British broadcasting legend Sir David Frost has interviewed eight British Prime Ministers and seven US Presidents in a career spanning 52 years. His conversations with the men and women who have ruled the Western world for the last six decades have given him a unique insight into leadership, and a rare opportunity to push boundaries where others would not dare.
In a series of interviews with former US President Richard Nixon in 1977, he uncovered facts about the Watergate scandal that resulted in the public accepting beyond any reasonable doubt that Nixon obstructed justice during the investigation. These events were the subject of the 2008 Ron Howard film Frost/Nixon.
Host of several prominent TV programmes including That Was the Week That Was (1962) The David Frost Show (1962-1972) and Breakfast with Frost, which ran from 1993 until 2005, Frost was most recently a presenter for Al Jazeera English.
Last month he took part in the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Global Summit 2013 in Abu Dhabi, where travel and tourism leaders gathered to talk about the future of travel and the role of leadership. We caught up with him during the event.
When you look back at all the world leaders you have interviewed, what is more apparent, their similarities or their differences?
Power has a sort of after-effect, which gives people a sense of certainty and an ability to reach out to people. It can also be destructive, but not necessarily. You can see with politicians who have just come to power that for the first year, they look much better and much younger.Partially it’s the joy of having won the election, I suppose, but when they come to power, they look an inch taller. They are not of course, but they look it. David Cameron was in instant example of that. The moment he became PM he was walking like a Prime Minister. Then you fast-forward four or five years and you can see that they have probably aged a little quicker than most people.
And how do they differ?
One interesting thing to watch is how leaders play the situation with their aides. There are some leaders who like to give generous, perhaps even over-generous tribute to their aides. Then there are others who are deter- mined not to do that; those who don’t want to share the achievements. Maybe they would like to share the non-achievements, but they don’t want to hand out the credit. They want to keep it focused on them. The other thing is that sometimes politicians have a very good grasp of what people are thinking and sometimes they are not so good at capturing the public mood.
How can organisations like WTTC and UNWTO better relate to politicians and other leaders and explain the importance of travel?
When you are talking to a president or some- one with a limited amount of time, you have got to hit the button on the head straight away. Also, the person who is carrying the message is really important, whether it is in travel or finance or whatever. That really is absolutely essential.The personality of the person matters as much as the message. If you send in someone who is unsympathetic or ignorant then you are committing a form of hari kari, as it were.
Is there a contradiction between the need to protect the environment and the effort to encourage tourism?
I think that is a real quandary. Some people think for ecological reasons that we should never fly in planes. People have to travel, so it is a question of doing it in the most intelligent way, I suppose. You can’t abolish travel, whether it is for holidays or not. It is a complicated one and I think different people in different parts of the world will come to different conclusions. Margaret Thatcher once said something along the lines of: ‘We do not own this world, we only rent it, but with a full repairing lease,’ which I thought was a very good thought.
What have you learned about the world through your travels?
America is a very hospitable place, particularly to people who they sense like them. It’s an emotional thing. One of the reasons that America is so hospitable to people is that it is a nation of immigrants, whereas we in Britain are a nation of emigrants. We are not very hospitable to visitors, whereas America is. I haven’t been to South or North Korea, but in thecase of South Korea that is a blessing for me because the country is drenched in garlic, they say. They have this dish called kimchi, which is decidedly garlicky and I am not decidedly pro- garlic, so it would be difficult for me.
And what have you learned about humanity from travelling?
Don’t go to somewhere that you think you will dislike, unless you have a good reason for going there. It is important to be genuinely pleased to be somewhere. That is the most important thing about travelling. That way you also breathe in a bit more of the country. It’s a case of “the open mind on the open road”. That’s a good motto...which I have just devised.
The WTTC Global Summit 2013 took place from April 9-10 at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi.