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Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006

Timid he's not, CNN's Quest calls them out as he sees them


Staff writer

There was no question it was the right floor at Tokyo's Intercontinental Hotel. The voice booming through the walls could only belong to one man.

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CNN anchor Richard Quest speaks about his on-the-cheap Japan visit in Tokyo on Nov. 16. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTOS
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"I want life!" CNN anchor Richard Quest blared out in his signature English accent to a reporter whose question stayed within the confines of the room. Another blast: "See what I'm saying?"

Well, anybody could certainly hear it. For, in his better than two decades in the television business and as one of the network's top players, the 44-year-old Quest has mastered the art of making himself bracingly clear to any audience -- whether it's while reporting to millions of viewers worldwide on the funeral of Pope John Paul II, as he did last year, or merely chatting with a couple of journalists in a hotel suite in Tokyo the other day.

All the better for this second-time visitor to Japan to tell about his recent stay in Osaka, where as host of "CNN Business Traveller" he had just filmed a segment exploring how to survive on 22,000 yen a day, including accommodations -- "and still do business and not look like some homeless individual to your clients and guests," as Quest wrote on his blog.

"It can be done," he said proudly, explaining that he had ridden the subway around town, paid the bill for "a perfectly acceptable 'bento' (boxed lunch)" for five people, slurped down a cheap bowl of noodles for dinner and stayed at a no-frills hotel -- all for 6,000 yen below his allowance. The segment, to wrap up a series of specials called "Japan Now," airs Dec. 9.

Being on a budget, of course, didn't leave much money for, say, snapping up gadgets in Osaka's Nipponbashi electronics district. But neither did it stop him from taking in the sights.

"I was fascinated by the fact that in Osaka, we saw people using their cell phones to pay for small goods," he said. "We've been talking about this in the West for the past five years, that I can remember. But nobody's got off their ass and done it yet!"

Blustery remarks like that elicit equal passion from viewers -- whether it be praise for his long years of breathing life into financial reporting, formerly for the BBC, or barbs over the Quest delivery.

Gushed one blogger: "Since I (first) saw him on my TV screen, news about business (has) never been the same."

Another had this to say: "It seems he has been yelling for so long that he has blown his voice completely out."

Having Quest in Tokyo -- he'd arrived via a regular bullet train seat in keeping with the tight-budget theme -- provided an excellent chance to learn a bit about the man.

"People always want to get behind the image on the screen, and I'm not sure there is one," he insisted. "I don't put on an act."

Not a big one anyway . . .

"There is an element of an exaggeration of one's reality," Quest said. "But I firmly believe that the viewer can spot a fake. If I try and be something I am not, if I try and be cool and I am not, I am a boring white man in a suit. Usually a pin-striped suit."

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Tall and sinewy, Quest was anything but boring as he gestured wildly, and at one point even strutted around the room, to illustrate his points. As chance had it, the Chester Barrie, worn with cuff links and suspenders, wasn't pin-striped, either.

On camera, Quest engages his sources with journalistic probing, but, he says, not excessively so. "You don't attack," he said of his technique. It usually works. But do interviews ever go sour?

"Every. Bloody. Month!" came the response, albeit with a gust of laughter.

One interview, Quest said after collecting himself, had been with a source from whom he and his producer had expected searing insight and analysis on the topic at hand. Instead, the crew walked away with barely 15 seconds of salvageable footage of the unidentified man.

"Suffice it to say that I finished this interview and I wanted either to slit my wrists or to slit the interviewee's wrists. He was boring, tedious, banal, arrogant, pompous. And all at the same time!

"I'll tell you what happens," he added. "I have an immediate crisis of confidence. Did I screw it up? Could I have done better? It does require a dose of Quest ego massaging: 'Richard, no, it wasn't your fault.' But that's natural. You're a performer."



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