Wednesday 10 November
There were a few events I’d been keen to attend on Wednesday, but I was also conscious that the end of the second week was fast approaching and I’d not ventured too much further out from the press hub or the plenaries. I decided to wander from the media centre - after bagging one of the seats which, at that point in the week, were becoming pretty high in demand - to the Hydro, to see what was happening in the Action Zone.
As I approached the doors of the inner part of the Hydro, the ones you’d walk through if you were going to “standing” at a gig, there were two guys walking purposefully towards me, faces blank and unfriendly. Glancing at their badges - were they delegates? Press? Politicians? - I saw they were plain-clothed police. Dressed smart, but not in suits, they each had a clear coiled wire reaching from their ear down their neck, and under their collars. They were accompanied by two others, I realised, all walking quickly and clearly trying to get somewhere as quickly but discreetly as possible. I had nothing else to do at that point - the Action Zone could wait - so I decided to follow them, to see if there was anything interesting happening I’d be able to weasel my way into - once again.
"Glancing at their badges - were they delegates? Press? Politicians? - I saw they were plain-clothed police..."
I followed the first guy I’d seen, a couple metres behind, glancing down at my phone whenever he looked around, and feeling pretty spy-like to say the least. I’d seen the new James Bond recently - I knew the gist of this stuff. The issue was they were all at least 6’3” and so my 5’4” frame was having a hard time keeping up without visibly breaking into a run. I pushed on though, and maybe overestimating their speed, ended up next to the bald, smartly-dressed man in the middle of their group.
As we headed on towards the media centre, I wondered if these were some kind of important journalists needing secret police protection. Why would they need all these people? I pondered, as we walked through the atrium. My mild confusion almost impeded my awareness of the four or five cameras that rapidly leapt at us. There was a sudden flurry of movement, flashes of light, and microphones being thrown towards us. I think I might have made the footage too, and realised I really needed to move. Turning to make a face at the bald guy I’d been walking in pace with for the last ten minutes, my heart nearly jumped out my chest. It was the bloody Health Secretary: Sajid Javid. Believe it or not, that was only the first of three times that day that I’d literally bump right into UK politicians.
"Turning to make a face at the bald guy I’d been walking in pace with for the last ten minutes, my heart nearly jumped out my chest. It was the bloody Health Secretary: Sajid Javid."
Next I was walking through the corridor again, planning a return to the Action Zone - second time lucky. I passed two men in the corridor; I recognised the tall one in the navy suit. Could it be…? It was. Ed Miliband was walking right in front of me.
So I realise this isn’t your general Hollywood A-lister cast list, and perhaps getting starstruck at seeing politicians off the TV is just another sign of my amateurishness, but this wasn’t an everyday thing. There’s a weird immediate fan reaction you get with anyone remotely well-known - I’d get excited if I bumped into Kevin Bridges in Tesco. And, unrelated to his political background, I was a genuine fan of his podcast, “Reasons to be Cheerful”, so I’ll cite that as the reason I followed him back down the hallway.
I didn’t just want to walk on by, but taking a sneaky picture felt a bit strange. He was walking fast, and I was going to lose him otherwise, so I sped up a bit and got to the end of the atrium before he did. Turning around I got a picture of him straight on - perfect, I thought. What a shot. Then we made eye contact. I faltered a bit, the embarrassment showing on my face. “Thanks,” I offered, giving him a wave - why did I wave - despite the fact he’d neither accepted a request for a photo or even smiled in it.
He stopped, and the guy next to him, security or something, paused as he started walking towards me. Shrugging, the security guy continued on. “Where are you from?” Ed Miliband asked me, smiling. God, he’s going to think I’m such a creep for chasing him around with a camera, I thought. “Glasgow,” I answered, “So pretty local. I’m from the University, here for The Glasgow Guardian. I think maybe one of the only student journalists here.” I was rambling. He nodded appreciatively: “What’s your name?” “Lucy,” I said, hesitating and then including my surname, not that he’d be storing this kind of information away.
“Well, we should get a picture!” he announced cheerfully. I was astounded. What an odd turn of events. “That would be lovely. But- hmm…” I looked for his security guy. “Who can we get to take it?” Laughing, he gestured to my phone. “I mean a selfie.” Obviously, I thought. He obviously meant a selfie. We were hardly going to stand in the middle of the hallway doing a photoshoot.
“It was lovely to meet you, Lucy,” he said, shaking my hand. I was still so bemused. He jogged off to whatever press conference he had been heading to, leaving me, now a fully converted #Milifan, left to process our short exchange. What a pleasant man.
