Michael Parkinson: TV chat show icon's 10 greatest interviews

17 August 2023, 13:32 | Updated: 17 August 2023, 14:29

Michael Parkinson's best interviews
Michael Parkinson's best interviews. Picture: Getty/BBC

By Thomas Edward

Michael Parkinson was one of the UK's most iconic television personalities.

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Making his name as a whip-smart journalist, Parkinson came into his own as a household name with the introduction of his own self-titled television show.

When it ran from 1971 to 2007, the interviewer spoke to the biggest names in the world - more often than not without promoting anything. They just knew they'd be involved in an enlightening conversation.

Despite his gentle Yorkshire accent, 'Parky' had a razor-sharp tongue which could often see his interviews turn cringeworthy or even controversial.

Throughout the years, Parkinson spoke to an illustrious list of guests including Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, Cher, Celine Dion, Denzel Washington, Luciano Pavarotti, Dame Edna Everage, Pierce Brosnan, Elton John, Helen Mirren, Olivia Newton-John, Sandra Bullock, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Tom Cruise - the list feels endless.

Racking up over 2,000 interviews across 800 episodes, it was certainly no easy task picking the best of the bunch.

Ranging from the hilarious to the heartwarming, here's Michael Parkinson's ten greatest interviews:

  1. Bee Gees

    The Bee Gees on Parkinson (UK) 2001

    Though the Bee Gees weren't at the peak of their popularity in 2001, they still had an enormous fanbase who were interested in their every move.

    Parkinson invited Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb on to his show for a heart-warming chat where the brother's typically down-to-earth nature shone through.

    Opening up about the many trials and tribulations of their career, the Bee Gees even performed a few classics like 'How Deep Is Your Love' for the adoring studio audience.

  2. Robin Williams

    Robin Williams - Parkinson interview [2002]

    Parky has had a series of guests which have proved a handful to contain over the years (notably Rod Hull and his Emu attack) but Robin Williams was an altogether different beast.

    The comedy legend's notorious energy and excitement got the better of him on occasion, constantly cracking jokes whilst fidgeting in his chair.

    In what felt like a 25-minute skit from Robin, Parkinson managed to squeeze some questions in, in what was one of his most hilarious and unpredictable interviews ever.

  3. Madonna

    Madonna - COADF Promotion - Parkinson Interview, 2005

    There was no question about it: Madonna was still the biggest pop star in the world when she sat down to speak with Parky in 2005.

    She's recently re-established her credentials as the 'Queen Of Pop' with the release of ABBA-sampled 'Hung Up', which she also performed on the show.

    Parky had pursued her as a guest for years, and when she finally sat down to talk to him, she opened up like no interview she'd ever done before.

    He later said "she was absolutely brilliant" and remarked it was one of his favourite ever interviews.

  4. Billy Connolly

    Billy Connolly making his first appearance on Parkinson in1975

    Billy Connolly first appeared on Parkinson's chat show in 1975, and immediately endeared himself to the British public.

    His outrageous and brash style of humour coupled with his long hair and beard gave him the look of a rock star more than a traditional comedian.

    But it was arguably the interview that helped kickstart his career, and the beginning of a beautiful friendship between him and Parky.

    The Scotsman appeared on his show a total of fifteen times, including his last ever show.

  5. George Michael

    George Michael Honest Interview - 1998

    In George Michael's first Parkinson appearance, an hour-long special in 1998, he paid tribute to Parky during his opening salvo.

    "This is a great honour for me," George said, explaining how his mum used to let him stay up late to watch the chat show when he was little. "I'm very privileged to be here."

    Though what came next had the entire audience, and Parky himself in stitches:

    "She probably wouldn't have been quite as thrilled to know I had to take my willy out to get on here."

    It set up the mood for a light-hearted yet candid interview where George opened up to the television icon as well as the British public about his recent history, in one of Parky's most memorable interviews ever.

  6. David Bowie

    David Bowie 2002 Interview Parkinson Stereo HD

    In 2002, Ziggy Stardust himself David Bowie sat down to talk with Parky, perched right next to Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks.

    It was an unusual interview for Bowie, given that much of the chat was more casual and about his personal life rather than simply his artistry.

    Having become a new father with Lexi Jones, David appeared more comfortable and laid-back as the public had ever seen.

    It must've been the Parky effect, but Bowie came across as genuine, a gentleman, and a genius all at the same time.

  7. Muhammad Ali

    Muhammad Ali x Classic Interview x Parkinson

    Boxing great Muhammad Ali wasn't just one of the greatest sporting talents to grace the 20th century, he was also one of the funniest and intellectually fierce.

    The wise-cracking star was as renowned for his personality and he was his punches, and kept Parky on the ropes throughout their entire first interview.

    As Ali challenged Parkinson's questions on religion, show-business, and sporting success, he later said: "We could never be friends. But the options of a riposte are limited when the man facing you is the heavyweight champion of the world."

    Though the interview was as times spiky, it was iconic - Ali came back a further three times as he met his match in the interview seat with Parky it seems.

  8. Bette Midler

    Bette Midler is interviewed by Michael Parkinson in 1979. Love how Bette talks about the Continental Baths and her love of gay men. Fascinating interview!

    Posted by Bette Midler: Still Divine on Saturday, November 19, 2022

    Bette Midler appeared on Parkinson a couple of times, but it was her first interview in 1979 which sticks in the memory.

    That's probably because she wasn't quite as refined as she was in her later years, sharing hilarious anecdotes with racy humour and giving Parky a taste of his own medicine.

    A real diva at work, Parky later said: "anyone who couldn’t get entertaining stories out of her wasn’t doing his job properly."

    Midler was an expert in delivering lethal one-liners, responding to Parky's claims he was a serious journalist saying: "I thought you were in showbusiness. I didn’t know you were a journalist. Oh, how dreary!"

  9. Paul McCartney

    1999 Paul McCartney on Parkinson Part 2/14

    Paul McCartney fulfilled a long-standing promise with Parky to appear on his programme when he took part in his 1999 interview.

    Macca asked Parky to appear on the cover for Wings' 1974 album Band On The Run, and said he'd return the favour with an interview later.

    25 years after they first met, Sir Paul said: "I owed him one. It’s been a long time coming but this is it."

    Talking to The Beatles co-founder was a major coup, as it was his first interview appearance since losing his wife Linda McCartney the year before.

  10. John Lennon and Yoko Ono

    John Lennon angry on Parkinson

    Another iconic former Beatle appeared on Parkinson some years earlier, when John Lennon came on the show alongside his wife Yoko Ono.

    Lennon turned his frustrations towards the British press during the interview, in a justified rant against how the media calls his wife "ugly".

    Parky tried to dampen the fiery interview by covering his head and shoulders in a black sack, imitating how the pair had conducted several of their previous interviews in protest.

    Though John appreciated the joke, Yoko didn't enjoy being mocked and sat in silence the entire time.