On Monday evening I found myself, thanks to a combination of both the unique way Transport for London is run and the quaffing of cognitive lubrication during an extended editorial meeting, running late to attend an event titled “A Brand New Politics”.
It was being hosted by new media titans The Huffington Post, who are cashing in on the star-pulling power of their political editor Mehdi Hasan and securing high profile interviews with global thinkfluencers, such as tonight’s guest, Russell Brand.
Sweaty and out of breath, I entered a dimly lit room in one of London’s most exclusive venues, Shoreditch House, and squeezed myself between the bright young things who were packing out the room.
Russell was running late, but Mehdi Hasan couldn’t hold back any longer, and after a few fidgety moments he spontaneously burst into the introduction he’d been practicing in the mirror all week.
“I’ve introduced Prime Ministers and Nobel Prize winners, but I’ve never interviewed someone quite like tonight’s guest!” he exclaimed, feverishly.
Then we had to wait for a bit. Cloying spiel off his chest, Mehdi sat down, assumed his best Michael Parkinson pose and awaited the arrival of his leading man. After a nervous few minutes, Russell finally bounded in, eased the tension with a few jokes, and settled down a grilling.
“On Newsnight, you called for total revolution,” Mehdi cooed.
“Yes!” Russell shrieked as he punched the air. Lost for words, Mehdi could only gaze back, beaming.
As the evening progressed, the interview hit its stride with Mehdi cleverly engaging with Russell’s banter in an attempt to catch the comedian off-guard, with hard-ball questions such as:
“You say voting is a tacit act of compliance, and unlike Paxman I can see where you’re coming from.”
But, despite his best efforts, it gradually became clear that the interview was slipping away from Mehdi as Russell began to neglect the eminent political commentator and address the crowd directly. He waxed lyrical about quantitative easing, expressed solidarity with terrorists and downed a bottle of water.
Mehdi looked on, in awe.
In a last-ditch effort to wrestle the evening back under control, Mehdi reassumed the interviewer pose he’d been practicing and challenged Russell to a word association game. But Russell struggled with the concept of giving succinct answers.
“Good answer Russell, but it works better if you do it quick.”
“You don’t get to make the rules!” Russell shot back.
Mehdi laughed apprehensively and slouched back into his chair, realising for the last time who the man in this intercourse was. As Russell’s expositions on religion and press regulation wore on, he began to notice traces of battered wife creep in to Mehdi’s body language and tried to cheer him up a bit.
“I love you Mehdi,” Russell suddenly screamed.
That did raise our intrepid interviewer’s spirits somewhat, who nervously giggled back: “We all love each other.”
And, with that renewed confidence, Mehdi closed off the night with the question he’d been waiting to ask all night.
“Russell, are you single?”