Genial television presenter and former GMTV anchorman recalls interviewing Tony Blair, writes Paul Martin
He's a master of presentation – smooth, sincere-sounding and hardly ever lost for words. But Tony Blair is the most jittery interviewee Eamonn Holmes has ever encountered during his 13 years on the studio sofa.
‘He shakes, he quivers, he sweats,’ reveals the This Morning presenter. ‘I don't know why he's so jumpy, but it rubs off and he makes you feel nervous. The strange thing is, he's very good on air. It's before he goes on when he has the problem.’
Belfast man Eamonn is in reflective mood. He has just announced he is to quit GMTV after ten years and admits there have been plenty of highs and lows to look back at.
But the Prime Minister is not the only celebrity who's made life tough for Holmes. Magician David Blaine, Britney Spears and Iman Bowie also feature in his list of difficult subjects. As the longest-serving breakfast TV presenter in Britain, Holmes has had his share of disastrous moments.
He feared that he and co-presenter Fiona Phillips would be fired after a slip of the tongue during the countdown to the millennium. As he examined his digital counter, she declared: ‘I am sick of the sight of you and your damned cock.’
But most sticky situations have been provided by the guests. Singer Mariah Carey made ‘her people’ inform Holmes that she would be happy to talk to him – as long as she could lie down. He told them that was absolutely fine, on the condition that he lay alongside her. She refused. ‘How disrespectful was that?’ Holmes marvels.
Another chat that never happened was with Gordon Brown on Budget day. For once, Holmes overslept so badly that he was in danger of missing the show. Jumping out of bed, he ran a handful of gel through his hair and rushed to the studio – only to discover that he'd mistakenly put wax on his locks and it wouldn't wash out.
‘I looked like a cross between Coco the Clown and Bjork,’ he says. ‘Then they flattened it down and I looked like Adolf Hitler. In the end I was so stupid-looking I had to let Fiona do the interview with Gordon.’
Of course, life on the sofa isn't all bad. There have been plenty of pleasurable experiences, too – such as the time he bragged about knowing Catherine Zeta-Jones after she kissed him on the lips in front of millions of viewers.
Then there was the interview with Princess Diana shortly after the Shankill Road bombing in 1993. Reliving the meeting in a London hotel, he reveals: ‘She made a bee-line for me. She had the longest, loveliest pair of legs I'd ever seen.
‘The first thing she asked me was: “What do you think of my outfit?” She was wearing a green velvet suit with a black collar and she did a twirl and laughed: “It's RUC green. It would go down very well in your part of the world.”
‘Then suddenly her eyes filled with tears and she grabbed my arm and said: “Please tell the people of Northern Ireland that I feel so much for them. I want to show them that we care but they won't let me go. They don't think I should show compassion or that I'm on any side.'”
‘It turned out that the Palace had said she couldn't visit in the aftermath of the bombings,' reveals Holmes. 'She felt she could make a difference as someone who could have crossed the barrier, but you could see the politics of why she wasn't allowed. Then I asked her how her boys were and she started crying because they were about to go back to boarding school. Luckily, at that moment David Hasselhoff arrived and she went off to talk to him.’
Holmes' meeting with Britney Spears wasn't quite as exhilarating: ‘She was bored out of her tree and had absolutely nothing to say,’ he explains. ‘I asked about the movie and she said it was “cool”. Everyone she worked with was “cool” and they all spent their whole time “just hanging out, whatever”.
‘She gave the same daft answer to every question. I don't know if she's just stupid or couldn't be arsed, or what. I really couldn't work it out. She's a sexy girl, she can dance, and who are we to know what pressures she's under, but it was embarrassing.’
And Eamonn describes his meeting with actress Meg Ryan as ‘hideous’. He says: 'She was in When A Man Loves A Woman, in which she played an alcoholic. I remarked, "The critics are saying they're seeing a whole new Meg Ryan in this," and she snapped: “Why? What was wrong with the old Meg Ryan?” It got worse and worse. The final straw came when our producer asked her to sign something for her boyfriend, a huge fan, and she just snapped: “I don't do autographs.”’
But one person that he managed to get the better of was Prime Minister Tony Blair. ‘The Prime Minister is the most nervous interviewee I'd ever had on,’ he adds. Once, when the cameras were rolling, Blair looked terrified as Holmes announced he wanted an answer to the one question every viewer was desperate to know. When he finally asked: ‘Do you regret the Caesar haircut?’ Blair's relief was palpable.
So Holmes will now head off into the sunset at GMTV and bring down the curtain on this phase of his career. But don't be expecting him to disappear altogether: ‘I'll do any TV show they offer me,’ he adds. ‘I'll even do a panto.’
(Eamonn Holmes is now a presenter on Sky News Sunrise programme and is indeed doing panto this Christmas at Belfast Opera House – Ed)