“I’ve got quite a few reasons to be grateful to Doctors,” the Today presenter told a live audience at the Royal Society of Medicine last week. Speaking on the eve of Boris Johnson’s resignation announcement, the former political editor for the BBC shared his experience of surviving a fatal car accident and how it inspired his career in journalism.
He spoke at length about his more than 30 years in political broadcasting, offering personal insights into Boris Johnson, who the next day would resign as Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.
Mr Robinson touched on the “celebrity appeal” and “extraordinary power to reach the electorate” of Mr Johnson, citing how his own father, who was “passionately opposed to the Conservatives”, was “absolutely wooed by this guy”.
Nick Robinson, who briefly lost his voice after undergoing surgery to remove a bronchial carcinoid tumour from his lung in 2015, joined Professor Sir Simon Wessely, Immediate Past President of the RSM, in person on Wednesday 6 July for the RSM In Conversation Live Series.
He told psychiatrist Professor Wessely how his early interest in journalism was inspired by the relationship with his childhood friend’s father, broadcaster and fellow Today presenter Brian Redhead.
“The reason I wanted to be a journalist was because my best friend’s dad was Brian Redhead.
“As it happened, his house was on my route home. Rather like me now, because he did these weird hours, was often home in the afternoons. So, between the age of eight to 18, I’d probably be in the house two or three times a week.
“I remember as an eight year old going and having a slice of chocolate cake and a glass of milk, seeing the Daily Mail and the Guardian. And I thought - that’s a bit weird, a house with the Mail and the Guardian.
“Brian was just interested in ideas. So that’s where the inspiration to be a journalist came from.”
Tragically, Brian Redhead's son Will died aged 18 alongside a friend in a fatal car accident, in which Nick Robinson was also travelling but survived. Nick suffered extensive burns and spent time in intensive care. He was recently approached after speaking at an event by a man who was in the burns unit at the same time.
“This guy said ‘I was in the burns unit with you in 1982’. And remembered me giving him a pep talk about how he’d get better. Because I was used a bit - because I was young and usually people in a burns unit are old.
“If you get flash burns to your face they actually recover incredibly quickly but you look dreadful to start with.
“I went from patient to patient – I can’t quite believe I did this but apparently I did - at the age of 18 saying ‘look at me, I’m going to be fine’.”
Although already set on a career in journalism, Mr Robinson accepted that the accident altered his life and perhaps helped drive his success. Asked how it felt to step in the shoes of the man who’d inspired him when he took on the role of Today presenter, he said, “There was a sort of gulp moment. Quite a lot was hovering overhead.”
The son of a GP, Mr Robinson studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford, where he was part of the prestigious Oxford Union and learned the skill of debating – something he places a high value on to this day.
“I’m a great believer in debating - and in fact I work with a charity that tries to teach kids from deprived schools to debate, on the grounds that teaching people articulacy is incredibly powerful.
“I’m a great believer in the power of being able to make your case and to be articulate.”
This week, we’re joined by Wes Streeting, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Book to join us here.