A few weeks ago, Nihal Arthanayake accepted the award for Best Branded Podcast on behalf of the Penguin Podcast at the virtual 2020 British Podcast Awards. The team at Pod Bible caught up with Nihal to ask about his work on Penguin Podcast and his interview style.
POD BIBLE: What intrigued you about hosting a programme like Penguin Podcast?
NIHAL ARTHANAYAKE: The sheer range of authors. From Sir Paul McCartney to Malorie Blackman. You really are speaking to some or the brightest people in literature. To spend an hour in the company of RJ Palacio, or Anthony Horowitz really is like taking your brain to the gym for a vigorous workout.
PB: How much research do you do before recording an episode?
NA: My producer, Selina Ream, from the production company Somethin’ Else does a lot of the heavy lifting beforehand and I, of course, do my own research. The Qs are in the script and depending on where the conversation is going I’ll stick with them or riff off the answers I’m given. I prefer the latter but it’s always good to have the questions as a back up. I prefer an intuitive approach and want to see where my guest takes the conversation.
PB: Was the structure around guests bringing in objects established before you came to the project, and how does working within a structure like that affect what you do as a host?
NA: That structure was already in place and it really works well because the podcast is using the book as a hook to hopefully have a wider conversation about the creative process and a window into what inspires the authors. It really is a simple premise that provides such invaluable insights.
PB: You’ve interviewed individuals known professionally as authors (such as Bernardine Evaristo) and individuals who have authored books, but are far more well-known for other things (such as Sir Paul McCartney). How do those episodes differ for you as the host?
NA: They end up in the same place. I asked Sir Paul about what he did to make people feel relaxed around him, as he would, of course, be conscious of how nervous most people would be in his company. I then went on to ask him about people he had been nervous to meet. His answer was fascinating. You’ll have to listen to that episode to find out who.
PB: What is your relationship like with your producer, particularly during recording?
NA: Selina is so hands off. She trusts me to do my thing and because she is so brilliant with the prep, I never have anything to worry about.
PB: Have you ever been a guest on a podcast, and if so, how has that experience impacted how you host Penguin Podcast?
NA: I’ve been on some brilliant podcasts but it’s never impacted on the way I do things. I never listen back to my interviews either.
PB: Is there a particular author, now deceased, you wish you could have interviewed for Penguin Podcast?
NA: Charles Dickens. No question. What would he have made of the World we are currently living in?
Nihal Arthanayake is an acclaimed broadcaster and TV presenter. He currently presents a daily daytime show on BBC 5 Live, and his unique interviewing style was recently recognised at the BBC Radio and Music Awards where he won Interview of the Year.