Giving MotoGP a voice – Exclusive Interview with Gavin Emmett, Part I
The new season is just about to start and no matter if you live in the United States, Australia or just anywhere with an internet connection – If you’re a fan of MotoGP then chances are that you’ve heard this commentator’s voice a lot of times before, bringing you the latest news from the track and the most interesting tidbits from the paddock.
Gavin Emmett has been around the MotoGP circus for almost a decade now, making his mark from early on. We had the chance to talk to Gavin at the 2010 Valencian Grand Prix and tried to find out a bit more about the man behind the voice.
How did you get into motorsport journalism originally, what’s your educational background?
My background is actually languages. I studied literature, Spanish and French at university. But this here is something I’ve always done, my dissertation was on Spanish sports media. It was just a different way to get into it.
I moved to Spain when Dorna invited me to come over because of the languages I spoke, that’s how I got into writing for the website. So it wasn’t a direct way into journalism, although my degree had some elements of communications in it and that sort of thing. It was sort of a roundabout way to get into it, but I was always gonna do languages, because that’s what I was best at.
How did you get to work with Dorna?
It was actually through Matt Roberts who was already working for Dorna in 2000 [Matt now works as MotoGP reporter for the BBC]. We were friends at university and he told me they needed someone else to help him run the website and he gave me the contact of the communications director. I got in contact with him and already a week later I was out in Barcelona, working for the website.
It was basically just me and Matt working on all the English content for the website. He worked for them from the start of 2001 and I was joining him pretty soon after.
And how did you go from there to becoming a commentator for the live feed?
I was only doing the web stuff for the first year really and already helping out doing the TV interviews. And back in that time we used to do a few in-the-house videos for Suzuki, Dunlop etc and I got that job. The videos for Suzuki which I did from about 2002 also used to have voice-over, so I was doing that too. And it just came from there. I used to do the trial voice-overs as well.
It’s just something I always wanted to do; I actually wanted to be a commentator since I was a little kid. And when I was with Dorna I pushed towards that side of things to get to do it and it was great, it moved on from there. First doing the Suzuki stuff and then Matt started doing commentary in 2003 and I joined him later that year, in Phillip Island, doing the commentary with Matt and Nick [Harris] from that year on.
What was your inspiration for wanting to become a commentator?
It’s just something I always wanted to do. I used to watch any sport on TV. I think I had almost an obsession with it and I always wanted to be a professional sportsman of some sort, but I was one of those Jacks Of All Trades, Master Of None. I think the only way I was ever gonna get into it was on the other side of the touch line, whether it’s in motorsports or field sports or anything. That was the only way for me to get into it really. My talent was more for writing and things like that, rather than taking part.
Did you do any specific training or practice before you started working as a commentator?
No, I haven’t done any of that. It’s just something I’ve studied in a passive sense through watching it so much since I was a kid and loved doing it. And I enjoy doing it to this day.
Leaving everything behind and coming down to Spain for work must have been difficult.
It wasn’t difficult whatsoever. I really wanted to use the chance. I wanted to work in sports, writing, use my languages and travel. There was no way I’d say No to that. I was working in marketing before, at a recruitment company in London, because it was the first thing after coming out of university to pay the bills and looking for stuff and it just happened. One of those quirks of fate.
Which do you consider your home now, Spain or England?
England. I moved back to England in 2009 for a change of scenery. I was in-house for Dorna and then I went freelance at the beginning of 2009.
Talking about your work, how do you prepare for a race weekend?
One of the main things I do – and people at home just laugh when I tell them, because they don’t consider it work – is just to read as much as I can and soak up the information. I read all the magazines I can and a lot of websites of course. Especially Italian and Spanish ones, because it’s one thing that a lot of the other English-speaking journalists can’t do, to get that information. Although it’s good that there are lots of people now who translate all those things, so that everyone can have access to it. But yeah, just doing lots of reading and preparation through research.
