Getting to know you: ITV News Scotland correspondent Peter Smith
Holyrood chats to ITV News’s Scotland correspondent, Peter Smith, about teenage rebellion, surfing, imposter syndrome and eyebrow paranoia
What is your earliest memory?
I can remember I had a little sweet shop down the road from me as a little kid, and my earliest memory would be going in there and trying to reach the pick’n’mix stall to give myself a 10p mixture.
What were you like at school?
Talkative and argumentative. And I think journalism was the right career for me. I do think that there’s a place for being a young rebel. And that’s never left me. I’ll hold on to my teenage rebellion. I think journalism is a good place for kids who were a bit rebellious at school.
You speak Vietnamese, don’t you? How did that come about?
Well, I’d left home when I was quite young, about 17, and I went away and worked in Vietnam, and taught English at a teacher training college in a very remote place in Vietnam. It was about six hours from the capital city, quite a rural area. And I lived there for a year and taught English out there and picked up Vietnamese.
Do you have any other unexpected skills or talents?
None whatsoever. I’ve been trying to learn surfing, but I’ve been a beginner for about five years. And I’ll probably be rubbish at it for the rest of my life, but I really enjoy it. It’s a good hobby.
Who would be your dream dinner date?
Oh, my wife will kill me if I don’t say her, but I get to dine with her most nights. So, if it was a dream situation, I’d like to say somebody really serious, and I probably would have once upon a time, but I think over the course of the last year particularly, I’m more inclined to say someone like Billy Connolly. You know, going for dinner where it’s not someone that’s going to be lecturing you or be really insightful, but someone who would just be a really good laugh and would have great anecdotes and fantastic stories.
What’s your greatest fear?
I would say, apart from defaming someone on air, which terrifies me every time I do a sensitive story, it would be solitary confinement. I think that after a while being left alone with your darkest thoughts, it could be almost be one of the worst things imaginable.
What’s the worst thing that anyone’s ever said to you?
I’ve not had anyone that’s been really horrible, apart from on Twitter, but someone once said to me that you need to know your limitations and be a bit less ambitious with what you’re trying to do in your career. And I think the person said that with the intention of putting me off pursuing a career in TV journalism. So that was a pretty mean thing to say. But I’m quite resilient person. I think if ever I got a sense that someone was doing that, I would be more inclined to try and prove them wrong.
And you have proved them wrong.
Well, maybe. Thank you for saying, but I don’t know, I still have this terrible impostor syndrome. But I think, though, that over the years, it’s been learning about how to harness that. I’m just trying to harness that into a way to stay focused, never settle, don’t be complacent and, you know, stay on your toes and appreciate that there’s someone else that could probably do your job, so make sure you do it well. That doesn’t sound very motivational, but it keeps me going.
What is your most treasured possession?
My St Christopher that I keep on me. I’ve have worn it every single day since I was 17. My mum gave it to me when I was leaving home to go away to Vietnam and there’s never been a day that I’ve not worn it.
What do you dislike about your appearance?
I’m not too caught up in appearances, but after being abused about my eyebrows after one interview I did with Nicola Sturgeon, it certainly made me more self-conscious of my eyebrows, even to the extent that I consulted a friend of mine who runs a beauty salon and asked if I needed to do anything with my eyebrows. And she told me no, they were fine. But it did make me inquire about them. So, yeah, self-conscious about my eyebrows now.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I really like Robert Louis Stevenson, and I would love to go back to the days that he was a kid. And growing up when you had pirates and things like that on the British coast, I think it would be a very fascinating time. And also actually probably the late 60s, Woodstock in the late 60s. That would be very much my scene.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
Someone said to me that journalism is the best job in the world and if you’re not enjoying it, it’s either not for you or you’re not doing it properly. And if ever there’s been times when I’m not fully enjoying the job, it’s made me pause, step back and reassess how I’m doing it and recalibrate it until I’m enjoying it again. And also, someone also once said to me always bring snacks with you in journalism because you never know when you’re going to get time to stop and eat. And that’s a very, very valuable piece of advice that’s that served me well over the years.
What skill should every person have?
I think empathy is a really good skill to have. If everyone had a bit more empathy with one another, I think we could probably learn a lot more about each other and appreciate where people are coming from. In terms of practical skills, everyone should be able to cook. I remember Nick Nairn said to me that nobody should be leaving school in Scotland not able to cook a two course meal for themselves. I think that would stand everyone in good stead if we could all just learn to cook a basic two course meal, and we would all be a lot more healthy and happy, and probably well off.
What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?
My wife and I, we lost a baby at the start of last year, and that was pretty horrendous. Just horrible. There’s nothing good about it in any way. You know, you talk about experiences that make you in different ways, but just a really altogether very painful, horrible experience. But I was very well supported by people round about us.
What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?
Film: Serpico, and TV programme: The Wire. Serpico, it’s Al Pacino and he’s the only straight cop in the precinct, the rest of them they’re all taking bungs. And it’s in New York, it’s based on a true story, but he is so cool in the film, like I’ve never seen a cooler character than Al Pacino in Serpico. Highly recommend it.
What was your best holiday ever?
My next one. I’m so looking forward to it and in need of a holiday. Just after the election, I’m going to be going to a little place in the east coast of Scotland. It’s a surf holiday, so I’m taking my surfboard, my heavily pregnant wife and our little girl, and it will be our last holiday as the three of us.
What was the last book you read?
For Whom the Bell Tolls. I had it for about 15 years, it’s been sitting on my bookshelf, so I finally got around to reading it and finishing it. It was excellent.