By H. Carter and J. Moore

PALMA
THE last time former BBC political correspondent John Sergeant was on business in Majorca was to cover the 1995 European Summit held in Formentor, yesterday he was the speaker at the Celebrity Lunch organised by Azur Productions at the Son Vida Hotel.

Sergeant admits that his big career break came when he was shoved aside by Lady Thatcher's press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham outside the British Embassy in Paris just days before she was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1990.

He became one of the best-known faces on television and, for the Paris incident, won a British Press Guild Award for the most memorable broadcast of the year, beating Paul Gascoigne who was nominated for bursting into tears during England's vital match against Italy.

However, Sergeant revealed yesterday that all the pushing and shoving outside the Embassy in Paris was because Ingham was trying to get the Prime Minister past Sergeant to a microphone which had been set up for the Prime Minister to make her statement to the media.

However, Sergeant says that as she saw him first “she thought he'll do” and gave the exclusive to him and the BBC. Ingham was also lucky that he was not given a slice of his own medicine after. Sergeant is not to be messed with as Tony Blair's spin doctor found out once when he gave Sergeant a playful kick while he was waiting for a lobby briefing in Westminster. “I kicked him back and he nearly fell over,” Sergeant said at the Son Vida.
He enjoyed having Campbell as an “opponent” but says that parties employing spin doctors is nothing new, “there has always been spin in politics, politics is spin. Churchill was the greatest spin doctor of modern times. The speech he gave about Dunkirk was the perfect example, he didn't come out and say ‘things are a bit tough I'm off to Canada', he just gave his version of events.” But, Sergeant makes its quite clear that, while a politician can give his version of events, political correspondents have to choose their words very carefully.

He said that Andrew Gilligan's 45-minute claim is a perfect example of how political reporters have “got to get it right”·. “Gilligan went too far. It is one thing to say that the dossier on weapons of mass destruction was sexed up, but to suggest that the Prime Minister, any Prime Minister, deliberately lied is a seriously major claim to make,” he said. “But, the whole affair did get slightly out of hand and the BBC, as always, was the obvious target,” he added. “Government have always found it hard to handle the BBC because it has never really had a particular agenda. The BBC simply tries to inform the public on what is happening and what a government's position is,” Sergeant explained.

That said, working for the BBC does have its advantages. Prior to an interview with Prime Minister John Major during the European Summit in Majorca, Sergeant warned him of the questions he was going to ask. Major admitted that he really did not want to comment on either, but the questions were on public policy and Sergeant said that there was no way neither he nor the BBC was going to risk getting a reputation for being brow beaten by politicians. “But it is different now, political advisors have taken over from the civil service and politicians today really know how to work the media. “They know what to say depending on the time of day an interview will be broadcast, for example, and the audience it will be watched by.” Sergeant does not miss being at the heart of British politics “fortunately as journalist, at the end of the day we just throw away out notes and go home unlike politicians. The pressure on them is immense, politics is psychologically draining and Gordon Brown, for example, could be forced to step down on health reasons. I don't know what his political plans are, I tend to think he will try and battle on to the very end. “ It's going to be very difficult to get rid of him if he decides to hold on and fight but we'll have to see if he can physically and mentally go the full distance.” Yesterday's celebrity lunch, which was sponsored by Stewart Asset Management Group and Camper & Nicholsons in association with the Majorca Daily Bulletin, was another great success for Azur Productions.

The next celebrity lunch speaker is going to be snooker legend Dennis Taylor.

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