One thing – among many – that the coronavirus lockdowns have brought into focus is the issue of work-life balance. With schools closed and movement limited, many of us who would usually be in offices are at home, as are kids who would usually be at school or nursery.
This has proved a recipe for stress; the humiliation of not being able to answer year 6 maths questions; even more spillages and bickering than usual; and, happily, an even greater respect for teachers. It has also resulted in a fair amount of uplifting television moments, as the often pedestrian talking-heads segments of news pieces have been transformed by miniature humans who will not let a webcam and a live link come between their need for a biscuit (or two).
Honourable mentions go to shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, on Sky News, (handled very well by Kay Burley, who told her that Dodds’ daughter was “welcome any time on the programme”) and Chris Hemsworth, one half of the impossibly handsome and charming Hemsworth brothers, who unsuccessfully tried to shoo away his son before relenting during an interview. Here are some of the best interloping kids, both pre-Covid era and present.
Clare Wenham (BBC)
A professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, Dr Clare Wenham is just as intelligent in her parenting as in her professional field of expertise. She was explaining the relationship between central and local government responses to the coronavirus crisis – while her daughter, Scarlett, in her yellow-and-polka-dots Pippi Longstocking dress, was busy behind her trying to decide which shelf her picture of a unicorn should adorn.
The BBC anchor, Christian Fraser, not only offered Wenham an out if she wanted it (“Do stop me if you need to crack on …”), but also engaged young Scarlett in conversation; replying when she asked his name and complimenting her on her unicorn. (It genuinely was a great unicorn drawing.)
Fraser was wildly praised for his amiable and unfazed response, as was Wenham for her broad smile and smooth control of the situation. The television critic Scott Bryan, who first brought the clip to the attention of social media, has had almost 200,000 likes on his initial tweet.
Wenham and Scarlett have since shared an update on the final decision of the unicorn’s new home:
Deborah Haynes (Sky News)
In the same afternoon of Wenham and Scarlett’s appearance, another child was gatecrashing a mother’s television interview. This time it was the Sky News foreign affairs editor, Deborah Haynes, who was talking about the political situation in Hong Kong. Her son calmly walked in to the room to bargain for not one biscuit, but two. “Yes, you can have two biscuits,” Haynes responded hurriedly.
It was at this point that her colleague Mark Austin abruptly ended the interview. He was roundly criticised on social media, his response compared negatively with Fraser’s. But Austin was later defended by his producer, who said there was another pressing interview to come.
Haynes also updated her new fans: “I can confirm that his high-stakes negotiating skills netted him two chocolate digestives.” She has since been in touch with Wenham to discuss their kids’ unintended rise to television stardom.
Daniel Smith-Rowsey (Al Jazeera)
It isn’t the most famous (we all know which one that is), but it’s perhaps my favourite, because this 2018 interview on Al Jazeera lasts a full three minutes with film historian Daniel Smith-Rowsey’s son a full participant – even though the subject of sexual harassment and #MeToo isn’t, on the face of it, a child-friendly topic. Smith-Rowsey’s son variously waves, casually runs a car down his father’s chest, rests his head on his shoulder and then clambers atop of him, but mostly remains silent except for when Smith-Rowsey says of the Hollywood’s elite response to the movement: “I think it could be a cultural sea change. If they put their money where their mouth is. I think it’s gonna happen.” Before turning to his son and asking: “Right?”
“Yeah,” his son answers.
Arwa Damon (CNN)
In 2015, Arwa Damon, a CNN senior international correspondent, was mid piece-to-camera live from Leros, Greece, reporting on the extremely difficult, life-changing decisions refugees were having to make and the increased hostility they faced in Europe, when a young boy, smiling, interrupted her in Arabic. Not missing a beat, Damon crouched down to the boy’s level and replied to him in Arabic, before translating into English for viewers. “His family are on their way to Sweden.” “Bye!” he said, before disappearing again. Damon was applauded for handling the boy’s impromptu appearance sensitively and with kindness, rather than ignoring him or attempting to hide him from shot.
