Getting to Know Sir Trevor McDonald: ‘An Improbable Life’ Book Review

An Improbable Life, by Sir Trevor McDonald, one of the UK’s most fondly recognised news readers. A cricket and sports addict, and perhaps a secret wanderluster since he was always jetting off to interesting places to get the scoop on a story.

This autobiography, gives us a collection of journalistic memoirs and many of Trevor’s own thoughts and opinions on them.

Sir Trevor McDonald: the journalist, television reporter, author, news reader and tv and radio producer

Thinking back to my younger days, I’m old enough to remember Trevor McDonald as the man who gave us the UK ‘News at Ten’ alongside a picture of London’s Big Ben.

Trevor had that familiar articulate voice and gentle, neutral tone.

Everybody seemed to like Trevor McDonald – he was one of those ‘nice people on the telly’ with a kind face, welcomed warmly into the living room each evening.

But he wasn’t just a news reader, in fact he was probably one of the most high profile journalists of his time.

When I saw the book come up in Amazon’s ‘new releases’ I didn’t think twice about adding it to my basket.

I was curious to know more about this much respected Trinidadian reporter who became a firm and steadfast British icon.

Cricket was his middle name!

To begin

In ‘An Improbable Life’, Trevor begins with reflections on some of the ethical tensions and realities of journalism today.

A chapter’s worth of thought is given to the previous Obama administration in America in terms of the ‘sorrow and the pity’ he feels overshadowed Obama’s election.

Then we get a bit more personal….

Sir Trevor’s childhood

He was one of four children and grew up under very humble circumstances – no silver spoons.

Home was overcrowded rented accommodation with no luxuries, no holidays, no new shoes when needed them for his 2-3 mile walk to school and back each day.

Despite this picture – he insists that from the outside looking in, the family didn’t appear to be poor, but they only just about managed to make ends meet, paying for food on credit.

Simple joys

Trevor and his siblings greatly appreciated the joys of life on a warm tropical Island, Trinidad – grateful for not needing to go on holiday, they entertained themselves, and his obsession with cricket took over.

Home made cricket bats and balls gave them endless hours of game time, and in adult life, Trevor has written a number of biographies for well known cricketers.

Sir Trevor McDonald strikes me as a very private person, he doesn’t really talk about his children or partners much.

This isn’t a criticism, I thinks it’s lovely that he doesn’t plaster his entire life across the media, I guess this must be hard when you’re famous, and probably helps him maintain something of a ‘normal life’.

Career Talk

There’s plenty of this – in fact I’d say it eats up about 90% of the book.

An Improbable Life is filled with countless journalistic tales from various locations and high profile world events, meeting all sorts of high profile world leaders.

Sir Trevor McDonald has reported mainly on international politics, including his first hand experiences of the African apartheid system and interviewing Nelson Mandela on his release from prison.

There were times when he’d never leave home without a toothbrush and his passport.

Trevor needed to be ever ready to fly off to wherever the next big story happened to be – sometimes at a moments’ notice.

This kind of jet set reporter-life made him all the more grateful for his supportive family during the long hours and time spent overseas.

Trevor highlights how personal relationships can suffer greatly from this type of strain.

Other random stuff that I didn’t read in this book

  • One of Sir Trevor’s most treasured possessions is a small collection of books (a bookworkm after my own heart)
  • He retired, then returned then retired again (that’s what you call the love of the job)
  • When asked what five things he couldn’t live without, books and sport came top of the list – and finishing his books before the end of a holiday means a ‘spoilt holiday’ for Trevorย (relatable bookworm frustration)
  • He splashed out on a Cartier watch (well he’s certainly earned his bling)
  • He cried when watching an emotional film (me too – love that)
  • I watched the documentary of Trevor’s Indian train adventures and loved it! His Secret Caribbean DVD set is also neatly tucked away in my collection – he makes a great virtual travel companion lol
  • He’s described himself as being “very undisciplined at times” (join the club Trev’)

Meeting Nelson Mandela

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