Guest Blog – Arnie Wilson
Guest post by Arnie Wilson, Ski, Travel & showbiz writer,editor and broadcaster. Guinness World Record Holder.
Today I continue my occasional series of guest blogs from successful people in all walks of life. In this piece Arnie Wilson tells the story of how he got to interview thousands of celebrities, write for the Financial Times and break a Guinness World Record skiing.
I referred to Arnie as a maverick, and he was somewhat surprised, but I think he embodies the kind of person who is resourceful and avoids the need to fit into one box.
The lessons? You don’t have to have a plan. Have a good mentor. Seize the opportunities because you never know where they might lead.
How things happened – Arnie Wilson
I wasn’t exactly a dunce at school, but I didn’t really start being scholarly until the sixth form when I thought “I’d better start justifying my parents’ paying my school fees”.
I was okay at French (having spent a year in a boarding school in Territet, near Geneva when I was seven/eight) but the only subject I was really good at was English. And that was my only A-level success.
And I had no idea, really, how to earn a living from this. So I tried various part-time jobs. Dock porter, night porter, waiter, washer-upper, builders’ clerk, farm-hand and even a steward on a molasses tanker, which took me round the world.
Then what? Somehow or other I went for an interview with the Kent Messenger newspaper in Maidstone, Kent. Back then, I didn’t drive, so no job. But as I was walking back down Week Street, it occurred to me that I might offer my services as a scooter rider with an L plate.
‘Yes’ they said, you’ve got the job. What job, I asked? Covering a dozen or so villages in the West Malling area on my Triumph Tina automatic scooter (a women’s shopping scooter, I was later informed, though I didn’t realise this at the time). And that’s how it started.
Every time my boss (there were two of us covering the Malling district) went on holiday, my luck was in and I seemed to get a “scoop”. Soon I was rewarded with my own front-page column.
‘Arnie Wilson thinks, Arnie Wilson says, Arnie Wilson wonders.‘
It’s good to know you’re not without a friend
This attracted the attention of the guy who shaped the rest of my life’s work: the late Bob Friend. Bless him.
At that stage, Bob, who went on to be BBC TV’s man in Tokyo and then Sydney, was running a news agency in Tunbridge Wells called the West Kent News Service.
And it was Bob, later an early-morning presenter with Sky News, who taught me the two disciplines that would dominate my journalistic career(s): the world of diaries or showbiz columns, aka gossip columns, and the world of regional TV.
Working for Bob was wonderful training, especially because he got me (indirectly) into TV and writing diary stories (in those pre-celeb dominated days that meant ringing up mainly titled people – Lords and Ladies) – and writing for the good old William Hickey column and John London in the now long defunct London Evening News.
From writing small news items for Southern TV’s nightly magazine programme, I ended up being a TV reporter myself.
I usually either worked in TV during the week and in Fleet Street at weekends, or vice versa. I worked on various down-market Fleet Street “diary” columns (Sunday People, Daily Mirror, The Star, and the Sunday Express). Bob had also got me writing news scripts for Southern Television.
Both these skills – writing TV news scripts and diary stories – were extraordinarily useful to me later, until skiing took over my life. In 1986 I unexpectedly got the FT ski correspondent’s job after the paper’s leisure editor died tragically young in the Swiss ski resort of Saas-Fee.
Meanwhile, my work on the Sunday People had got me a Saturday staff job on the news desk where I worked every Saturday for 18 years, ending up as deputy Saturday night news editor.
TV screen career
I had three sessions at Southern Television, first as a holiday-relief bulletin sub-editor (never turn down work as a holiday relief- you never know where it might Lead), then weekend bulletin editor and then ten years on screen. In between I was (fairly briefly) chief sub-editor at Anglia TV and a scriptwriter at ITN (News at Ten).
I’d kick-started my broadcasting career by grabbing a job at South Yorkshire News Service who ran the news desk at a new radio station Radio Sheffield. This got me to Southern TV. In the end I did about 1,000 film interviews and quite a few studio interviews although live TV always scared me a bit!
Going off piste
Then skiing took over my life. I wrote about it every winter Saturday in the FT for more than 15 years, including a mad year in 1994 when I skied every day for a year in 240 ski areas in 13 countries in the “Financial Times Round the World Ski Expedition” which I wrote about in the Weekend FT throughout the year, summer included.
What was really rewarding was managing to combine skiing with my other speciality: celebrity interviews. Although there wasn’t always a skiing connection, there often was, so I managed to interview (and often ski with) many celebrities in ski resorts, including Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Killy, Jimmy Carter, Franz Klammer, Roger Moore, Chrissie Evert, Heston Blumenthal and Eddie the Eagle.
I also have happy memories of interviewing the great Jack Hawkins in New York, Buzz Aldrin over breakfast in London, Paul McCartney for Southern TV, Dudley Moore in Los Angeles, Joanna Lumley a few times before she got really famous, and countless others including Peter O’Toole, Noel Coward, Omar Sharif, James Fox, Michael Crawford and Alec Guinness.
Throughout my various careers I never had the slightest idea where they might lead me and I certain had no idea that Bob Friend – who was quite a hard task-master – would be so enormously influential in what was to happen to me.
I had no deal when I was writing news scripts for him for Southern Television (at £1.50 or £2.50 an item!) that it would lead to a career in TV which included hobnobbing at ITN with the likes of Reggie Bosanquet, Andrew Gardner, Sandy Gall and Leonard Parkin (all before most people’s time now I guess!)
And I certainly never saw skiing coming. Even now I have to almost pinch myself to believe I was the ski correspondent for the FinancialTimes for so long ! Who, me? You jest!
I’ve never planned my life or careers – just drifted from job to job , often – during my freelance years – working for two or even three employers a week!
Thank you, Bob Friend!
More about Arnie Wilson
Ski, Travel & showbiz writer,editor and broadcaster
First person to ski 365 consecutive days (FT Round The World Ski Expedition, 1994)
Areas skied to date: 737 – including all 38 USA skiing states and 40 heliski operations in 14 countries