And as well, when you arrive on Thursday, just speaking with lots of people. You know the stories that are around and about, so you try to find out a bit more information, try to get a little bit of an edge, something that you might hold back until Sunday or until you’re actually back on air. I do actually enjoy the preparation side of it, the finding things out, finding the little tidbits.
Is there anything particular you always try to look out for in your commentary and reports, to make it your style?
Well, I really love reading the Italian and Spanish press, because they would just go and invent things. While to a certain extend the British press will also do that, it’s not to the same extend and with those liberties they take. And I would always try to get in some of the “This is what they’re talking about”, because some of these things are so out of left field. [laughs] I always say that with some of these journalists it’s like they just throw so many arrows that one of them will hit the bullseye. And it’s often like that. You can work out from a lot of situations the likely things that might happen. So, lots of times you’ll see them throwing stuff and suddenly they’ll get one thing right and then it’s “We told you!”. But they also told us a lot of other things… I always find that pretty funny.
How many languages do you actually speak?
I speak Spanish and French fluently. English I do alright with as well. [laughs] My Italian is something I’ve picked up in the paddock over the years, it’s okay. I get by talking to Italian riders and having conversations in Italian. Catalan I understand, but don’t speak, just from working in Dorna. And I can read the odd German thing, it’s been my best language actually, but since I’ve been 16 I never used it, so it’s now completely gone.
In a paddock that largerly consists of Spaniards and Italians, how much do you think is it a necessity for journalists to speak those languages?
I don’t think it’s a necessity, because most of the European journalists have to speak English for work. And we as British and American journalists are mostly a bit lazy learning another language for starters, so other people would usually learn English. But for me I consider it an asset. Whether it’s the likes of Lorenzo and Pedrosa – I’ve known them since they couldn’t speak English, when they were kids; I have seen them coming through and known the characters and these sort of things. I think you have a little edge in that. You know the English-speaking riders as well as the other journalists, but you also have a sense of the other riders, you get a little bit of an edge in what they’re like. Because whenever you talk in a foreign language, you’re a bit stilted, you might be a bit uncomfortable and not natural etc. Like Hector Barbera did the [Valencia pre-event] press conference in Spanish. He speaks okay English now, it’s not the best, but he’s trying. But when he speaks Spanish you work out that he’s actually a real funny guy and this sort of thing really comes across in their own languages. So for me I consider it an asset, it’s a bonus to have.
Getting to know the riders better over the years and working closely together, did you develop any friendships or favourites over that time? How do you maintain your distance to stay objective in your job?
Something I’ve really never tried is to be friends with a rider. I get on well with riders and enjoy their company, but I’ve always tried to keep a professional distance. I think some people don’t do that, they get a little too close to the riders and then become protective of them or not objective enough to be in this kind of situation. It’s important to keep that kind of relationship professional and I think most of the riders respect that as well, that you’re keeping some distance. I know some journalists who would ask for autographs and I never did that. I think once for charity I asked Valentino Rossi for an autograph. But it’s not something I would ever actually do. I think there’s a boundary there and it’s important to have that. So they [the riders] can respect you when you criticize them and they can respect your opinions as well; they know you’re an objective person and you only see things as you see them rather than “This is my favourite rider, so I’m gonna believe this”.
I have the utmost respect for every single rider that crosses that line and goes out there. There’s nobody I dislike; there are maybe some personalities that are harder to deal with, but every single one has my utmost respect for going out there and doing what they do and providing us all with this show.
Do you find it easy to keep that distance or does it simply come with the job?
It comes pretty much naturally to me and it’s also a bit the way I am as well. Actually Nick Harris and I have talked about this and it’s not really an active thing at all, it’s just a way to do your profession I think. It’s just trying to keep that little bit of distance and have the respect for people’s job and livelihood. I don’t know if it’s something we’re really actively trying to do, it’s just how it is.
This is the first part of our exclusive interview with Gavin Emmett. The second part will be posted tomorrow.
Photo and content by Vroom Media.
Screencap taken from After the Flag, Copyright Dorna Sports SL.