TV personality Sarah Bishop, who has just left the BBC following a 25-year career, looks back on her experiences as a long-standing journalist and newsreader on regional flagship programme Midlands Today – and reveals how she acted as a “make-up” lady to take the shine of a Prime Minister
It WAS a strangely exciting night: striding out into the cool summer breeze, the thrill of the unexpected at every corner. I was dressed like I was going to the front line (bullet proof vest, First Aid kit) But this wasn’t a war zone, this was Birmingham during the riots.
Reporting on them was an experience I’ll never forget. Only last week, I came across the rushes. As looters scrambled through shards of glass, you can just make out my voice off mic. “Bloody hell, they’re nicking the tellies!”
And they were. Huge, sleek 55-inch flat screeners from Richer Sounds. I caught sight of a young woman trying to lug one down the road. It was a moment of comedy but also mild horror. Such blatant lawlessness – here in Birmingham?
It’s been a career of surprises to be honest. Getting the only TV interview with former Aston Villa boss Randy Lerner, that was unexpected. Admittedly, I did have to fly to Ohio to get it. His American PR team said all along, “It’ll be a wasted journey he doesn’t do interviews” and at the Cleveland Brown’s super stadium, his young daughter cheerfully confided in me “Daddy doesn’t speak to people like you”
This was how it played out;
Randy: “Why won’t you take No for an answer, Miss Falkland”
Me: “Why are you so fixed Mr Lerner? “
In that instant it could have gone the other way of course, but as the emotion welled up in my eyes - as much out of sheer exhaustion as anything else, he must have changed his mind. A few moments later, his PR man said “Five minutes at half time.” Randy didn’t want the camera anywhere near him, so it all looked a bit odd, and he didn’t say anything ground-breaking, other than his hopes for the Villa and his love of olde English football clubs. But it was an interview. I called my boss to tell him the good news. He didn’t mind that it was 3am.
And then there was Tony Blair. As a reporter on BBC CWR, I’d interviewed him briefly on the hoof in Coventry – as he and Alistair dashed for a helicopter to get back to London.
But I’d never been up close now he was PM and he was coming into the Mailbox to be interviewed by Nick (Owen). I’d already edited for the programme that night, so was a loose end, the studio was getting set up and all his security team were hovering. I don’t know why but I suddenly thought I’d assume the role make-up lady (we haven’t had a make-up lady since the days of Pebble Mill by the way.) So I walked in and said “Hello Prime Minister, would you like some powder to take the shine off?”
“Oh gosh yes, thanks” he said, turning around and fixing me with smiling blue eyes.
Off I went with the foundation brush and the powder puff. It was quite an intimate moment really. Scrutinising every pore, every line on the Prime Ministerial face.
“Do you think that’s err, enough now?” he asked after a moment
“Maybe just a bit more” I quickly replied. “The camera lights get really hot you know”
Poor man was caked in it by the end. I did feel a bit naughty. Nothing worse than a shiny forehead on the telly though, hey!
It’s the ordinary folk who’ve made the most impact though. Families who’ve been torn apart by tragedy who bare their souls. I hope I’ve been true to them and true to their stories. I’ve been in such a position of privilege to report their lives.
I know it’s unprofessional, but even after all these years I still get upset for them.
I’m going to miss that contact with people. Miss walking up to people in the street and asking their opinion on everything from potholes to Prince Harry’s wedding.
And of course, I’m going to miss the team. I’ve worked with some of them for nearly 25 years. It IS a bit like a big family. We’re all there to support each other through thick and thin. But the time is right to go. So, I’m swapping on the day TV reporting with a smorgasbord of other stuff. As I’m a performer at heart, there’ll be an element of events hosting (I don’t think I’ll be able to go too long without a mic in my hand) I’m also going to be passing on some of the things I’ve learnt along the way - so media training in the corporate world and working with future talent at some of our fantastic universities in the Midlands.
I’m sure I’ll miss the buzz of live broadcasting but it’ll be nice to work without a 150-mile round trip, impossible deadlines and that insistent voice in my ear counting down from ten, nine, eight….