Voices: Andrew Tate vs the BBC: Who is on trial here?

I have no idea about the process that led up to the BBC approaching Andrew Tate for an interview. Or the reason Andrew Tate eventually agreed to do it – he says he relented after “months of begging”.

But I do have some idea of how the interviewer Lucy Williamson might have felt on hearing it was game on. The intense elation (”a world exclusive with a renowned dickhead!”) quickly followed by the utter panic (”am I up to this? What tricks is he going to play? Will I end up strengthening the hand of a known misogynist currently under house arrest on human trafficking charges if it goes wrong?”).

I viewed the interview as soon as it landed, unedited, on Tate’s own platform. I thought I would be watching through fingers, behind the sofa. But I was wrong. If Lucy had any of those fears, they were unfounded.

What Lucy Williamson pulled off was masterful. She made him do all the work, all the running, all the panicking, without apparently lifting an eyebrow. In the 38 minutes I watched, he tied himself in knots, at one point denying the quotes she threw at him had been his (‘it was your voice”, a quiet but insistent Williamson repeated) then arguing it was for the sake of his Christian values (he’s very religious, obvs). Then he began berating Williamson for not having the sense of humour to realise the things he said about women belonging to men had been sarcastic (!!!).

I don’t know how Williamson prepared. But I know simply from watching that she came armed and thoughtful. She knew the rules: don’t answer his questions, don't raise your voice, come to the interview with specific sourced quotes, and dont let someone put you off repeating your question by telling you you have no right to ask them. He kept insisting she was a guest in his house – like we’d just stepped into a Hello! photo shoot, complete with aperol apperativos – until Lucy’s producer, off mic, reminded him that they were only there because he was under house arrest. A more neutral location would, she said, have been the BBC’s preference.

Moreover, Lucy Williamson stayed poised and in control for the entire encounter. It is so easy – I’m sure I’ve done it – to be charming at first and then slowly turn the heat up. Which is fine until the interviewee plays the entire section out on Twitter of the two of you laughing and joking about dogs. Lucy appeared to come to this interview knowing that the moment she stepped into the room any of it could end up in the public domain. And that, increasingly, is how the game works. The presumed authority of the TV camera, the BBC logo or the professional journalist doing a professional edit is no longer a given in an age where anyone can stream and promote their own content (in Andrew Tate’s case: to 6.7 million worldwide on Twitter).

Now, the journalist is as much on trial as the bloke defending himself on rape charges. And this is why these encounters are so fraught. Why it matters so intensely we get them right. Because they are, ultimately, a gladiatorial battle of wits. Not with high volume, but with quiet fact.

Lucy Williamson emerged from his house with news lines (he is convinced that he will be found innocent; his self belief that he is a “force for good”) but the interview as a whole gave us more than just “top lines”. It showed us that when you are prepared to just let someone speak, they upend their own arguments and fall apart.

All Lucy had to do was let him do it – and so she did, rather brilliantly.