Adam Lee-Potter on interviewing Michael Connelly, stopping a street fight and ditching Fleet Street for Dorset

Illustration by Claire Jelly

Illustration by Claire Jelly - Credit: Archant

What a difference a decade makes. Swapping fearsome Fleet Street for family life in Dorset with Labrador, saxophone and seaside views has enriched all our lives

It pains me to reflect that a decade has gone by in barely a blink. Exactly ten years ago, nearing the end of a 15,000-mile cycle ride round the world, I interviewed the author Michael Connelly at his Florida home.

On March 23, 2004, my diary read: ‘I have just clambered into my stiff Lycra and cleated up for the day when I get the call from Connelly’s PR: “Go to Tampa Bay. Now.” I change quickly into my ‘best’ outfit: Agnes B shirt, Thai trousers and bike shoes.’

For some reason, the subsequent Independent article was syndicated worldwide, from the Melbourne Age to Singapore’s Strait Times. Connelly, a hero of mine, was livid. Moaning that my interview stalked him everywhere he went, he said: “It was the first time I ever let another journalist into my house. It will be the last.”

But why?

‘There is something a tad off about interviewing another journalist,’ I’d written. ‘Like vegetarian sausages or kissing your mother on the mouth, it just feels wrong.

‘But Michael Connelly - for years a crime reporter on the Los Angeles Times - frees me with his first salvo. “I was never just a journalist,” he tuts, “I was always a writer.” Ah well, that’s all right then. Gloves off.’

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I was neither mean nor unkind, just brutally honest. And Connelly’s irritable reaction rocked me.

So I have to admit that my latest assignment did trouble me – interviewing Jon Ronson, the journalist and author whose book, The Men Who Stare At Goats, was made into a lavish movie starring George Clooney.

I needn’t have worried, though. Ronson - in Bridport to curate next month’s Page to Screen Festival - was light and effervescent, charming and fun: the perfect interviewee.

But, on reflection, it probably wasn’t just him. Since moving back to Dorset, I have become a very different man to the one who, back in 2004, hung up his Lycra in Poole and roared back to Fleet Street.

These last two years have been anything but uneventful. I’ve had my first street fight – after wading in to stop a man beating up his girlfriend outside our house. I’ve posed naked, bar for an A4 notepad, for a national newspaper. I have even developed arthritic knees.

But I’ve also seen my daughter flourish, bought a Labrador and a tenor sax – two impossibles in our old London flat - and Tube strikes are but a distant memory. Best of all, sea air, views and neighbours have enriched and calmed us all.

So what if I no longer have thighs as big as canoes? They were terribly impractical anyway: trouser-shopping was a nightmare.

I may not be much wiser but I am, a little. Still, I revel in the fact that I am only the same age as the great Oliver Reed when he came out with my favourite quote of all time.

“Romance matters,” he said. “Those mornings with toast and marmalade in bed, when the woman gets back in with you and reads the papers. And there are toast crumbs in the bed, and she is very warm, breathing on your shoulder. Then she puts on a clean frock and you go and play darts in a pub that is full of smoke and you know that you have just left toast crumbs in your bed. That is romance.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. There’s life in us old dogs yet.