The North Star: Tina Brown Launches Extraordinary New Podcast “TBD With Tina Brown”

By Brent Lambert (@FEELguide)

“If you’re going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all,” said American mythologist, Joseph Campbell. After all, the pursuit of this ‘bigness’ is the pursuit of one of life’s great treasures. The hunt for the next great story, whether it’s a story coming from within oneself or from another, is something Tina Brown has been pursuing her entire life. From her childhood growing up as the daughter of movie producer George H. Brown in London, to her legendary editorial resurrection of VANITY FAIR in the 80s and 90s, to her creation of the Women In The World summit, Tina Brown’s own story is as fascinating as those of the countless stars she’s brought to the world throughout her remarkable career. Now embarking on the newest exciting chapter of her life’s work, Tina brings us TBD With Tina Brown, her brand new one-hour podcast for Wondery.

“Everyone love stories, and we live in a world of such distraction, overlay, visuals, special effects, and ads that people are now craving something as simple as a human voice,” Tina tells us by phone from her weekend home in the Hamptons where she was enjoying a post-Thanksgiving afternoon with her family. “I think there’s something almost purifying to put on a pair of headphones and hear that voice. It’s a place to escape the bombardment of our culture. Podcasts provide a world of intimacy that we are lacking right now.”

And if there’s one person you can guarantee knows exactly what our world is missing, it’s Tina Brown. In her mid-20s she all but single-handedly rebuilt VANITY FAIR into the giant it is today when she joined its ranks as Editor-in-Chief from 1984 to 1992. And from 1992 to 1998 she brought her powerful editorial vision to The New Yorker. She went on to found the groundbreaking The Daily Beast, and later the iconic Women In The World summit which has brought to light the most astonishing collection of stories and insights from revolutionary women around the world.

In describing her vision for VANITY FAIR when she first arrived in America thirty-five years ago, Brown says, “I was thinking of it more so as a world.” She adds, “I had a vision of a kind of world that I wanted to sum up in its pages. I had always been a fan of the old VANITY FAIR in the 1920s and 1930s, and loved the combination of the seductive photography and glamour with the wit and style of its words and the people it covered. At the same time, I wanted to bring something else to that–a deeper and grittier style of journalism.”

Tina Brown is synonymous with the world of New York glamour, and understands its special function in the world of global media more than most others. “Glamour is a form of escapism and aspiration, and particularly when one allies glamour with an intellectual component,” she says. “VANITY FAIR was above all about aspiration, as was The New Yorker. It’s about aspiration–people we want to look like and want to be, as well as the people who had fallen from that state of grace. VANITY FAIR was about the people who attained it and also the people who lost it.”

“My work has always been about an eclectic combination of writers, actors, thinkers, and all kinds of different people, as opposed to just one kind of brain,” she tells us. “I’ve always done that as an editor, and now with my podcast.” Having been raised on her producer father’s movie sets, living just a stone’s throw from Pinewood Studios, Tina was shown from an early age the huge amount of work and craft that goes into modern storytelling, as well as the incomparable thrill that comes when it’s done so brilliantly well. That passion carried her forward into her education. “The other side of my life was the passionate pursuit of literature and writing, which took me to Oxford and my studies there. I’ve always had a huge drive to summon up these worlds,” she says. “I’ve always written plays, and I feel like magazines are very similar. You’re conjuring up a world, and that’s what I’ve done at every magazine I’ve worked at, including The Daily Beast. It’s also the same philosophy with Women In The World–I find these amazing stories, put them on the stage, and allow these women to tell their stories to keep people passionately engaged.”

It’s no surprise that someone who has mastered the art of finding the perfect story, has effortlessly become a master interviewer as well. But in her lifetime’s worth of interviews, some stand out above the rest. “I especially love talking to writers. I recently interviewed author Isabel Allende for Women In The World and she’s amazing. Helen Mirren is a fascinating woman, too. She’s so incredibly original and I love talking to her–I could talk to her for a long time.”

“Some of my favorites,” she adds, “are people you wouldn’t even know. I really loved talking to a woman named Topeka Sam, who was a formerly incarcerated woman who has started a halfway house for women who first leave prison. She’s such a compelling advocate and storyteller. And Dr. Fozia Alvi is an incredible Bangladeshi-Canadian who works with refugees in Myanmar. We were recently talking and she had the room completely spellbound with the stories of her mission and the people she cares for in these camps.”

Tina’s gift is in perfect harmony with her new role as a podcaster: 1) Choose a riveting guest, 2) Allow your questions to act as a North Star to pull the guest towards a direction of your choosing, and 3) Together, take the listener on an extraordinary journey. “What makes a great storyteller the most is the ability to listen,” she says. “I do have the ability to completely get lost in someone else’s story when they’re talking to me, and I get extremely interested in hearing about people’s lives, I really do. You can’t be a storyteller unless you have that absorptive quality. I’ve always loved doing that.”

In her wonderful TED Talk, Women In The World alum Isabel Allende begins with a commanding ‘North Star question’ of poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life?” I couldn’t help but ask this question to Tina. “I just want to sit and listen to people’s stories and have an outlet to tell them,” she says. “That’s what I want to do in some shape or form, whether it’s my podcast, online, or on stage. Just meet me to tell the story, that’s what I want to do.”

If we’re lucky, Tina will be guiding us with wild and precious stories for decades to come.

Tina’s inaugural guest for the debut episode of TBD With Tina Brown is none other than Jill Soloway, the Emmy Award-winning director, writer, and creator of the Amazon original series Transparent. You can listen to it below, and visit the her podcast’s home base at TBD With Tina Brown. You can also hear all of Tina’s podcasts on iTunes and Spotify.

And for more from the incredible world of Tina Brown, be sure to read her latest book The VANITY FAIR Diaries, taken from her juicy diaries while she served as the magazine’s extraordinary Editor-In-Chief. It’s been named one of the best books of 2017 by TIME, People, Amazon.com, The Guardian, PASTE magazine, The Economist, Entertainment Weekly, and VOGUE. Grab your own copy on Amazon and follow Tina Brown on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Tina Brown.

About The Author

Brent Lambert
IG: @FEELguide

Brent Lambert is a Los Angeles-based editor, writer, Entertainment Editor for BELLO magazine, as well as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of FEELguide.com. He also has a degree in architecture, is a Photoshop whiz, and in his spare time dabbles in set design and illustration (portfolio: unifiedFEEL.com).

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