I grew up in a culturally and ethnically, but not religious, noisy Jewish household in Crouch End, north London. I was the oldest of three children. I remember my father, who rarely cooked but had to on this occasion because my mum was giving birth, once managed to serve my sister and I fish fingers. They were black on the outside and frozen in the middle. A remarkable feat.
Being the eldest child has perhaps created one of my greatest flaws – an awful habit of trying to fix everybody’s problems. I learned very early to do that rather than to just listen. If there was something going wrong, a crisis in the family, everybody, including my parents, would come to me. As I’ve got older, I’ve understood that that can be annoying.
Like my father [the Labour life peer and economist Lord Maurice Peston], I have a strong ability to focus and complete big projects simultaneously. I’m good at cutting myself off to get things done. The downside is the people you care about, friends and partners, feel you’re absent. I’ve been told that I’m sometimes physically there, but not emotionally there.
These things were never diagnosed, but I assume I had ADHD. At school I had an incredible restlessness. I was always falling off the back of chairs, smashing my head open and going to A&E. But when I was into a subject, I could totally cut the rest of the world out.
I have a weird brain. It’s ludicrously overactive, with too many thoughts happening at the same time. Maybe that informs my vocal delivery. Ever since I started broadcasting, people have absolutely hated my style. I’m still not an especially conventional broadcaster, but I’m a bit less eccentric than when I started.
Soon after my wife, Sian, died, I became very ill, which I think was my body just saying, “Stop!” I was hospitalised with some weird condition. I couldn’t move. All my joints swelled up. I was in intense pain. It was like a metaphor for the fact that I wasn’t keeping myself healthy emotionally. I deal with trauma and grief by keeping busy, but that’s a mistake. You have to confront the terrible thing and make your peace with it.
I’ve interviewed every prime minister from Tony Blair to Rishi Sunak – I interviewed Liz Truss too, but not during her 50 days as PM – and the default position on answering questions has changed. Senior politicians tried harder in the past to answer questions, not always in a full and frank way, but they tried. Today the default position is to not answer the question. T they’ve worked out what they want to say and don’t want to be knocked off that course. Nowadays politicians regard it a failure if they do answer the question.
When you’re on television you’ve got to be on your guard against turning into some awful narcissist.
I come from a family of Arsenal supporters. I’ve had a season ticket for decades. My dad was an Arsenal fan, my children are, Arsenal fanstoo. Even my partner, Charlotte [Edwardes], occasionally comes along. She doesn’t care about Arsenal. She comes as an act of love.
The Crash by Robert Peston is published by Zaffre at £16.99. Buy it for £14.44 at guardianbookshop.com