The singing CEO and other ‘hot-mic’ fails

You’ve probably already seen the footage.

Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe was caught on camera singing ‘We’re in the money’ while waiting for a TV interview to discuss his supermarket’s plans to buy rivals Asda, boosting the company’s value by £860m.

In footage later released by ITV, he sang: “We’re in the money, the sky is sunny, let’s lend it, spend it, send it rolling along.”



Mr Coupe subsequently released a statement saying that he had been singing the song to try to ‘compose’ himself ahead of his interview.

But not only was the song from the musical 42nd Street a very unfortunate choice, but it also broke one of the basic rules of media training – if there is a camera around, assume it is on.

The down-the-line interview gaffe certainly created a number of negative headlines. Here are a few examples:


Sainsbury’s CEO caught on film singing ‘we’re in the money’ The Telegraph

Sainsbury’s CEO caught on film singing ‘we’re in the money’ before Asda merger announcement Metro

Sainsbury’s chief sings ‘We’re in the money’ after Asda merger The Guardian


Not to mention some social media criticism:



But it is also worth noting that the singing had an impact on later interviews.  Channel 4 News forced him on to the defensive, for example, by asking whether he stood to personally make any money from the merger.

He replied: “I am a big shareholder in Sainsbury’s, my shareholding is a matter of public record, you can see how many shares I own.

“It is unfortunate I was caught singing, as I say I was relaxing at the time – this is an incredibly stressful day and maybe it was an unfortunate choice of song.”

There’s no ‘maybe’ about it, but Mr Coupe is just the latest in a long line of people who have fallen foul of what media call a ‘hot mic’ (meaning a microphone that has been turned on) or a turned on camera.

Here are some that have stood out for us:


Candid Clarke


Former chancellor Ken Clarke described the Tory leadership contest as a ‘fiasco’ and Theresa May as being ‘bloody difficult’ during a supposedly off-air gossip with former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind in the Sky News studios back in 2016. Unfortunately for him, the whole conversation was recorded by the broadcaster and later aired.


Chuka storms out


When Labour politician Chuka Umunna endured something of a heated interview with Sky News he simply couldn’t wait to get off air.

Thinking the interview had come to an end and that the focus was now on presenter Dermot Murnaghan, Mr Umunna pulled of his microphone and left his chair.

Unfortunately for him he was still very much on air, and the abrupt end led to a range of ‘storms off’ headlines.


Gordon Brown and the ‘bigoted woman’


This is arguably the most infamous examples of being caught out by an open mic.

His 2010 election campaign was already something of a slow motion car crash, when Gordon Brown allowed a mic clipped to his lapel to reveal to the world his thoughts about a meeting with a voter.

Gillian Duffy, a pensioner, berated Brown, explaining why, despite having backed the Labour party all her life, she was now “ashamed” to admit her political allegiance. Having smiled politely and apparently listened Brown got into his car. Once inside though, he complained to advisers: “That was a disaster. They should never have put me with that woman... just ridiculous... just a bigoted woman.”

The then Prime Minister had to return to apologise to Ms Duffy – but it was too little too late for his campaign.


George W Bush’s comments about a journalist

George Bush’s famously unguarded conversation with Tony Blair, which began ‘Yo, Blair’, is just one example of him being caught out by a microphone that had been left on.

Perhaps, less well known on this side of the Atlantic, are his comments about a journalist to Dick Cheney, which were captured by microphones.

Speaking at an event in Illinois in 2004, the then governor said: “There’s Adam Clymer – major league asshole from the New York Times’.

 Mr Cheney, responded: “Oh yeah, he is big time.”

An unrepentant Mr Bush later refused to apologise, saying he only regretted that ‘it made it to the airwaves’.



Prince Charles reveals his true feelings

His sons and their partners are currently the darlings of the media, but Prince Charles has not had such an easy relationship with reporters.

During a photocall at the start of a ski trip in 2005 the Prince was asked about his then forthcoming wedding to Camilla by the BBC’s royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell.

Having given a terse reply he then muttered under his breath: “Bloody people! I can’t bear that man. He’s so awful, he really is.”

This may have been a photo opp and the assembled hacks were some distance away from him but the microphones still picked up his comments.

Clarence House subsequently apologised for the remark saying it had not been a personal attack.



Not just spokespeople

Of course, it is not just media spokespeople who have succumbed to hot-mic gaffes.

BBC Radio 4’s Today presenter John Humphrys found this out to his cost when a supposedly off air conversation with colleague Jon Sopel about the BBC’S equal pay crisis was captured on a microphone.  Mr Humphrys insisted they were ‘jokey’ comments, but they gave fresh impetus to a story which had appeared to be slowing down.

Meanwhile presenter Andrew Marr upset the self-appointed BBC impartiality police when, after an interview with Penny Mordaunt, the UK development secretary, he was caught on camera giving her a thumbs-up and saying “that was very good”.



Perhaps most embarrassing of all, CNN anchor Kyra Phillips nipped into the ladies during a speech from President George Bush and managed to leave her microphone attached and switched on.

Fortunately, things didn’t get too lavatorial, but viewers were treated to her thoughts on men and some complimentary comments about her husband.



Clearly this is a light-hearted look at some camera and microphone mishaps.

But there are some key media training lessons:

*Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want your audience to hear – even if it a song while you compose your thought.

*The interview starts as soon as you are in the room, let alone when you are in front of a camera.

* Be especially cautious if you have a microphone attached.

*Remember, the interview is not over until the microphone and lights are out. And even then it is safer to assume that anything you say could be attributed to you as there is no such thing as ‘off the record’.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

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