With his enthusiastic presenting style and distinctly gruff voice, Richard Quest is easily one of the most recognisable personalities on the American news network.
With a name like Quest, it is as if he were destined to be a globetrotting journalist.
Having been with CNN for the past 17 years, he is probably best known for his roles as the money editor-at-large and host of Quest Means Business, as well as being the network’s foremost business travel and aviation expert.
Like his broadcast career, which started in Britain when he was 25, the 56-year-old goes a mile-a-minute.
Midway through the interview, he excuses himself to take out his phone and stick it in the air to find out what song is playing over the sound system in the cafe we are in.
“It’ll annoy me to hell if I don’t find out what song it is,” he says. “Petite Fleur by Petula Clark,” he exclaims with delight two seconds later.
His exacting standards apply to the English breakfast tea he orders, asking for it to be brewed stronger so that it doesn’t look like “a hospital specimen”.
He returns to the small screen with his latest travel show, Quest’s World Of Wonder, which debuted on CNN on July 14.
In it, he travels to places like Berlin, Budapest and Panama City to discover how their pasts have contributed to their evolution.
What makes the show different from other travel shows out there?
Today’s travel journalism always wants to find the hip restaurant that you’re never going to go to, or the weird museum or art gallery that you’re not going to go and see.
Ninety-nine per cent of us, when we go to a city, we go and see the famous things first, and then start thinking about the weird and cute little restaurant.
We’re going to look at the different DNAs of cities and we’ve started with Washington DC.
When you look at it, there’s nothing accidental about it. It was built to impress and look important, with its boulevards and wide streets, the Capitol and the Washington Monument – it’s the home of power, scandal, money.
As a travel presenter, you spend so much time in hotels. Are you very particular about your hotel room?
Absolutely. For anybody who travels extensively, it’s not that you become unreasonable. If you do it all the time, you become unforgiving.
If somebody’s going to charge me US$200 to US$300 (RM813 to RM1,220) a night for a room, I want them to perform and deliver.
The best thing I’ve ever heard from a hotel general manager was: “At the end of the day, if I’ve not given you a good night’s sleep, I’ve failed.”
What’s your minimum requirement for a hotel then?
It’s not a minimum requirement – it’s the expected, the standard. I must be able to get the room at 22 degrees (Celcius), block out all the light from the curtains, have really hot water in the shower, a kettle in the room and breakfast – everything else is a bonus.
Some of the best hotels I’ve stayed in are the little two-or three-star ones in the United States where the person’s noticed my flight time and arranged a taxi without me asking.
Spending as much time on the road as you do, do you have any rituals? I hear that you like to have hot chocolate before you go to bed.
I do. I travel with my own. It’s Cadbury’s Hot Drinking Chocolate -– the light version, at only 38 calories.
I have it at home, even in the summer.
It’s part of my bedtime ritual and it’s almost mentally a subliminal signal to get to bed, that the day’s over.
With all the big names you’ve interviewed over the course of a more than 30-year-long career, who has stood out the most?
It’s not the big names. It’s the woman I met in Latvia, when they were joining the European Union. She was losing her pension and healthcare for her husband because of the economic changes.
I asked her: “Wouldn’t you like to go back to the Soviet Union?”
She grabbed my wrist and said: “No, my grandchildren will live in the EU, they will live free in Europe … that is worth more than anything.”
But there must be some stars who have made an impression too?
Dame Julie Andrews – the woman is grace personified.
I sat there a gibbering wreck because I was interviewing Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins.
There was also the brilliant Christine Lagarde of the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Here is a woman who has been chair of (international law firm) Baker & McKenzie, the finance minister of France and managing director of the IMF. Any one of those jobs would be a lifetime career.
How do you keep it fresh for yourself after all these years?
The news is extraordinary, we’ve never experienced anything like this before, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Conservative or Labour.
Let’s just look at this part of the world. Sixty-one years of single-party rule were overturned in a night in Malaysia.
This man (Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad), who had been in office for so long, has now come back as a conquering hero – you couldn’t write this.
I’m not making a political point here, but doesn’t that make your heart swell?
Youngsters who say, “It doesn’t matter if I vote” or “What difference does it make?”, p*** me off.
Well, they’re wrong. It happened in the US with (President Donald) Trump, it happened in the UK with Brexit and it happened in Malaysia too.
How would you like to be remembered?
There’s a Yiddish word “mensch”. I’d like people to say: “He was a mensch.”
If you look it up, it means a human being, a person of integrity and honour. But that’s not for me to say, that’s for others to judge. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network