"He jogged off to whatever press conference he had been heading to, leaving me, now a fully converted #Milifan, left to process our short exchange. What a pleasant man."
Exchange with UK politician number three happened in the corridor, again. A well-dressed woman in an aubergine pencil skirt suit was walking towards me this time, with two aides on hand. They were all strutting along at a fairly brisk pace and so once again, I followed. I’d seen Nicola Sturgeon on the first full day of the conference at the High-Level Summit, and I really wanted to chat to her - not least because of our University connection, but also because I’d been told she’d allegedly written for the paper in the past too.
I met a journalist from Kenya outside the room Sturgeon had just walked into, shaking hands with whoever her business meeting was with before firmly closing the door, aides outside. We chatted briefly, and then he ventured over to the other woman who’d flanked the first minister on our walk. Asking whether he would be able to get access to the room after the meeting for a quick picture, his request sparked something in my head.
I introduced myself to the woman too. Explaining who I was, I enquired about requesting an interview. “Look, I’m not actually her press officer,” she told me - friendly but firm - “so I can’t actually arrange anything. What I can do is give you Emily’s email, she might be able to sort something out.” My heart sank a bit - emailing is useful maybe a week or two in advance, but with the conference’s end closing in fast, I doubted whether Sturgeon’s press officer would spot the email in time.
That afternoon, it was Boris’ press conference, and one that was highly anticipated. The last week sounded pretty hellish for him, given the “sleaze” stories and the growing dissatisfaction with the perceived outcomes of the conference. I was keen to go, particularly as it was held in one of the smaller press conference rooms, not the plenaries, so I’d be much closer to the action. I went to the media centre and asked for my name to be put onto the list. I was informed it was a first-come, first-served basis that the conference was operating on, and so it was recommended I go half an hour before it was due to start. I got a tip off that the photographers were heading along a lot earlier than that though, so I followed suit.
The distinction between the cameras and the written journalists is an interesting one. For someone mainly wanting to really experience the full goings-on face-to-face, up close and personal, sticking with the photographers had been a smart move. They got first entry, they were placed near the front - depending on the shot they wanted and the length of their lens - and there was an obvious need for them to be there in person. I don’t want to go into photography, nor do I possess the skill for it, but their jobs at COP26 did seem more exciting than the roles of the written journalists - though who’s to say that I wouldn’t have thought differently had I been going around with reporters from The Guardian.
"I don’t want to go into photography, nor do I possess the skill for it, but their jobs at COP26 did seem more exciting than the roles of the written journalists."
It was packed with press people trying to get in, and in sticking next to the guys from the big agencies, I got access quickly. We were ushered to a pen on the right of the stage, right next to the podium that Boris was about to walk out to. There were mutterings about whether he’d use the one on the opposite side of the stage, or sit even centrally on the panel which would make for a more boring shot.
The room filled up, and journalists from a myriad of national papers chose their seats near the front, chatting to one another as they filed in. They seemed fairly relaxed despite the chaotic queuing system that had taken place before we’d entered, and one woman was even firing on the blush and powdering her nose as everything got set up.
When everyone had been seated, or positioned at the side of the room, Boris walked out. He definitely looked more highly strung than he had done at the start of COP26, though even Boris’ being highly strung looked relatively relaxed.
It got to the press questions, and Robert Peston's name was called out. The man sitting closest to our press pen stood up. Yet again someone else I'd not clocked til I was right next to them. It was maybe one of the most heated press conferences I'd watched, given the tumultuous week that had preceded it, and Peston didn't hold back, thundering across the three seats that separated him and Boris at the PM.
The conference finished and I decided to take my chance. Peston sat chatting away to the BBC reporter next to him for a few minutes afterwards, and then he turned and left, his velvet blazer flashing right past. I grabbed my stuff, returning a jacket to a cameraman who'd felt bad for me shivering away in the draughty set-up, and paced back to the media centre, hoping to catch him.
I caught up with him as we walked back into the hub, him chatting to another reporter animatedly with notebook in hand. They finished their conversation, so I had to take advantage of the opportunity. God knows what I was going to say to him, though. You're always told to go introduce yourself to people but past giving your name and saying hi, what more is there to really say?
He was lovely though; a welcome change after watching his outburst at Boris only ten minutes prior. Asking him how long he'd be at COP26 for, he chatted a bit about the sleaze allegations and whether or not he'd have to go back to London for that. He asked about the paper, so I took the chance once more to drop The Glasgow Guardian into conversation. Who knows, maybe ITV would come knocking on our door at some point... one can hope.
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