At the start of this year, a strange thing happened to me. I became famous for about 72 hours in Athens. This sudden and unexpected fame was the result of an attempt to try and interview Greece’s then-finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis.
Back then, when Syriza had just won the elections, hope reigned and everyone was excited. Needless to say, everyone also wanted an interview with the man of the moment. This was before the ulcer-inducing months of Varoufakis’ negotiations, that famous middle finger, and “Honey, I shut the banks“.
Back then, the cult of Varoufakis had only just started to eclipse Varoufakis, Finance Minister. In loyal freelancer style, I opened my big mouth and offered to get an interview for the USA Today. They were immediately interested.
A domino effect of various events then followed, which I wrote about in an anguished blog post here. Initially on that Friday when it all kicked off, my phone kept pinging repeatedly with Facebook friend requests. I felt reassured. At last my work as a journalist was being recognised. Rejoice!
As the afternoon wore on, things got a little weirder. My first clue of things not being what they seemed were the marriage proposals I started receiving. Then a phone call from SKAI channel that went something like this:
SKAI: We want to interview you!
Me: Okay, what about?
SKAI: You’re all over the news today!
Me: Am I? Is this about that article that someone wrote about foreign correspondents during the elections?
SKAI: No! You’re everywhere!
Me: …. *Googles own name* Oh my God…
Having accidentally become famous, I was interviewed by phone for two news channels and then live on air for SKAI the following Monday. Because at that time, with the economy about to go into meltdown, there was obviously not enough real news to go around. Every time the news reran an interview with me, I knew it was happening because my phone would start pinging off the table with more Facebook friend request.
I was not happy. As I watched my name spread across the Greek tabloids, and read the nasty comments, I was distraught. The Sunday before my live interview, I sat on a black pebbled beach in Lavrio, tossing rocks into the sea with my kids and saying “My career is over! No one will ever take me seriously again! I’ll be That Varoufakis Girl forever!”
My husband thought I was overreacting. Fellow journalists had warned me not to do the interview, saying I’d be crucified live on air for no good reason. I pushed ahead, thinking it had got bad enough with the revoltingly suggestive headlines of me in the Greek tabloids that described me as “on her knees for an interview”, “begging for an interview” or “lining up for an interview”. The least I could do was make my case as a serious human being live on air and not the total moron the press was making me out to be. I really did think this would clinch the interview for me.
My husband spent the drive home from Lavrio coaching me because I was terrified that I would mess up my Greek live on air, and then forever be known as That Varoufakis Girl Who Can’t Even Speak Greek. Watching the video of myself on SKAI now is funny, because I was too nervous about tripping over the Greek word for ‘interview’, συνέντευξη, so I kept saying it in English. Back then, I was half dead from anxiety as I waited to go on air, watching others chain-smoke in the green room and wondering if I should take it up too.
In the studio, the thing that stuck in my mind was that the back of the shiny podium where I was sat was chipped. It was very quiet, and I paid great attention to my Greek. The presenter was nice, and soon I was done.
As soon as I came off air, I got into a taxi to head to work at a copywriting job I had at the time, and walked into the office to the playful teasing of my colleagues. “What are you still doing here? We thought you hit the big time!” they said. On the way home, several people including sweet little grannies recognised me on the metro.
“Dear,” said one of them “are you that girl who has been trying to interview Varoufakis?”
“Yes” I replied. “Did you manage?” the granny asked. “Not yet.” I said. “You’ll manage! Don’t give up!” she said, patting me firmly on the arm. The handful of people who recognised me said the same. Keep at it, you’ll get it, well done.
My fleeting fame passed, but I stayed at it. I kept calling Varoufakis’ press officer. We had random, long conversations. I kept being told the interview was close. I emailed Varoufakis over and over again. Eventually the USA Today gave up waiting for my interview, and stopped emailing me every time he gave an interview elsewhere, asking what my own progress was.
