On growing up: I’m the daughter of shopkeepers. My parents moved to the UK from India in the 1960s; my father initially toiled in a factory before opening our first corner shop in Reading. As a child, I’d help stock the shelves and homework was conducted at the back of the shop; watching people from all walks of life rubbing shoulders and exchanging news. I knew all the gossip of the town. At the time, I just wanted to be like my friends and have a garden, a cat, a “normal” lounge and a front door with a doorbell – but now I realise how lucky I am to be a corner-shop kid. I’m hugely grateful to my parents: they worked from 5am-10pm six days a week so that my sisters and I could get a good education and head to university. They are my heroes!
On her early career: I always wanted to be an actress and trained at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), but my parents wanted me to have a “solid career”. I ended up studying journalism, film and broadcasting at Cardiff University because it sounded fun. I applied to do a Masters in journalism but I got rejected. I was distraught but my tutor advised me to “take a year out, live a little, and grow up”. It was brilliant advice and within a year I was moving to Dubai to work as a radio presenter for the English language radio station Channel 4 FM. After three years of “growing up” out there, I moved back home and applied to literally every media company in the country. Six months (and thousands of rejection letters) later, I got in touch with my local radio station BBC Radio Berkshire and worked voluntarily before securing a short-term contract as a traffic and travel reporter. It was the break I was waiting for – paid employment by the BBC.
On her current role: Following stints with BBC South and BBC Spotlight Channel Islands, I spent six years working as a producer with BBC News 24 before becoming a presenter for BBC World News. I was given my own show Newsday which has enabled me to travel the world. I’ve reported on two Olympic Games, two Royal weddings, two general elections and everything from Hong Kong protests to the Brexit referendum. It’s challenging, fast-paced and the hours are brutal. I’ve never worked a 9-to-5 shift pattern – but I love the adrenaline of big breaking news. A few years ago, I started to crave more time for interviews and longer-form stories so, alongside my presenting job, I embarked on presenting more documentaries: Booze, Beans & Bhajis: The Story of the Corner Shop; Supermarket Shopping Secrets; and Dangerous Borders: A Journey across India & Pakistan. I’m currently penning my first book, The History of the Corner Shop, due to be published by Hodder early next year.
On her toughest moments: I suffered a real crisis of confidence in my mid-thirties, which sounds bizarre when you’re in a job like mine. There were days when I’d feel so exhausted and low that I’d stay in my pyjamas all day. I started seeing a counsellor which really helped me to find my identity outside of being a BBC presenter. My work ethic has driven my career but it has also been the demon on my shoulder. I’ve stopped trying to prove myself to everyone else. And I’ve discovered the power of saying “no”.
On staying sane: I work 8pm-2am every day and I do BBC Breakfast shifts too which is the other end of the day! It can be a gruelling regime so I try and have at least 30 minutes of “me time” every day to switch off, whether that’s through meditation, going for a run, reiki or cooking. My husband Adam is a real leveller. I’m the planner whereas he lives life in the moment and encourages me to step away from the rat race.
On equal pay: I’m frustrated and angry that we’re fighting a cause that should have been sorted out years ago. It is utterly soul destroying for a woman to have to justify her existence and demand the same pay as the man that sits next to her, doing exactly the same job. The BBC says it will take years to change the system. The system is broken and it needs to be changed now. The gender pay gap should be 0%. The equal pay gap should be 0%. The diversity pay gap should be 0%.
On her power suit: My work wardrobe is full of simple, stylish, comfortable outfits. I’m all about clean lines and tailored pieces but I’m not fussy about the brand; you’re just as likely to spot me in a trouser suit from the high street as a designer dress. On air, I try to avoid jarring patterns as they can distract the viewer from the story you’re telling.
On her go-to style: I’m living in dungarees at the moment (nothing to do with the Mamma Mia movies). They hide a multitude of sins and look pretty funky too. I’ll wear them with Havaianas flip flops or my black Carvella trainers.
On her advice to other women: Don’t be put off by rejection. Don’t listen to the people that tell you you can’t do it. If you’re passionate, determined and you work hard, you’ll get there, I promise.
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