Courtney Kube (NBC)
In autumn 2019, NBC News correspondent Courtney Kube is in full flow talking about the Syria conflict (quite a complex subject) when a small, blonde doppelganger wanders into shot and starts, well, I can only describe it as pawing at her breast.
“Excuse me, my kids are here … live television!” she exclaims, before she plows on, explaining the ostensible safe-zone along the border, not put off in the slightest.
Kim Kardashian (YouTube)
I have to admit to not being au fait with the entire Kardashian West clan, but judging from this video alone, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West’s first born, seven-year-old North West, are hilarious – and have a wonderfully acerbic attitude.
Introducing a spot she is filming as part of a public awareness campaign on quarantine and social distancing, the celebrity entrepreneur opens with: “Hi, I’m Kim Kardashian West and I …” only to be interrupted by an off screen holler of: “AND NORTH WEST.”
Kardashian West continues to explain how despite the sunny weather it is important for people to stay inside, when a conspiratorial whisper from North is heard, again off screen: “I went out.”
Pretty soon, an exasperated but good-humoured Kardashian West has reached the stage of: “Can you not jump on the bed?”
But the greatest North intervention comes as her mother says it is important to check on friends’ mental health during lockdown. Once again North pipes up: “You should be more busy of your kids [sic], not your friends!” A chastised Kardashian West, holding in laughter, and sheepishly lowering her head, replies: “Facts.”
Cristiano Ronaldo (Football Talks)
Ronaldo is often criticised for his arrogance on the pitch, but there’s no doubt he loves his four kids; he talks about them often in interviews. During a 2015 interview with Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa – who is now the president of Portugal – Ronaldo’s son arrives home from school. Spotting him, Ronaldo calls him over. Dressed in full Superman outfit (complete with cape) a very shy Cristiano Jr comes over, before being kissed by his father. Ronaldo allows the boy’s grateful escape as squirms and ducks contact from de Sousa.
Jonathan Ashworth (BBC)
While I respect Jonathan Ashworth’s work as shadow health secretary, he seems rather too pleased with his daughter gatecrashing this bulletin with Reeta Chakrabarti. “I’m like that academic in Korea”, he grins. “I’m on the TV,” Ashworth tells his kids, as though he hasn’t been before. “I’m gonna go viral!” He didn’t, but I hope being included in this list counts for something.
Robert E Kelly (BBC)
Finally, we throw back to 2017 and the most iconic children-interrupting-interview of all time, which became an international sensation, covered by the Guardian, the New York Times and seemingly every outlet in every country around the world.
The political analyst Robert E Kelly, based in South Korea, was speaking on the impeachment of the president, Park Geun-hye, when his kids entered his home office. The star of the show was undoubtedly Kelly’s then four-year-old daughter, Marion, who, with an adorable bowl haircut and quirky glasses combo, bounced into the room in a manner later described by her father as “hippity-hoppity”. Seconds later, her baby brother, eight-months-old James, appeared in a roller, crashing into the room at speed.
As Kelly closed his eyes in despair, willing the ground to swallow him up and mumbling “excuse me”, his wife, Kim Jeong-ah, dived in to retrieve the kids from shot, scrambling to get them out of the room, a look of sheer panic on her face.
This perfect if inadvertent vignette of physical comedy and family calamity was appreciated by all who saw it, and has even been turned into a cartoon.
“We had to turn off our phones and Facebook and everything,” the family said – described as “the most famous in the world” – after the video blew up. They admitted to being concerned. “We were worried that the BBC would never call us again. Our first response was mortification,” Kelly told the BBC in a follow-up interview.
One of the best details that came to light was that Kim was watching the bulletin live in the sitting room – when her children suddenly appeared in the background of the screen.
Kelly’s viral fame has not affected his career; at least not negatively. He is still a regular commentator on Korean politics, and now has a Wikipedia page dedicated to him. He has joked, however: “This is now the first line in my obituary.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010