Written by Adam Westwood.
When it was announced that on the 16th of November, that Louis Theroux would be receiving an honorary degree from Sheffield Hallam University, there was immediate buzz that he would potentially host a session with students and give us an eye-opening view into his world of investigative journalism. The Students’ Union had the same idea and arranged an hour-long question and answer session with Louis, where students could ask him whatever questions they wanted. I was lucky enough to be in attendance today for the session. Here is my first-hand account of the hour before, and my thoughts from the Q&A with National Treasure, Louis Theroux.
12:27 – I have arrived outside the Students Union and am immediately greeted by the longest queue I’ve ever seen there. I am here three minutes before we are allowed into the building, and the queue had wrapped its way around one of The Hubs’ famous steel domes.
13:03 – I am finally in, and The Students Union is heaving and there is a clear excitement in the building. Most students are covered in Louis Theroux merchandise, as we are about to get a chance to ask questions to one of Britain’s best investigative journalist. Personally, I want technical advice, how to get the best answers from those who don’t want to give them, others just want to be in the same room as Louie. He starts to talk in 27 minutes, and people here are getting more and more excited.
13:10 – Twenty minutes to go, and people are still piling in. The Students Union is full, and there is still more arriving. We’re about to go upstairs and there is a huge crowd. This man is not your average Journalist. There is such a buzz everywhere about this. There are lecturers, second and third years, post graduates, staff members, all who want a chance to hear Louis speak. I’ve never seen an atmosphere like this.
13:25 – We’ve finally been let into the stage, and the room is very full. I suspect several hundred are piled into The Stage at the Students Union. Everyone is eagerly anticipating his arrival.
13:35 – Five Minutes until he is going to arrive. Philo Holland, a radio lecturer, is going to be conducting a short interview about what Louis is up too right now, and his future, before we can ask him any questions we want. The crowd keep getting giddy every time the music quietens, as we expect his arrival.
And then Louis turned up…
I stopped taking timed notes at this point, as I was so starstruck by him. He easily held the two hundred lucky people in the crowd in the palm of his hand.
The very first thing he was asked was his desert island disks, and after some careful deliberation, he made four choices. Louis started by wanting some early hip-hop and couldn’t decide between Erik B & Rakim or Public Enemy, but said he would take both. He also wanted to make sure he had records from both Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye, but when put on the spot, he could choose specific records he’d want from either of the four.
Student Union President Abdullah Okud then asked Dr Theroux “if he was Prime Minister (Imagine how great that’d be!) for a day and he could pass one law, what would it be?” Louis quickly knew, and said he’d legalise Cannabis, clearly trying to please the crowd.
Someone then asked why so much of his work is based in the USA and not the UK, to which Louis answered simply. “America is such a large country with such extreme issues, which makes it so easy to work in.” Upon reflection, Louis then said he wants to work in the UK more, but because his work is known more in the UK than any other place, it makes it so hard to pay attention. He told a story about how he was once filming a documentary in Liverpool about people who have been in rehabilitation for so long, that they are taught how to cook and shop for themselves before they’re dispatched. Louis went with a man when he was going shopping for one of the first times alone, and whilst out, he pulled away by fans asking for selfies. Louis said this means so much to him, but it can make work so hard.
“Commit to being present, no matter where you are when you’re at work. Fully immerse yourself and you see the benefits.”
To me, this means getting rid of your phone, games consoles, and any other personal distraction that may arise when at work, and you’ll see that the work you produce, no matter what form of work that could be, becomes so much better for it.
Theroux was then asked about his work with Jimmy Savile. Louis made a documentary on Jimmy in 2000, and at the time, Savile was not known to be a prolific sex offender. He was asked a lot about this during the hour. He is still very proud of his documentary. It doesn’t reveal the crimes that Savile committed, but it showed a side of the TV star that wasn’t previously seen before. The news of Jimmy’s crimes hurt him the most – it profoundly upset him that he missed it, and it made Louis feel awful. He felt deceived. He felt groomed by him, because he had been a friend, making him miss what he had done. Louis did then say that doesn’t want to water down the word, because he didn’t do anything close to him what he did to his victims.
The Investigative Journalist then announced to the group that he had the chance to do a big investigative piece on Bill Cosby but didn’t want to do it. He wanted a black journalist to do the interview, because it relates to them more. Also, when asked, he said that we wouldn’t want to interview Harvey Weinstein because he’s not a woman, and it’d mean so much more for a woman to interview him.
To end the hour, Louis was asked about how he remains so professional during his very intense documentaries. He said that emotional involvement is always a great thing to have with the person you’re creating a piece on, but professional dis-attachment is very key. You always need to retract yourself emotionally when you can, otherwise the work can be too difficult.
The event was one of the most entertaining hours of my life. Philo was a brilliant host, who expanded on many topics, and made the event even better.
Louis is adored by this generation. The way people react to him is almost the way that you’d expect people to react to a Rockstar. I think the best piece of advice he gave was something he said towards the end of the hour, when asked how he how he gets on with people so well. He just said this…
Don’t go into things being a dick – always be polite, always be kind.
Dr. Louis loved his Hallam merch, especially the frisbee!!
Special thanks to Activities Officer Bethany Howden for the close up images!