AMOL Rajan Interviews Bill Gates (BBC2) involves two men, both hugely interesting.
Interviewer Rajan was born in Tooting of Indian parentage. He went to Cambridge and despises the royal family, calling Prince Philip "a racist buffoon', the then-Prince Charles "scientifically illiterate", Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations "a celebration of mediocrity" and the royal family a group "unusually full of fools". Someone with such views can’t be all bad.
Interviewee Bill Gates is, if you’re not a Microsoft fan, Mr Computer. He’s a billionaire dozens of times over, although he’s in the process of giving away most of his wealth. He’s tall with tousled hair and wears an ordinary white shirt and an ordinary pair of specs. He and Amol meet in Kenya, where Gates is checking to see that the money he’s given to make people’s lives better is being well spent.
Gates gives a few statistics, not in a boastful way but as a simple statement of facts. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation first started in 2000, nearly 20 per cent of children born in Africa died by the age of four, in the world generally the figure was 10 per cent. Thanks to Gates the figure has been cut in half – 10 per cent of African children now die by the age of four, world-wide the figure is 5 per cent. Gates aims to halve that again.
Rajan has a little stud in his ear and a Tooting accent and appears completely at ease with the world’s richest do-gooder. He notes that Gates was “eerily prescient” when years and years ago he claimed there’d one day be a computer on every desk and a computer in every home. He also predicted that the next big global challenge would not be war but some sort of pandemic. And now? “Bio-terror”.
Then Rajan fires a series of questions, asking Gates to respond in ten words or less. What time does he wake? About fifteen minutes before his first meeting. “I stay up late – I’m a night person." His greatest hero, living or dead? He pauses, then: “Oh, my dad, or Warren Buffett”. Who in history would he like to meet? “Da Vinci,” he says, although not very enthusiastically. “What do you fear most?” For this one the pause goes on forever. Then: “It’s hard to say. Not being a good friend, I guess.”
Almost as amazing as his billions is the ordinariness of Gates. There’s no trace of self-congratulation for his achievements, of doing good with thunderous stealth. Rajan for his part has revolutionised the way a BBC interviewer talks and looks. He’s impressed but not overawed as he talks to one of the world’s richest men.
“How much have you given away now?” he asks. “About 30 billion,” Gates tells him. Rajan repeats the figure and giggles at the scale of it all.
Finally, an interesting factoid: part of the interview took place in the back seat of a moving car. Rajan was wearing his seat belt, Gates wasn’t. Someone should tell Rishi Sunak.