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12 April 2023updated 12 Oct 2023 11:27am

Jemima Khan on 110 years of the New Statesman: “I felt bad about my Nick Clegg interview”

The screenwriter recalls her time as the magazine’s associate editor, 2011-2015.

By Melissa Denes

When Jemima Khan got the call to ask if she’d guest-edit the New Statesman in 2011, her first instinct was to say no: “I was worried about getting flak for it.” She had, however, taken a recent decision to say yes to anything intimidating and so accepted, commissioning a rich issue on the theme of free speech. Oliver Stone wrote about the Obama presidency, and Jarvis Cocker on New Labour’s long hang-over. Khan wrote her own deftly revealing interview with a haunted Nick Clegg, then deputy prime minister: “Pale-faced, pale-eyed and so tired he appears taxidermied… Clegg is the Tim Henman of British politics.” The profile was syndicated in the Daily Mail, and Clegg’s admission that his son had asked him, “Why are the students angry with you, Papa?” made headlines elsewhere.

But Khan’s favourite story was by Hugh Grant, in which the actor turned the tables on a former tabloid journalist, secretly recording a jaw-droppingly detailed account of Fleet Street phone hacking in a Kent pub. “‘The bugger, bugged’ was definitely the best piece in the issue. It was so brilliantly subversive, and the first time that Hugh had taken a shot back at the press. It was an incredibly timely snowball in the phone-hacking saga.”

In November 2011 Khan joined the New Statesman as associate editor. She wrote interviews and profiles – of Julian Assange, Vivienne Westwood, John Cleese – and worked on guest edits with Russell Brand and Neil Gaiman. She loved being dispatched to profile Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone in the run-up to the 2012 London mayoral elections, but admits to interviewer’s regret over other subjects. “I talked to Clegg on a train, and I think he was expecting a soft-ball interview. Someone seated behind us tweeted that I had given him the grilling of his life. While I was happy that it was deemed a success, I did feel bad because I liked him as a person.”

In 2015 Khan left to launch a television production company, working mostly on political documentaries; she recently wrote her first feature film, What’s Love Got to Do With It?. Can she picture a limited series set in the rollercoaster world of a political weekly? “Yes! Instead of those intimidating editorial meetings, we should create a writers’ room, with Helen Lewis, Samira Shackle, Sophie Elmhirst and all the other brilliant people I worked with and come up with a series together. Let’s do it!”

[See also: John Cleese meets Jemima Khan]

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This article appears in the 12 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Anniversary Issue