An expert on South Korean politics who became a global superstar after his serious interview on the BBC was gatecrashed by his curious children and stressed-out wife has appeared on the news again today – to reveal that his son and daughter are ‘climbing the walls’ during their coronavirus isolation.
Professor Robert Kelly’s appearance on BBC News via a video link in March 2017 became an instant sensation after his daughter Marion, then four, burst into her father’s office for the world to see, with her baby brother James hot on her heels in his walker.
Their unflappable father, who was offering his expert insights on South Korean politics to BBC News, managed to ignore the chaos behind him as his wife Jung-a Kim rushed into the room to remove their excitable children – but not before the pair became a hit with the public.
Now Professor Kelly, 47, has appeared on the BBC World News again – this time with his wife and children invited to sit by his side – as he reveals what life is like in Busan, South Korea during coronavirus lockdown.
Talking about working from home with his young children, Professor Kelly said: ‘It’s tough for us. As you can see, it’s very difficult.
‘Employers who have employees with kids this age; they’re fighting all the time, they’ve got nothing to do, they’re climbing the walls, it’s just really really tough.
‘That’s why I’m glad they’re softening the rules a little bit so at least we can take them outside so they can use a little bit of energy – but three weeks ago it was very difficult because we couldn’t go anywhere.
‘There are only so many games you can play and puzzles you can do before they start running around.’
Professor Kelly’s struggles with the children are visible during today’s interview as Marion and James fidget as their parents answer questions on life in South Korea as coronavirus spreads across the country.
But the parents keep calm as they field questions on life under lockdown with their children.
Professor Kelly’s wife Jung-a Kim said: ‘It’s very difficult to stay in the house for a very long time.
‘We try to go out and see the flowers and the trees and they can shout and scream.’
South Korea has pushed for testing of its citizens during the outbreak and has also been using mobile phone data that people can use to determine if they have come into contact with someone who has been infected with the novel coronavirus
The country has been viewed as something of a success story in its efforts to beat back the spread of the virus.
Professor Kelly said: ‘I think South Koreans have actually dealt with it really well. I think self-compliance has been pretty high. You don’t see the kind of thing you see in the US with crowded beaches and people refusing to stay off the subways and things like that.
‘The South Koreans have responded really well and that’s why the curve has flattened.’
As the interview concluded the BBC news anchor told Professor Kelly he was glad that ‘Marion and James haven’t lost any of their naughtiness’.
Professor’s Kelly’s rise to fame in 2017 came after he was questioned about South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, being ousted from power was eclipsed by Marion, aged four, who performed a comical dance in the background.
She was followed by little brother James, aged just nine months, who swept in to the study in a fast-moving baby walker. Moments later a stressed-out Jung-a skidded into the room and grappled the children out of shot.
He revealed he was so anxious after the ‘disaster’ that he had apologised to the BBC and thought his career as an interviewer was over.
Speaking to BBC News soon after the blunder – sitting alongside his wife and two children – with Marion sucking a lolly and James munching on a rusk, Proffessor Kelly was keen to defend his wife against mean-spirited comments.
He said:’It is quite apparent in the video that she is frantically trying to salvage the professionalism of the interview.
‘When Marian our daughter speaks in the clip she says in Korean ‘Why mum’ because she was responding surprise because we do not usually treat out children the way you saw in the clip.’
Prof Kelly admitted he was mortified at the time but in hindsight he could see the funny side.
He said his feelings about the incident had gone from ‘surprise and embarrassment’ to ‘amusement’ and finally ‘love and affection’.
‘It was terribly cute. I saw the video like everybody else and it’s really funny,’ said Prof Kelly.
He said the reaction on social media had been astonishing – and mostly positive – and he had been forced to switch off Twitter and Facebook alerts and put his phone on airplane mode.
Speaking on Twitter in 2018, a year after the clip went viral, Professor Kelly told his followers that he doesn’t like to talk about the video too often out of fear of ‘overexposing’ the children, but wanted to mark the one year anniversary of the interview.
He revealed that achieving worldwide fame because of his children had made them all closer as a family.
Professor Kelly said: ‘It made us happier. We laugh about it. It helps me empathise with parents more. We love our children very much, but I suppose it made our bond with them tighter.’