Amol Rajan Interviews, review: Bill Gates was not prepared for this grilling – Epstein and all

Amol Rajan and Bill Gates - Harry Truman/BBC
Amol Rajan and Bill Gates - Harry Truman/BBC

In the era of hugely tedious podcast hegemony, the surprise about Amol Rajan’s excellent series of extended interviews is that they’re even filmed at all. But in the case of Amol Rajan Interviews: Bill Gates (BBC Two), an hour spent with surely one of the world’s most interesting men, I’m glad that it was. Because a sizeable chunk of what made Gates’s responses interesting were his facial reactions.

He ambled into the room to be greeted by Rajan shouting, “Heyyyy! It’s Bill Gates,” a bit like this was MTV. Gates was visibly confused and as Rajan kept catching him off guard, Gates’s facial grammar became consistently entertaining. There was the look to the left, presumably to some Gates Foundation comms team wonk, that said, “I was not briefed for this guy and you are fired”; there was the furrowed brow that said, “Why does he keep asking me about how much I like cheeseburgers when we’re in Kenya to talk about hunger and disease?”; and there was the half-smile of grown-up answerability that said, “I’m not some petty billionaire despot like Elon Musk so it’s fine – FINE – for you to keep asking me questions about how well I once knew Jeffrey Epstein.”

Gates seemed to divide events into things that he predicted would happen and things that have taken him “by surprise.” Admittedly, he has predicted a lot of things, like the importance of the micro-computer and the devastation of a viral pandemic.

I don’t think he had predicted that Rajan would be quite so pugnacious, windmilling in with questions about Gates’s childhood therapy, QAnon quackery and his role in the catastrophic side of technological innovation (“My generation didn’t take care of the downside of digital media”).

All in all it showed why the one-on-one interview, from Emily Maitlis and Prince Andrew to Frost and Nixon, has endured. Everyone has a plan until they come up against a brave interlocutor, well-researched and wielding the simple sword of asking powerful people questions they don’t want to be asked. The camera merely allows us to watch them squirm.