I didn’t give up. I was sure I was close, and so I began to prepare. I pored over past interviews and read his economic papers. I was going to get my interview, and when I got it, it was going to be the best interview ever written about Varoufakis.
I tracked colleagues on Twitter for whom Varoufakis’ door seemed to open so effortlessly, burning with envy. As the months passed, my emails to Varoufakis became quirky and bizarre. He wasn’t replying to me or even acknowledging the emails, so I felt sure he mustn’t be checking that account any more. I even sent him an interview request written in haiku form. No luck.
I sat three rows away from him when he gave a speech at an event, and as he left, swept away in a cloud of press, I fell behind, never getting close enough to introduce myself.
My family and friends continued to root for me. They knew how badly I wanted the interview, even if in the end I wanted it purely because I didn’t want to be the only journalist in the world who didn’t manage to get an interview with the man who claims to give ten of them a day.
— Omaira Gill (@OmairaGill) November 5, 2015
The day he resigned as finance minister, I had just come back from dropping my children off at nursery. My husband was watching the news and turned to me, grinning.
“Varoufakis just resigned.”he said.
I started to swear and throw things around. Never had there been a finance minister so prolific at giving interviews, and I hadn’t managed to get one.
And then about two months ago, our paths crossed randomly. I was meeting a lawyer who had come to Greece as part of a solidarity drive from the UK with several other lawyers and MPs.
We chatted about various things and I ended up telling her my Varoufakis story when she said the rest of the delegation was meeting him at that very moment. We later went to join the delegation when they returned, and as I sat down at the long end of a dimly lit table, the lawyer I was with leaned over to me and said “There’s Varoufakis!”
And there he was. The man himself. The shadow I’d spent months chasing, talking to a fascinated audience around the table. News that a journalist was at the table spread. Someone said I had to leave immediately, but in the end I was deemed harmless enough to stay.
When the talk was over, my moment came. I had rehearsed this in my mind so many times, the way I would confidently stride over, stick out a hand, deliver a firm handshake and say something deliciously witty. Then we’d both laugh in a chummy sort of way at the silliness at the start of the year, and he’d say ” Well played, Omaira Gill, you can have your interview at such and such date and time.”
But of course it didn’t happen that way. I was not dazzlingly confident, and Varoufakis did not look pleased to see me. Kind of understandable, I did after all jump him at an event where he did not expect me or any other journalist to be.
When I finally got the chance to make my case to him face to face, considering an interview at least a little compensation for how many months I had patiently waited and how my professional name had been dragged through the tabloid trenches in the process, I really expected him to say yes.
My approach was not mean-spirited. Knowing how he hates having his words twisted, my plan had been to put the entire transcript of our interview on this blog as an extra guarantee of accuracy.
I won’t recount the brief, uncomfortable conversation we had word for word, suffice to say his answer to me saying I’d waited so long was that I would have to keep on waiting. At this point someone loudly said that Mr Varoufakis had no more time and had to leave immediately.
I watched the delegation throng around him for photos, and then he was gone out the door. Nine months after beginning my quest, I had in my possession one very blurry photo as evidence of the meeting, no timeline or confirmation of an interview, not even a friendly “Hello, stalker!”
Short of handcuffing myself to him and refusing to leave until he gives me an interview, there is nothing else left for me to try. Accidental fame and my interview request splashed across the internet didn’t work. Asking nicely didn’t work. I’ve had friends higher up along the journalism ladder ask on my behalf, which also didn’t work.
Nine months down the line with nothing to show for it, no outlet interested in my article any more, and nothing apart from my own intense curiosity driving my quest for the article, I’ve decided to call off the search. For a long time I considered it a personal failing on my own part. I built up the importance of the interview to my career until it towered over me, blown out of all proportion. Failing to get the interview would mean I had failed overall. How could I be the only journalist who didn’t get an interview with the one person who’s door seemed to always be open to the media? I couldn’t be that person. I had tried so hard. I wasn’t giving up. I’m not the sort of person who gives up on anything. There was no way I was going to allow that to happen.
But it happened. And it’s okay.