Sir Trevor McDonald met some of America’s most notorious former mobsters for his new series Trevor McDonald on the Mafia, but he never thought he’d be caught-up in a bitter gangland feud on the streets of New York!
That’s almost what happened when the former newsreader went on a drive around Little Italy with former mafia captain Michael DiLeonardo – or ‘Mikey Scars’ – in the first episode and Trevor doesn’t mind admitting that he was terrified…
“When Mikey became an informant for the FBI he helped send 80 mafia members to jail so the mob have been out to get him for years,” says Trevor. “He was driving us through his old neighbourhood when he recognised two of his former contemporaries sitting at a cafe. If they’d seen him we all would have been in a pretty dangerous situation!
“It was scary because up until then the project had all been rather passive,” he explains. “We thought we were embarking on a tour of Mikey’s old haunts, not thinking that anyone from his old life would be around! It was one of those moments of genuine great TV. Something that happens which is wonderful and you couldn’t have made it up or hoped for anything quite like it!”
It took producers three months to persuade Mikey – who has been in a witness relocation programme for several years – to agree to appear, so Trevor knew the security concerns that came with the subject matter, yet he says the encounter served as a stark reminder for him and his crew.
“I thought I was dealing with history really, not everyday life and reality,” he explains. “Then here he was pointing to people!”
Yet Trevor’s brush with Mikey’s former life wasn’t the only thing that shocked the former newsreader while making the documentary…
“The blunt way some of these people described the terrible crimes they’d committed did shock me,” he says. “Former Philadelphia mob boss Ralph Natale had never given a TV interview before and told me he’d killed people like he would swat a fly and how he sleeps perfectly at night. I don’t think I would ever have expected someone to say that to me.”
“Another thing which made an impression on me was the way they described killing a person. We weren’t allowed to show what one of the mafia’s hitmen said about killing somebody because the censors wouldn’t have allowed it. He blew someone’s brains out in the back of a car and told me about it in some detail. It’s quite extraordinary to hear people talk about it in that way.”
Two-part documentary series Trevor McDonald on the Mafia starts on Monday, March 23