A candid chat with Quest

How does Richard Quest look like in person? Richard Quest looks like Richard Quest in person.

It’s the drooping jawline, the exuberance, the theatrics and the filling of a room, the signature Quest elan and that unmistakable raspy voice that feels like tarpaulin tearing in a gale. It’s the suspenders and the (fairly) well cut suits worn to match the wry English wit.

The CNN journalist is a showman. One morning recently he was a guest at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), mingling with the redcoats and the top suits of the stock market, talking about the topics that ring his bell; money and business.

When that was done, he rang another bell; the one announcing the start of trading, then fielded humour-punctured questions from a floor of business journalists and industry players.

After, he took selfies from a long line of queuing money watchers, admirers, celebrity rubbernecks and the wolves of the stock exchange then bound offstage, rode in a lift to the fifth floor where in a boardroom opening into a balcony bearing tables of breakfast laid out in his honour, met JACKSON BIKO for a chat that wasn’t about business, money or suspenders.

How does it feel to go anywhere and get recognised? Do you get used to it?

The truth is, I get used to it, but it doesn’t happen everywhere. So for example, CNN International is not widely shown in the US, CNN-USA is. And although I worked for CNN-USA, I’m not as well-known there as elsewhere. So I can walk around New York quite happily and virtually nobody recognises me. But if I come somewhere like Kenya or elsewhere in the world where we broadcast, then yes.

You get used to it. It just goes with the territory. And I will say one thing, I refuse to be one of this people who say, oh it’s too much, oh, I can’t get used to it. I worked long enough for this, I’m gonna enjoy it.

Because you have such an exuberant personality, you always seem to be on a high, what brings you down?

Tiredness. People constantly ask me if what they see on television is an act. It’s not; it’s a performance. What you see on television is an accentuated version of myself. If you try and do something that’s different, if you try and pretend or act, it will come across as false and insincere. And the viewer will quickly be able to tell that’s not what I’m really like.

So, which part of being Richard Quest is most difficult?

(Pause) This is both a good question and a dreadful question, because I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question. (Pause) I guess knowing that you got to be grounded, not because you’re on television and widely recognised, but because, I’ve got a way of life that is an absolute privilege. It’s not a right, it’s not an entitlement, that every day I go on television and people watch. Now it is not for me to say whether I am a success or not, that’s up to others. I’ll just do my best. It’s a great honour.

What’s your definition of success?

A balanced combination between material and professional success, and personal happiness.

Have you achieved all that?

No. Remember, the book Tales of the City (Armistead Maupin) said you can never get the three parts of your life right at the same time; where you live, your love life and your job. One will always be in trouble. I tried to ignore that when I read it but if I’m having a bad day at work, or whatever, I say it is true.

When was the last time you flew economy? It must have been a long time ago.

Why do you assume that?

Because you are Richard Quest.

I flew economy from London to New York two weeks ago. The seat was nice, I have no problem flying economy. When I look at the ticket price of London to New York business class, and I see it’s five to six thousand dollars {Sh500,000 to Sh600,000}, but economy plus is only $1,100 {Sh110,000}, I’ll go economy plus. And if I’m flying down with my partner to Miami or wherever, yeah we could fly first class.

But why pay $1,000 for a $200 ticket when you can have $800 left to spend on a better hotel or restaurant? Let me tell you, there’s no cleverness in handing over money to an airline unnecessarily. Now, will I fly economy to Australia from London, no! Will I fly to Hong Kong or Singapore on economy class? No. I’m six foot two.

Because you’ve been to many countries and cities in the world, which is the one city you’ve been to, and said, if I was a city, I would be this city?

(Excited) Oh that’s a good one. I’m tempted to say New York or London, but it would be Sydney. Sydney or London. London because it’s a cosmopolitan, exciting, vibrant and it really does have a vibe that I don’t think you find in New York. London is just craze elegance, and excitement. Sydney, is a way of life. It’s long weekends, it’s hard work, and the Australians are really brutal in business.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have to promote or endorse something that you didn’t believe in because of work circumstances?

No. It wouldn’t happen because my values are pretty well aligned to those of CNN and CNN always makes it clear that I am comfortable doing it.

If you were to set up a business, what would it be?

I’m not going to answer that question and I’ll tell you why. I have discovered that I’m truly dreadful of business. I cannot sell water in the desert. If there’s money to be lost in business, I will lose it. So it’s best that I never go near it. I’m not an entrepreneur. I had to do psychometric evaluation to see if I was an entrepreneur. The answer came back no. But I know how to work within an organisation, I know how to pull the levers of getting things done within an organisation.

What’s the most beautiful thing being 56 years old?

(Pause) I’m on the downward slope. I’ve gone four to five years before I would think of retiring. But my career is heading towards a graceful close. I don’t know what will come next, the Almighty knows that.

The teens are great; you’re learning what sex is all about and how much fun life can be. You’ve started to see your position in your career, you’re really working quite hard, but you’re still very insecure.

Your 30 is your best years. You’ve got some money in the bank because you’ve moved up the ladder a bit, you’ve been around the world a few times, so you know how to live. Your 40s, well, my 40s were dreadful. In your 40s you’re starting to worry and ask yourself; is this it? I’ve now got this last push to get to the top of the ladder. Your 50s are pretty much probably reached the peak. Enjoy it and start thinking about how to capitalise on it towards retirement.

The greatest part of being 56 is having a confidence in who you are and what you’ve achieved and where you are. You are at a different phase of your career and your life. Now you can fight it, you can argue against it, you can rebel, but it won’t work.

Would you say coming out and embracing your sexuality as a gay man was a product of age?

Yes. I think it’s an age and a success thing. I think that when you certainly realise that it’s not going to be an issue it's only when people of a certain age and seniority can talk like you and I are talking. That creates an environment, particularly in the workplace. This is where it’s crucial to look at these issues.

I am exceptionally lucky, I work for a company that is gender and sexuality blind. It doesn’t care who you are and what you do, just if you can do it [job]. What I really want, is when some kid says to their father, hey you know that guy you watch on television, you know he’s gay, right? And the father says I don’t care about that, what is he interested in, I want to know what he’s got to say about the dollar.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Oooh. Two of them. My trainer, workout. And my beach house. It eats money, it absolutely eats money. But I love it.

Give your 40 year old self one piece of advice.

(Pause) When I was sort of new in TV and I was pompous I got a piece of advice from someone who was much older and wiser in the industry. He said, “Richard, never ever forget that you are nothing more than a light in a box in a corner of the room and someone can simply switch you off.” (Pause) If I was talking to my 40-year-old self, I’d say, do the best you can, don’t worry about it, and nothing is as bad as you ever think it is.