And so, in the early nineties, I started on “Breakfast With Frost”, which I absolutely loved. That was the Sunday morning programme with David Frost where I stayed for a good few years as it was a lovely small team and a great programme to work on. Once we were off air, we hosted a grand breakfast each week which became quite famous and the reason, I’m sure that so many top political leaders agreed to come on again and again. And it was at those breakfasts that I was privileged enough to see a different side to some of those politicians. John Major, John Prescott, Kenneth Clarke, and yes…even Gordon Brown proved to be most entertaining company and so different to what you saw on screen. I took on the role of hostess with the mostess and I thoroughly enjoyed myself each week, flitting from guest to guest.
In 1997, I was part of the team that launched News24, now known as the News Channel. We fell off air many, many times because of the new technology and to be honest we were a bit of a laughing stock back then but we got better and in the meantime I was off doing some huge stories which took months of planning – the Millennium, the Golden Jubilee, the Athens Olympics, the London bid for 2012. These are only a few highlights of what has been a really interesting career. I have been privileged to have a job that has allowed me to travel to places I probably would never have gone to and meet some truly interesting and inspirational people.
I’m often asked what the best moment has been and it really is difficult to pick just one but I think that right up there must be when I was personally invited to South Africa to talk to Nelson Mandela about his paintings. I had covered his first set that were released in London and was then asked to attend the unveiling of his second set of pictures – this time on Robben Island where he had been imprisoned for so long. They were very basic works of art, but very touching big blocks of colour because he said for all the years he was in jail everything seemed so grey: the people, the building, the food, the clothes, the rocks, the sky. And then, towards the end of his captivity, as conditions became less severe, he was allowed to do some gardening. He said even the tomato plants he was given seemed grey until one morning, he turned up at his patch to find a single tomato which had turned red and that vibrant colour moved him to tears. I asked him “Do you find painting more therapeutic than writing, Mr Mandela” and he shouted “NO no no, you must not call me Mr Mandela” and suddenly I wanted the ground to open up as I thought I should have called him Dr Mandela or ex-president Mandela or whatever and I cursed myself for not having checked such a basic thing. His voice softened as he saw my turmoil and he said “In this country they call me Madiba” “Oh” I said, not sure what to say and in an even softer tone he said “Do you know what Madiba means” and of course now I felt really stupid as I said “No” and he looked at me with real affection and said “It means grandfather” and I completely welled up as the thought that this great man should invite me to call him grandfather. Now that, was a very special moment.
In my younger days, I was an expert verdict breaker on the major trials. I worked on quite a few of the big ones, Damilola Taylor, Stephen Lawrence, Jill Dando, and then the subsequent Barry George appeal. I got a lot of credit for my verdict breaking skills which effectively means getting the news from the courtroom on air as soon as possible which is not easy when phones have to be off in court. Of course, there was some skill involved but basically I can now reveal that I learnt how to put my handbag to good use, often placing it in front of the SKY reporter as he jumped up to rush out of court and fell over it, or my elbows became good at stopping anyone getting in front of me and then as I put on more weight over the years, I found that actually simply standing in the door was enough to stop people getting past me – sad but true and an excellent reason for why it was OK to keep eating chips and cake in vast quantities!
I don’t ever remember being affected by the cold and believe me, standing outside the Old Bailey is like standing in a wind tunnel. It’s never warm there, even in the summer, and the High Court is not much better but I could stand for hours out there laughing and joking with other news broadcasters, snappers and print journos, never feeling the cold. Now, I only have to be out for a few minutes and as soon as I get home I have to retire straight to bed in layers of jumpers, woolly socks and hot water bottles – it’s not a pleasant sight !
2012 was probably the busiest year of my career as I spent the first part planning and then working on the four days of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations (the news element, not the BBC1 coverage that was rather slated in the press and maybe rightly so). Immediately after that, and with no break to recover, I joined our Olympics team and worked solidly on what was probably the hugest gig of my career to date. It was the biggest thing the BBC has ever done and probably the most successful and I am proud to have been part of it. It feels so strange to be talking about it now in the past tense as I was involved with it right from the start when London outlined their bid in Athens during the 2004 Olympics and I followed it through right to the Closing Ceremony.
I particularly remember working in Stratford, when we heard London had won. The crowds went mad, strangers were kissing each other, people came running on to our stage full of genuine emotion and I dissolved into tears. We couldn’t hear the comms back to London as it was so noisy and we were on air without realising it and apparently there is a shot of me screaming and hugging our presenter Chris Hollins. It was a fantastic day.
Of course, that joy was completely overshadowed the next day when we were all sent out and about around London to cover the 7/7 bombings. Another day I’ll never forget. And that really sums up working in News, that you never know what each day holds. That’s part of what made the job so addictive, because it really is never the same.
However, as addictive as the job was, after the Olympics it felt like the right time for me to leave the BBC. It is still a great organisation but it is now a very different place and cuts and changes to pensions and terms and conditions made it difficult for me to stay as I didn’t want to end up hating a place that I have genuinely loved being part of. So, I left in March.
Oh and by the way, my mother who kept asking me when I would get a proper job? Now she’s giving me a hard time and constantly asking why I ever left what was a “fantastic career”. She’s absolutely right. It really has been the best, and I will truly miss it.
But now that I have got it all out….it really is time to move on