Book Review: Airhead // Emily Maitlis

(Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for The Spectator )

Having finished Emily Maitlis’ autobiography Airhead for a second time, I felt compelled to pen my thoughts into a review.

I use the word autobiography reluctantly, as it’s not a compendium encapsulating her childhood and personal trials, but rather a polished set of professional anecdotes and tales from her journalistic journey. Each chapter contains a more insightful and intriguing story than the other in this bound bundle of joy.

Maitlis encapsulates the essence of what it’s like to be a jet-setting journalist, whose job never quits. She documents the joys, tears and stress of it all, alongside the unpredictability of where her job will take her next, and subsequent races back home for family events (especially for a birthday outing to a llama farm…).

She dedicates the book to being a collection of some of the biggest interviews she’s conducted, and what goes into producing pieces for TV.

The broadcasting life is arguably more chaotic than the print world, and less freeing, as Maitlis even states in her introduction: “Unlike print there is no room for annotation or commentary as you go along. What appears on the screen is what people see. Everything else is just interpretation”. But that’s what makes it exciting.

Throughout the book, you’re taken on Maitlis’ journey. From rushing to Budapest to cover the migrant crisis, to getting a last-minute Eurostar to report on the Paris terror attacks, with a stop off at some point to interview the Dalai Lama in the “Prestige Suite” of an airport hotel, it just doesn’t stop.

Some interviews reveal her softer side, such as her wonder at David Attenborough and his tales, whereas Donald Trump proves to be strictly business as usual- no matter what he may think.

Maitlis’ stories are recounted so vividly, you’ll find yourself wondering how she was able to operate, when most of these events were carried out with little to no sleep (one of the few reluctances I have about a career in broadcasting).

Things don’t always go to plan, as is the nature of a job when you work for the nation’s most-watched broadcasting outlet, but Maitlis proves it’s how it’s handled that matters, even when she’s preparing for a guest appearance alongside Alan Partridge.

Some stories provoke a deeper response. You see the openness and vulnerability presented when the stalking case that has plagued her for years is addressed in a heartfelt chapter. Her ability to write in a professional yet conversational tone allows the reader to gauge a sense of reluctance in her telling, making it an even more personal and poignant read.

A reason this book took me so long to finish was because I treated it almost as a reference point rather than a novel. Albeit at times I couldn’t put it down (reading about the presenter being arrested in Cuba was just too gripping to stop), I found it comforting to have the book to always pick up and to transport myself into Maitlis’ world. I think I also had a sub-conscious fear about it ending. I didn’t want it to stop, so kept it in pursuit for a few months before reluctantly admitting it was time to start the last chapter.

It’s no wonder Airhead was The Times’ Book of the Year. I thoroughly recommend this book whether or not you have a penchant for the world of journalism, for the tales alone make for a fascinating read. With the plethora of famous figures, from the Dalai Lama to David Attenborough, and Bill Clinton to Russell Brand, there’s someone for everyone and a story for all. You cannot fault her easy, though-provoking writing, and her style makes for such compelling reading, it may even spark a chord of inspiration for you too.

Rating: 10/10

Words by Gabriela Page

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