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Page last updated at 18:27 GMT, Friday, 6 January 2006

Sackur's world

Stephen Sackur and family made the move from Brussels to London so he could present HARDtalk. So how does he feel about it, now he knows what it's really like? A sedentary studio based job with cushy hours? Not exactly.

So there I was, sitting in the Washington office of the US Trade Representative, Rob Portman, discussing the prospects for the forthcoming World Trade talks in Hong Kong.

Portman was in expansive mood. We'd finished filming a combative twenty-five minutes of "Hardtalk" and he clearly wanted to unwind.

But me? I didn't have time. "I'm interviewing Peter Mandelson in Brussels tomorrow", I said by way of explanation. "Sorry. Gotta go".

After the transatlantic flight I staggered in to the EU commission's TV studio. "Ah, Stephen", murmured the Trade Commissioner (as only he can). "Rob's just been on the phone about you. Says you're playing hardball. Apparently you're looking to stir things up before the talks begin".

a year ago I never imagined presenting Hardtalk would be like this

Cue another half-hour of cut and thrust about farm subsidies, transatlantic trade divisions and the bleak prospects for a trade deal.

By now my head was beginning to pound. Time for a beer with old friends in Kitty's bar, a favourite haunt from my days as Europe Correspondent.

Not a chance. It was back to Zaventem airport for the last flight to Oslo. Fifteen hours later I was recording an interview with this years winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mohamed el-Baradei, chief of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. At this point I must ask you to excuse the breathless tone of the above; and the numbing vacuity of the inveterate name-dropper.

Thing is, a year ago I never imagined presenting Hardtalk would be like this.

Of course I'd hoped to be interviewing some of the big names in the news, but to be honest I'd pictured myself leading a more sedentary "presenter" life. Sitting in that big studio, the "Hardtalk" molten metal intro behind me, the lights dimmed ready for the action to begin.

Indeed I'd sold the Sackur family on the idea of returning to London with visions of predictable hours, an end to the frenetic travel of the foreign correspondent.

But when I got my feet under the "Hardtalk" table my perspective began to change. If we want the programme to be sharp, reactive and right on top of the news agenda (and we do) then we have to accept a simple truth: while many newsmakers still come to us, we also have to be prepared to go to them.

In the last few months we've had a series of scoops which have been a direct product of this flexibility.

French Prime-Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin invited us into his Matignon office for his one big interview in the run up to the French referendum on the EU constitution. If the vote is a No, he said, there will be no second chance. How right he was. He was out of a job within a week.

Metropolitan police Chief Sir Ian Blair told "Hardtalk" of his thoughts of resignation after the shooting death of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes. It made the front pages.

we had hundreds of e-mails and messages from Ethiopians and others around the world

There've been plenty of others too. Our series of interviews in Africa before the G8 in Gleneagles, in India, Israel and Pakistan all made a satisfying splash in their own locales.

Indeed if any one interview has brought home to me the enormous reach and influence of Hardtalk it was my tense encounter with the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi.

I pushed him hard on allegations of vote-rigging and the shooting of unarmed demonstrators in Addis Ababa. In the following weeks we had hundreds of e-mails and messages from Ethiopians and others around the world applauding the interview.

Many said the same thing - the tough questions don't get asked at home, only on Hardtalk. But taking Hardtalk on the road isn't just a question of access. Editor Carey Clark and the whole production team want to make more of our location shoots - to give the show more variety and a real sense of place.

Last year we recorded one interview in the middle of the Kenyan Rift Valley under an immense African sky. It's an encounter that many viewers remember.

At the turn of my first year on Hardtalk I feel I should retract something I said when I took over from the great Tim Sebastian.

Amid all the blather about "looking forward to the challenge" I said I would miss the foreign correspondent's mad dash to the airport and the buzz of breaking news.

Mad dashes to the airport? I still have 'em. And as for breaking news; that's what we at Hardtalk intend to do in 2006.





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