25 years after interviewing Donald Trump, Ruby Wax is still getting over it

‘Trump scared the s*** out of me,’ says Wax of her interview with the then future US president

A famous mogul with the crazy dream of one day being US president

A famous mogul with the crazy dream of one day being US president

 

The most terrifying thing Ruby Wax ever did was climb aboard a private jet with Donald Trump. Her body language is that of a deer caught in the headlights of a monster truck as Trump folds into a seat beside her and declines to laugh at her jokes. The interview that ensues is a systems failure so bruising that, 25 years later, Wax is still getting over it.

“This is one of the most excruciating moments of my career,” she says during When Ruby Wax Met (BBC Two, 9pm). It’s an absorbing look back at her life and times as interviewer of celebrities such as Tom Hanks and OJ Simpson. And it begins with a rendevous with the Tango Titan, back when he was a famous mogul with the crazy dream of one day being US president.

“Trump scared the s*** out of me,” says Wax, re-watching footage of their tête-à-tête from 1996 (and which also includes a drive-by handshake with Trump’s bagman Roger Stone).

Wax in the 1990s was an acquired taste. She had one setting, which was abrasively “on”. She laughed at her own jokes. And she often seemed to find her “shtick” – a word that had recently entered the vernacular and which captured her essence perfectly – more interesting than whatever her interviewees had to say.

Being a force of nature is tiring – for both audience and performer. And so it is no surprise Wax eventually moved on. Today, she is an advocate for mental health and an academic of distinction (she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Southampton in 2019).

But back in the day, in her capacity as a sort of proto-Louis Theroux, she landed some big fish. Having jetted with Trump to his Taj Mahal casino she meets his girlfriend Melania. The Slovenian model looks to be about seven feet tall and full of life. “What an innocent,” says Wax in 2021, shaking her head. “And what a great tragedy.”

There are also run-ins with Goldie Hawn, who is delightful, and the late Carrie Fisher, who wisecracks like Katherine Hepburn opposite Spencer Tracy and becomes a life-long friend of Wax.

The episode is bookended by her encounters with Trump and OJ Simpson (in 1998). Trump, who has a hole in his soul where his sense of humour should be, finds her objectionable on every level. Simpson, by contrast, tries to charm.

Back in the present, Wax is asked about the morality of giving exposure to someone many suspected of killing his ex-wife.

Wax’s reply is that she wanted to have him confess on camera. He didn’t of course. But there is a unsettling sequence in which he pretends to stab Wax with a banana. It’s chilling: even more unsettling than Donald Trump’s conviction that he was fated to win the White House.