From selling plastic bottles to getting ‘Carte Blanche’: Derek Watts has anchored ‘Carte Blanche’, M-Net’s multi award-winning current affairs programme, since it launched 25 years ago. Brought up in Zimbabwe, Watts has been a journalist since 1974, when he joined The Rhodesia Herald as a cub reporter and was later one of the first anchors of the SABC programme ‘Top Sport’. He also served as a company commander during the Rhodesian ‘bush war’.
What drew you to the media? I tried my hand at computer operating, selling copying machines and marketing for a plastic bottle company… and that’s when the boss said I should go into journalism. So I got a job as a cadet reporter on The Rhodesia Herald.
Do you have any hidden talents? I can do a headstand on a coffee table and hit a squash ball relatively well.
What superpower would you like to possess? The United States would be a good start…
What is your best characteristic and biggest flaw? Maybe a sense of humour – which unfortunately fades very rapidly when faced with any form of arrogance.
If you didn’t have a career in media, what would you be doing now? Probably still selling those plastic bottles around the country.
What moment do you regard as career defining? A call from the late Bill Faure saying, “I saw you at Cape Town airport. Are you still on ‘Top Sport’? I’m starting a new programme for M-Net… it hasn’t got a name yet…”
What have you learnt the hard way? When you are in the wrong, admit it!
What is the best and worst advice you’ve been given? The best was from Hymie Meyerson at Xactics Plastics to go into journalism. The worst was from a specialist doctor near the summit of Kilimanjaro, who told me I had a touch of mountain sickness when I was one breath away from dying of hypothermia. After all, I was soaked after being caught in a blizzard.
Whom do you admire most? Outside of my wonderful family, probably [presenters] Eamonn Holmes and Charlotte Hawkins on Sky. I don’t really have heroes. Is that sad?
What quote best describes the way you see the world? Huck Finn, talking about a tramp who claimed to be a king, said, “Kings is kings… take them all around, they’re a mighty ornery lot!” I really love and respect the millions of people around the world who work so hard for so little, who retain honesty and integrity despite their circumstances, and who treasure life and family.
What is your favourite holiday spot and why? The Sunset Beach Hotel on Mahe in the Seychelles. Superb breakfast… private beach… snorkelling with rays and turtles below the cocktail bar (not in a tank, by the way!). Hey, I need a holiday.
What was your best experience as ‘Carte Blanche’ anchor, and what was your worst? The best was probably standing at base camp Mount Everest after the climbing season had ended. No climbers or tents, just snow, ice and those majestic peaks humbling you! The worst was in Luanda. While we were moving zoo animals back to South Africa [in 1994], my producer and good friend Rick Lomba was killed by a tiger.
What are you addicted to? My wife says Twitter.
What are you afraid of? Where do I start? The dark… getting hit on the head with a baseball bat in the car park… This could be a long list…
What do you regret most? Not taking professional pics from day one of ‘Carte Blanche’! Ironically I had the best Canon equipment but left it at home.
What cheers you up the most? A cloudless day… a secluded beach… a calm and blue ocean… and a reef to explore!
How do you psyche yourself up for confrontational interviews on ‘Carte Blanche’ stories? I think the team members – producer, cameraman, sound specialist and presenter – psyche one another up!
Being a well-known face, how do you deal with constant public attention? I grew up in Bulawayo where everyone knows everyone else… and their business. So nothing much has changed.
What has been your most life-changing experience? Getting married and bringing up teenagers is close. But I think being a company commander in a bush war helps you to grow up fast.
What are your goals? To stay healthy and use any talents and abilities I have to improve our lives, and the lives of those around us.
This story was first published in The Media magazine.