Did you know that Kelly Clarkson, who sang the national anthem during the Super Bowl, learned Esperanto? Ok, I’ll admit, it wasn’t much. But, I’m sure of it, since I saw it myself! Amusingly enough, Kelly Clarkson was on the Paul O’Grady Show promoting her new album at the same time as Esperanto activist, Tim Morley, also appeared. So, check out the video and then learn more about how Tim ended up teaching Esperanto to Kelly.
Most of my readers don’t live in England, so I’m wondering, how well-known is the Paul O’Grady show?
Paul O’Grady is a very well known presenter on national TV and radio, and The Paul O’Grady Show was attracting about 3 million viewers per show in 2005 when my slot with Kelly Clarkson was broadcast.
How did you end up being on such a show?
They were scouting around for an Esperanto speaker. Originally it was meant to be part of a wider feature about languages, to coincide with the European Day of Languages, but that never happened, and they ended up just loosely tying in a piece about Esperanto with Kelly Clarkson’s tour.
They contacted the London Esperanto Club, and the Esperanto Association of Britain, but I stumbled on some messages that they sent to various Esperanto-related email discussion groups.
I found out later that there was some discussion at the London club about whether it was wise to take up the request, as there was a risk that the show would ridicule or mock the invitee and/or Esperanto, but having seen the show occasionally, I wasn’t really worried about that. It’s quite light-hearted, not an intellectual discussion with “devil’s advocate” questions, but they’re always very good with their guests, so I went for it.
They asked me to meet the production staff a few weeks in advance, and we chatted a bit on camera about Esperanto and other things, then they invited me back for the live broadcast.
When did you hear you would be sitting next to Kelly Clarkson, teaching her a bit of Esperanto? What came to your mind?
It was a week or so beforehand, from memory, and I’m afraid my immediate response was, “Kelly who?” Sorry, Kelly! I don’t watch a great deal of TV, and although I have music on at home, it’s rarely the latest releases, so I had to google Kelly Clarkson to find out who I’d be sharing the sofa with. I was quite impressed with what I read though, and it was a great pleasure to meet her on the day! During the commercial break immediately after the clip that’s on YouTube, we chatted on the sofa for a couple of minutes, and she said it sounded really interesting and asked a couple more questions. Damn, I wish I’d had a business card to give to her, but I didn’t!
Was it your idea to answer Paul’s first two questions in Esperanto? If not, how do you think that went over?
Fakte ne, la produktistoj proponis tion, sed mi ja ŝatis la ideon!
Ummm nice, could you translate that for us?
Sure, yeah! Actually no, it was the producers who suggested it, but I liked the idea.
How much of the interview was scripted and how much was spontaneous?
About 50/50. Some of the questions I’d been told about in advance, and probably already answered in the pre-screening interview, but he threw in other things too. The night before the show, Paul O’Grady had been at an awards ceremony where he’d got rather drunk, so there had been references to that throughout the show, and his request for a translation of “help me!” was part of that, and wasn’t in the script.
The interaction with Kelly was pretty much all scripted — I knew she was going to say “right on!” and she knew that I was going to translate it as “ĝuste!”
I thought the chalkboard in the middle was brilliant. Was that your idea? How did that end up there?
Again, it was the producers’ idea to have it, and it was their questions too, although obviously the Esperanto translations were mine.
Why did you choose to introduce such a long word like “tranoktigonton”?
Ironically, it was partly to make the translation fit on the blackboard! I could have said “Mi bezonas prunti ĉambron por dormi” or something similar, and perhaps I should have in retrospect, but I was just asked to translate them while somebody stood over me waiting to take my piece of paper away to write on the blackboard, so I didn’t have much time to consider it.
Well, I congratulate you again on a terrific media success and I wish you more in your future!
Thanks! My next appearance will be in a month’s time, at TEDxGranta in Cambridge, UK, where I’ll be talking about teaching Esperanto to primary school kids. Watch out for it online afterwards!