On 8 March 2017, we interviewed Tim Peake at King’s College London.
In the article below, Catherine describes how it came about, but if you want to skip straight to the interview, you can find it here.
At the beginning of March, on a day I was working from home, I opened my email to find a message from Susan Buckle at UK Space Agency.
‘Can’t get through to you. Phone me as soon as you read this!’
I was about to switch off the computer and head out, but it sounded urgent so I called.
‘Tim’s in London soon and might have a spare hour. Could you do something useful?’
Could we? There was only a week. We’d not only need to sort out a plan, a place and people, but also get approval from ESA, agreement from Tim – oh! – and work out where any money we might end up spending would come from. And the week included a weekend and two days when I’d be in Darmstadt (although that’s another story).
‘Absolutely!’ I replied – far more quickly than the last paragraph might suggest.
We batted around ideas for a bit and came to the conclusion that the best thing to do would be an interview about taking photographs of the Earth from space and how the International Space Station contributes to Earth observation science. Sounded good, apart from one thing: Susan said we should film it.
‘Seriously? I’ve been interviewed once or twice, but never been the person asking the questions.’
‘You’ll be fine!’ she said, pointing out that I’d already got plenty of ideas about what to ask and that, having met Tim before, I was unlikely to go all fangirl and be struck dumb.
I wasn’t so sure, but had to accept there wasn’t really time to brief someone else. Besides, I reassured myself, they could always edit me out in the end.
Over the next couple of days, I refined the list of questions and put them in an order that seemed to make some sort of sense. By Friday lunchtime, it seemed we had a venue and a videographer too.
But we all know what Robbie Burns told the mouse about ‘the best-laid schemes’ …
Thankfully, while I was away, other people were able and willing to sort out various potential changes of schedule and the inevitable glitches that arose – or most of them: when the train started kicking up ballast that clanged against the underside of our carriage, they couldn’t really help. (In the end, the guard found a hacksaw to amputate the chunk of metal that was causing the problem.) In spite of this, and an Ealing comedy moment where we piled into a taxi to dash across London (don’t ask), we were set up and ready to go by the time Tim arrived.
Of course, Tim is well-used to being interviewed by now so, after greetings, introductions and a quick second glance at the questions we got straight down to work. I was relieved that he was more than happy to phrase his answers so they could stand alone, and impressed by his ability to deal with a few unexpected extras, making sure that gaps were covered and that he didn’t repeat points he’d already made.
Having established that we’d probably dealt with all the relevant questions, we had a chat about space debris and cosmic velocities while David, the videographer, shot some additional footage and took a couple of stills. Tim was also prepared for what came next: he had a Sharpie to hand to sign the atlases that we gave as prizes for our games workshop (plus the other books that it seemed everyone but me had brought for him to autograph) and posed for the obligatory selfies (somehow, I missed out on those too) before racing off to his next appointment.
So, how did it all turn out?
I’ll leave you to judge. You can watch the full interview (it lasts about 20 minutes) here, on the main NCEO website.
Making a video like this needs many more people than the two who appear in it. The others who were involved in this one came from several organisations.
- Impact Media Specialists: David Martin
- NCEO/University of Leicester: Rosie Leigh, Sophie Hebden, John Remedios, Jane Hull
- NCEO/King’s College London: Martin Wooster
- UK Space Agency: Susan Buckle, Jeremy Curtis, Libby Jackson
- ESA: Lorraine Conroy, Margherita Buoso
- University of Leicester: Colette Godfrey
- King’s College London: Fenner Holman, Ben Gridley, Francis O’Shea