you’d definitely want to sit next to at a dinner party – a quality she shares with Elizabeth Pringle.
Kirsty gives something of herself here that we are not often privileged to see on television. As I leave I feel a sense of sadness that I may not get the chance to hang out with her again.
Kirsty Wark is a journalist, broadcaster and writer who hosts a variety of BBC programmes including Newsnight and The Review Show and arts documentaries. Her home has always been Scotland and her family’s connection to Arran goes back many years. The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Read more.
Katherine Nathan is a co-founder of the video production company Ratchet Films and a contributing editor at Bookanista.