Breaking news! GMB Chief Correspondent Richard Gaisford talks travel, 3am starts and Hezbollah
Richard Gaisford is the Chief Correspondent for Good Morning Britain, appearing on ITV most weekday mornings at locations in the UK and around the world. He chatted with me about getting up at 3am, his love of travel and being mistaken for an Israeli spy in Beirut.
What is your technique for having to get up in the middle of the night for work?
I started at GMTV, as it was then, on Valentine’s Day 2000. It later became Daybreak and then Good Morning Britain (GMB)…essentially the same job with the same crazy hours for all those years.
So, on average I get up at 3.30am to be on air for 6am, but that can change depending on where the broadcast is and if I’ve been away the night before. I always have to be on location an hour before broadcast so that I’m ready to go. From my home in Hampshire, I can be in Westminster for 5am.
I’ll try and get five hours sleep overnight, so I’ll watch the News at 10 so I’ve seen the next day’s newspaper front pages and get to sleep for about 10.30pm. Then after I’ve been on air the next morning I’ll get to bed for lunchtime and have another two hours rest to charge the batteries.
I can’t go to bed early. I need to be sociable with my family and friends and eat with them
You’re often reporting from overseas. Do you suffer badly from jetlag?
I do suffer a bit, but not as bad as many people and normally it’s just for a day or so. I’ve spent my entire life screwing up my body clock with my breakfast TV hours so I find I can sleep on planes and in odd places. When the adrenaline’s going I can go for 24 hours or more without sleep, and then I just get grumpy and collapse.
What single story has affected you the most, and why?
I’d say the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia in 2004 because it’s the first time I’d confronted death on such a large scale. I flew out to Thailand on my own because they couldn’t assemble a team at such short notice. I got in a taxi at Phuket airport and drove to a hotel that I’d been told was open, but when I got there it was obvious it wasn’t because most of it had been destroyed.
Over the next few days, I was confronted by these huge lists of tourists who were missing, especially pictures of children who’d been washed away.
My son at that time was only three years old and I was seeing photos of these kids of the same age who’d been swept out of their parents’ arms on the beach. As a journalist, you have to distance yourself somewhat from a story and just tell it, but there I really became immersed in it because it was just like my family being affected. When I came home I realised that just from my small corner of Hampshire there were so many families who’d been out there and been deeply affected.
Afterwards, I went on to Bandar Aceh in Indonesia where hundreds of bodies just lay in the street covered by tarpaulins and sheets.
I saw the effects of a tsunami again when I went to Minamisanriku in Japan in 2011, but there it had swept a lot of people out to sea so there weren’t the bodies that I’d seen in Thailand and Indonesia.
What’s the dodgiest situation you’ve ever been in while reporting, the one when you’ve felt “I really do not feel safe here”?
That was definitely in Beirut in 2006 when Israel was at war with Lebanon and my producer and I were accused of being Israeli spies. We were in a car surrounded by hundreds of people in a refugee camp for around an hour and it was incredibly tense. They were trying to drag us out of the car and we were doing everything possible to stay inside.
Eventually, we were rescued by two men from Hezbollah, because word had got around what was happening. They got the keys to the car and we sped off, flinging people off the roof and bonnet, followed by others on motorbikes, who we shook off after a while. We went through several gates and we were bundled into a house where it became apparent that we were safe and not being kidnapped like Terry Waite or John McCarthy!
After a while, a car with blacked-out windows showed up and we were taken under armed guard to see the Lebanese Prime Minister, who apologised profusely and promised to get as much of our equipment back as he could.
After all that I was buzzing and I felt like I was Superman. We were taken by the Royal Navy to Cyprus the next day. When I got home I was a bit of a nightmare to live with and eventually crashed a few weeks after that. I needed help because of post-traumatic stress and some counselling to bring me back down again.
What’s the most surreal thing you’ve ever had to report on, either at home or overseas?
I think it depends on how you define surreal. Maybe being in northern Iraq on the front line in the battle against Islamic State, being so close I could see Isis pick-up trucks. And from those trips, Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan is one place I’d love to go back to, with its amazing history.
Surreal for me also was getting off a flight in the middle of the Atacama Desert to see trapped Chilean miners get rescued from 2,300ft beneath the earth. That was weird but brilliantly weird.
I was in Thailand when the boy’s football team were brought out from the cave they’d been trapped in, but that was different. In Chile, we were right there when the miners appeared after 69 days, we could see their faces.
But in Thailand, the press corps was moved away at the moment of rescue, so actually I was in a pineapple field nearby and no one tells you how sharp pineapple leaves can be, or that they tend to be around groin height.
When you’re flying off abroad are you usually in Economy or Business Class? Are there any airlines you try to fly with if you have the choice?
I’m normally on One World Alliance airlines so I can enjoy things like the lounges, going through Fast Track, being in the first group to board so I can guarantee overhead locker space and not getting bumped off, which is important in my job when I really need to be somewhere.
Usually, I’m in Premium Economy, which is the right balance of comfort and cost. Because my travel is usually very last minute, a return to New York from London might be around £8,000 in Business Class and it’s very difficult to justify an amount like that.
I once flew all the way to Brisbane in Economy class to cover floods in Queensland, stayed 36 hours then flew all the way home in Economy too. That felt long.
Where is somewhere you’ve dashed in and out of to report on that you would really like to go back to and explore?
I almost always see a good reason to go back to places I cover, often connected to food. So, in the Atacama Desert, we’d been surviving on the food we cooked ourselves on camping stoves then at the end we drove to the Pacific Ocean and I had the most amazing ceviche.
Japan, I love the country and really want to go back on holiday.
I am normally there for a few days at a time, but really, I need to go back for weeks to be able to explore properly.
In February 2019, I was in Hanoi for the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un for three nights and I loved it. When I got home I said to my wife we have to go there together, and then my son said he was going to be there as part of his gap year so we joined him for a week and had an amazing time.
You’ve just won Andi Peter’s £100,000 cash prize but you HAVE to spend it on travel…where would you go?
I’d probably plan a route that started north of San Francisco then worked my way down the coast to LA, then fly over to the Pacific Islands, Polynesian Islands, New Zealand, Australia, work my way back up through South East Asia and then home.
I’d like to fit in Moscow, which I love. In 2000, I went to report on the Kursk submarine disaster, which was one of my first foreign reporting trips. I’ve been back several times since then because Mr Putin keeps us quite busy, and I think Moscow’s amazing, especially the food now, which has really changed over the years and the hotels are so much better.
You’re shipwrecked on a desert island…which famous figure that you’ve interviewed would you want to spend it with?
I tend not to meet many famous people because I’m more ‘on the ground’ with normal folk facing incredible situations. I spent a lot of time in South Africa at the end of Nelson Mandela’s life and if had the chance to spend time with him, I certainly would like to have.
(c) Will Hide 2020
Photo credits: Top Photo = Richard Gaisford in Beirut; Airplane window = Marco Brito; cars in street = Etienne Boulanger; Atacama = Alex Wolo; Hanoi = Raissa Lara Lutolf; video = Youtube