Quest on a quest
Richard Quest is one of the most recognisable faces (and voices) in global news. An integral part of CNN’s reporting team, he is the business editor-at-large, airline and aviation correspondent, anchor for The Express programme as well as host of his own show, Quest Means Business. In this exclusive interview, Quest shares his journalistic wisdom gleaned over 20 years in the business, the famous people he’s interviewed and his thoughts on the evolution of travel.
[I am a journalist] because it offers a ringside seat at history. I love telling people what’s happened. Journalism is authenticated gossip – truth gossip. That’s why I like doing the morning news, it’s the chance to tell people: “Since you went to bed this has happened.”
I find the whole world of business fascinating. You buy a shirt, [but] you could have bought another shirt. Why do you buy that one? Because you made a business decision.
After the fundamental basics like shelter, food, water, how they earn and spend their money is one of the key decisions humans make. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are; you are still involved in the same basic decision.
I have no force of law to insist that someone must answer my questions. I understand that an embattled CEO is entitled to try and explain how or why something has happened from their perspective. I accept that. However, I can’t accept it when they try and tell me that black is white.
One thing I’ve learnt is it’s very dangerous to extrapolate a personal experience and say, “This is what should have been done.” You will invariably get it wrong.
Former BBC Head Marmaduke Hussey always said there are no sirs in journalism. How can you call a politician sir and then go and hold their feet to the fire about something they’ve said or done?
My most memorable interview was with the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala in northern India. He is just an extraordinary individual – just his personality, his sheer presence. I remember I asked him if he ever got angry. His response was “Hah! Only when people ask me silly questions.”
I also relish my interviews with [International Monetary Fund managing director] Christine Lagarde. She is one of the most famous and most powerful people in the world, yet she always has the ability to be utterly charming and make time for people. She has a unique personal touch.
I hate that young journalists start from the position of thinking everyone is a crook – that there are only good or bad people. The world doesn’t work like that. It’s much more nuanced.
This is the problem with “citizen journalism” everyone is an expert. There is a real lack of analysis. People are preaching to the converted. There is no nuance and it’s amplified by social media.
We are in unchartered waters [in terms of our political situation], where all the norms have gone and we’re all just groping for what might happen next. You just have to ignore it and get on with your job.
Things, especially technology, are changing faster than we can even conceive. When I started, there were still travel brochures and you went to the travel agent to book your summer holiday. I even remember paying for my flight with a credit card once I had got on board!
New technology makes it very hard to switch off. You have to try, but it’s very difficult, especially when you are covering global issues.
The magic of flight has stayed with me. Whenever I see a plane, I just think about all the hopes, dreams and ambitions of the people on board. They are all going somewhere for a reason.
We’re reaching the stage in travel where there is so much choice that it’s actually entering confusion and chaos. What you’re buying isn’t necessarily clear.
I think how people make their travel choices is no longer a standard but depends on your specific situation. Maybe you’ll fly Business Class for that work trip but are happy with economy for that family holiday. Airlines need to be able to cater to that need.
Travelling is all about familiarity. A road warrior cannot afford to be disorganised. It’s about structure, about charging everything, replenishing everything. I need two phones, two chargers, two passports. You need to know you can still begin to work if something goes wrong.
My favourite places to go are my holiday home on Fire Island, off the coast from Long Island, and to go and stay with my mum who has a place in Spain. I have travelled so much now [that] it’s good to go to familiar places when I have time off.
My most essential travel companion is my bag. It’s a Travel Pro Flight Pro 3. They don’t even make it anymore, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had it repaired. It has a pocket for everything, and I know where everything is, even in the dark – where my chargers are, my Nurofen, my ink pen.
That bag is always ready to go for the next trip. As soon as I get back from one trip, I make sure everything is replenished ready for the next one. I always start packing two to three days before the next trip.
One top packing tip is souvenir place mats. I use those to act as layers between different clothing. It means you can lift the whole layer out without disturbing it and having to repack and refold everything. I also keep the cardboard they put in your shirts from the hotel dry cleaning. You fold your shirts up with those in place, and you don’t need to iron them when you take them out.
I always travel with my own hot chocolate, Cadburys Highlights. It means whenever I get somewhere, I can make myself a drink. I don’t have to wait for room service; it’s there. It’s all about ensuring you have your creature comforts.
I think the SQ girl is still such an important part of Singapore Airlines and it would be madness to get rid of her. But it is important to reveal who they are outside the uniform — the fact that they are strong women outside the office. They’re mothers, charity workers.
Good service is about anticipating the customer’s expectations and exceeding them. Everyone’s expectations are different. Sure, you can use data, but you have to use your gut as well to offer that personal service. I will never forget that Singapore Airlines gave my stuffed toy its own KrisFlyer Frequent Flyer card. It is personal touches like that you remember.