Jenny Johnston

Daily Mail

There is no surer sign of a mark of quality than a Jenny Johnston byline. As previous Awards judges have said: ‘she can make you laugh. She can make you cry. What more do you want?’.

Jenny has the skill to make her interviewees leap off the page - her warmth, humanity and wit means her work is always accessible - but it’s her clear-eyed, sophisticated approach to story-telling that makes her stand out.

Her interview with Graham Mansfield- convicted of killing his wife in a so-called ‘mercy killing’ - remains unforgettable. Not just because of the strength of the story (it is very rare to have the opportunity to interview a convicted killer), but in large part because of Jenny’s skill at convincing Mr Mansfield to open up.

Jenny secured this interview herself, by contacting Mansfield’s legal representatives, explaining why she wanted to tell his story, and why it should take place at the family home where he had killed his wife. That they were nervous about this was evidenced in the fact his solicitor was present throughout. Nonetheless, Jenny still managed to convince Mansfield to walk her down the garden - taking the precise route he and his wife, Dyanne, took before he slit her throat - explaining his story as they went. With experienced interviewing skills and impeccable writing, Jenny effectively placed the reader right in Mansfield’s (blood-stained) shoes.

At turns moving and troubling, the piece was an important addition to the ‘assisted dying’ public debate. For all her sympathy for Mansfield, Jenny had the clarity to note: ‘While the case has been described as a tragic love story, which highlights the inadequacy of existing laws around assisted dying, make no mistake: this is a horror story, too.

Her interview with Alastair Bruce, about being the highest ranking British Army officer to come out as gay, was another one that required deft handling. All the emotions were here – the interviewee’s relief at admitting the truth, shame at his career-long silence, anger at his situation. With huge skill, Jenny deftly wove together the two issues presented by Bruce - not just sexuality, but the barriers of class. As Bruce put it himself: ‘I am very aware that people will have spat out their cornflakes across their mahogany breakfast tables — their properly laid mahogany tables — in shock when they read Stephen and I had got married…’

Footballer Michael Owen was that week’s ‘must get’ celebrity interview. Owen’s daughter Gemma had entered the Love Island villa, and the nation was obsessed with what he must think. As Jenny revealed, his opinions were unexpected. What could have been a ‘clickbait’ opportunity for seizing a headline became a talk about fatherhood, modern celebrity and more. ‘She’s still our baby,’ he confessed, clearly worried for his daughter. It was a reflective and rollicking read, whether the reader was a Love Island fan or not.

This is one of Jenny’s greatest skills as a writer – captivating readers pieces they would never have dreamed of being gripped by.