I call it my BBC News watch. It is the watch that is seen by millions of people a week. It’s a vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox: one of the original models, not the revamped, reissued one. I bought it secondhand before mobile phones with their handy alarm clocks. I was travelling a huge amount, and I hated those little alarm clocks. I wanted a mechanical watch that was also an alarm. The Memovox has a little bell inside, which is a work of genius. I saw this one in the window of that wonderful shop Austin Kaye, on the Strand. The alarm has been used in every part of the world. It’s been used in Afghanistan, it’s been used in Iraq.
I used to go to Austin Kaye a great deal as I was based at the House of Commons for the BBC. It is one of the places where I have bought old Longines, Glashutte and, of course, Jaeger. I’ve got a very affectionate memory of Austin Kaye.
I was mentored by the great John Cole, who took me under his wing at a very young age. I’d gone to Westminster when Margaret Thatcher was in power, in 1986. At 26, I was made a political correspondent by the BBC. I became chief political correspondent at the tailend of the Major government and the arrival of Blair. I was at Westminster until ’99 or 2000 and had the time of my life.
I was very, very keen to become political editor. But John Birt and Tony Hall had the brainwave of fishing me out of Westminster and making me a news presenter. John Birt told me that I would be presenting the Six. I said, “Well, I’d rather stay at Westminster.” He said, “You start on May 10.” So that was the end of the conversation. Twenty-six years later I’m still presenting. This year marks my 16th on the Ten as a main presenter. I do the five o’clock news on the BBC News Channel as well. I also do programmes on state and ceremonial events, present Elections and make documentaries on subjects like classical music, history or even religion.
And it was in a religious context that I remember using the Memovox most regularly. I spent the best part of a month in Rome in 2005 essentially waiting for Pope John Paul II to depart this earth. On the day of the funeral, I had to get up at 4am to get over to St Peter’s Square. There were hundreds of thousands of Poles in Rome, and over a million people crowded around the Vatican. I had to get to the studio by 6am – we were on air at 9am – and I only just made it. But what got me up on the day – and I was absolutely knackered – was my trusted Jaeger alarm. It is massively reliable. I can’t pay a bigger compliment to any watch.