Trailblazer Dame Zaha Hadid hangs up on Radio 4 after tense exchange

Posted by
Harriet Hall

Interviews are a pretty nerve-racking business at the best of times, but when they’re being broadcast live to millions on the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Today, it’s a whole different ballgame.

Being grilled by journalist heavyweights from Jim Naughtie to Mishal Hussein could make even the most confident person quiver in their boots, but not Dame Zaha Hadid.

This morning, the world renowned London-based architect hung-up on an interview with the Today programme’s Sarah Montague. 

Hadid appeared on the programme to discuss her becoming the first woman to be awarded the Royal Institute of British Architect’s (Riba) Royal Gold Medal architecture award.

But the discussion swiftly descended into a heated argument after Montague brought up accusations that there had been deaths of migrant workers whilst working on Qatar’s Al-Wakrah World Cup stadium – one of Hadid’s projects.

After asking Hadid about her  “formidable” personality and “scary character”, Montague states:

“More than 1,200 migrant workers have died there.”

But Hadid quickly retorts that that is:

“Absolutely not true. We sued someone for writing that and saying that and it had to be withdrawn from the press as it is inaccurate. It is absolutely untrue.”

Then continues to say: “There have been no deaths on our site whatsoever, You should check your information before you say anything.”

The conversation becomes increasingly heated until Montague asks Hadid a question, then interrupts her answer to say they have run out of time, to which Hadid says:

“Don’t ask me a question when you can’t let me finish it. Listen to me, let’s stop this conversation right now. I don’t want to carry on. Thank you very much."

Whatever the truth may be, Hadid certainly managed to hold her own.

Aquatics Centre in the 2012 London Olympic Park, Stratford

Aquatics Centre in the 2012 London Olympic Park, Stratford

President of Riba, Jane Duncan, has hailed Hadid as a:

“Formidable and globally-influential force in architecture.”

“Her work from buildings to furniture, footwear and cars, is quite rightly revered and desired by brands and people all around the world,” she says.

The Riba medal is the United Kingdom’s most prestigious architecture award, and is given in recognition of a lifetime’s work.

Previous winners include renowned architects, Le Courbusier, Frank Gehry and Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The award has been personally approved by the Queen.

Dame Zaha was born in Baghdad in 1950 and moved to the UK in the 1972 to train as an architect.

Serpentine Sackler Gallery and The Magazine cafeteria

Serpentine Sackler Gallery and The Magazine cafeteria

She has designed buildings worldwide, from China, and Rome to London.

Zaha is undoubtedly the most influential female architect in history, winning numerous awards and designing buildings worldwide, including the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 London Olympics, the Mazzi Museum in Rome and the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton.

In 2004, Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

In 2012, Hadid was made a dame, and in 2013 she appeared in the Woman’s Hour Power List.

Speaking to the Financial Times, who suggested her recognition was long overude, Hadid says:

“I’ve always been independent and because I’m ‘flamboyant’ I’ve always been seen as difficult.”

“As a woman in architecture you’re always an outsider. It’s OK, I like being on the edge, she says.”