the early years
I took a job making tea and doing the “meet and greet” for politicians at the BBC in the North East - an area I knew well from my time at Durham. From here I worked my way up. I applied for and got a job in “traffic and travel” and made it my own. I would head out to meet all interested parties in helping keep the commuters moving each day. I met with the police, fire service, the AA and worked on the relationships to build the very best system I could. I also encouraged Radio Newcastle’s “jam buster” community - those people on the roads who would call in to report accidents in real time. I loved this period of my life. I loved the direct engagement with people on the roads - Dr David who would call me directly from the scene of an ancient to inform me gravely it had been a fatality and I should steer everyone clear from that particular road, through to Alan who would call me as much for a chat as to report on the issues on the road each day. I started getting scoops - good old fashioned scoops - exclusive stories that I had researched and then produced myself. After one of my stories became the lead story on the BBC’s main “Look North” regional news programme I was selected for the BBC’s in-house journalism training course in London and the rest as they say is history.
I was head-hunted to ITV News and there the wonderful Mike Neville instructed me I was to “head South” and get a job in London. I did as I was told although before I returned to News I took a job on a new programme called “the Wright Stuff” which was vibrant, funny, fun and taught me much about the art of debate and working with a studio audience. Again I absolutely loved it and it is testimony to Matthew Wright that the programme enjoyed success with him at the helm for nearly two decades.
But I had an itch that I needed to scratch and that was back in the newsroom. I applied for a job with the BBC’s 24 hour News channel and found my place back where I was happiest - with live rolling news which both tested and excited me. Those who work in live news really do have to “keep their brain knives sharp” as I have always thought of it. You never know where or when the next news story is going to "break" and it ensured you were across absolutely every aspect of the job. I loved it and loved the people I was working with.
The Iraq war
I had always wanted to follow in the footsteps of my idol Kate Adie, and I asked - begged even - my news Editor to send me to Iraq during the second Iraq war in 2006. There is a longer story here as the decision and experience led to me meeting my husband. I shall write a longer post at some point soon, but suffice to say it was a turning point in both my career and personal life.
In Iraq I faced frontline conflict for the first time. The vehicle I was traveling in came under direct mortar fire and I learned much from the soldiers with whom I travelled. I scored my first big national news scoop when interviewing the General in charge of the troops, General Sir Richard Shirreff, about the issues his soldiers faced - not necessarily with the equipment they had in Iraq which was a story in itself back home in the UK - but more about the provisions or lack of them that had been made for their families. There were young soldiers telling me that they could not concentrate on the task at hand as they had their wives or girlfriends in tears on the phone, one young woman was eight months pregnant having to have cold showers with fungi growing in the bathroom on the mitliary base back in the UK. I asked General Shirreff if the Military covenant was “broken” and saw from a flicker in his eye that I had hit a nerve.
He broke with protocol to confirm on record, that the covenant, was not he said necessarily broken - but he added it was seriously out of kilter. It was a big statement to make and as I phoned my Editor back in the UK I knew it would make the headlines - if not be the main headline. These are the things I find satisfying about my job - they may be “small” victories but they are victories none the less when truth can help effect change. Truth is power so they say and the story as it was reported led to many questions being asked about military provisions and I was pleased to have helped shine a light on an issue that had previously gone unreported. My working relationship with the General I am pleased to say survived the encounter and he and his wonderful wife Lady Sarah-Jane Shirreff were guests at our wedding
After the Iraq war came Afghanistan, and again I was determined not to sit safely on a base reporting from afar but to get out on the ground and on foot. I wanted to experience the story in the same way the troops were.
I was flown by helicopter to a forward operating base (FOB) in an area populated by the Taliban. It was an incredible experience as a frontline journalist, and to be among the troops to hear their stories and to be able to relay their experience was a privilege I will never forget. (more here on Afghanistan )