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30 September 2022

I organised Liz Truss’s local radio interviews – here’s how it all unfolded

Sometimes local radio and regional news programmes get overlooked, but not that day.

By Phoebe Frieze

I was in the Labour Party conference newsroom in Liverpool, talking to press officers about a set of local radio interviews with Angela Rayner, when I got the call from No 10.

I’m the editor of the Millbank Regions team and one of my big jobs is to invite the leaders of each party to speak to BBC local radio and television audiences before their respective party conferences. I bid on behalf of all 40 local radio stations in England, all 13 political editors in England, plus the political editors in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The bid request itself was made months ago, at first with the teams of the final two Tory party leadership contenders, and then when Liz Truss was elected I followed up with various people in her team. It was after the Queen’s funeral on 19 September that it became clear that my bid was being seriously considered. And then on Wednesday 28 September it was confirmed: Truss would do a series of interviews the very next day

Planning for a one-on-one interview between a political editor and a prime minister is a huge logistical event, but imagine planning for 16 of those, and then add on eight local radio interviews. It’s a lot of work. On top of that, I was only just travelling back from Liverpool.

First, camera crews were mobilised to film all 16 interviews from inside Downing Street and regional political editors were informed. Then I alerted local radio station news editors that our bid for Truss had been successful, but with only eight slots available it felt a bit like how I imagine launching Glastonbury ticket sales would be.

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As these were going to be the Prime Minister’s first interviews since the Chancellor’s mini-Budget sent the pound down against the dollar and forced the Bank of England to spent billions of pounds to protect pension funds, it’s fair to say there was great deal of interest from within the BBC. I planned it all meticulously, told everyone who needed to know and closed my laptop for the day once I had finally returned to London.

Then later that evening the timings of the local radio interviews were leaked to the parliamentary lobby and they started trending on Twitter. I felt like the pressure on me was mounting: what if the PM pulled out and then local stations had this massive gap to fill in their programmes? I called my boss to talk through my anxiety, which I realised, while I was on the phone to her, was completely irrational. I did manage to get some sleep. Only five hours, but still something.

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The next day, as I was on the Tube travelling to Westminster, Politico’s London Playbook popped into my inbox and I noticed that my team and I had been namechecked. Wow, thank you!

I knocked on the black door to No 10 and as I walked in Larry the cat was sitting on a rug by the entrance. Sadly he ignored me. Much like every other cat I’ve come across, however much I called his name Larry was not interested. 

After that disappointment I was taken into the room where the radio interviews were going to take place, poured myself a coffee that I never drank, and waited like many people poised across the country for 8.00am to chime and the first interview to begin.

Truss did her eight radio interviews in a row, going from questions about energy bills to fracking to migration. After a break we moved into a different room, where the TV crews had set up, and did one network clip followed by the series of 16 interviews with regional political editors. That’s 25 interviews in a row.

By the time I got back to the BBC Westminster newsroom, BBC Sounds had collated all the local radio interviews into a series. Newscast was talking about them. The interviews were clipped for TV, online and radio. Copy was written. Everyone was talking about it.

Sometimes local radio and regional news programmes get overlooked, but not that day. Network programmes and newspapers were referencing the different local radio stations and lines from the political editors.

I don’t think I’ve properly processed any of this yet, and may not until the party conference season is over. But I know that none of the production would have been possible without my Millbank Regions team, the wider BBC Westminster office and the whole of BBC News mobilising.

And then getting asked to write this – cherry on the cake.

[See also: What can Liz Truss possibly say now?]

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