The Interview: Anne Davies
The familiar face of the BBC’s evening news, Anne Davies is in a privileged position to see the best and the worst of society… that’s why she’s a passionate supporter of charities like Oakham’s NSPCC, speaking at its concert each year.
The studio clock approaches 6pm, and with to-the-second timing, an unflappable Anne Davies delivers the 11 second teasers that provide viewers with a preview of that evening’s news agenda.
Having presented the BBC’s East Midlands Today programme since 2001, Anne has a knack of blending professionalism with just the right amount of human emotion and is justifiably proud both of the programme and of a career in broadcasting from 1981 to 2018. Anne celebrated a milestone birthday this year and is looking forward to putting her feet up this Christmas… after doing her bit for children in our area.
How did your career in the media begin?
I was born in Surrey and after three years of University down in Aberystwyth, I began working for BBC Current Affairs. I was straight out of a secretarial course, but the variety and quality of programming I was able to contribute to was really impressive; I worked on Panorama, Question Time, and The Money Programme.
I always wanted to work in radio and tried, unsuccessfully, to make my way into BBC Leicester. I didn’t get that job but I did get what was known at the time as an Attachment [a sort of apprenticeship with the BBC] and so I spent what turned out to be an absolutely incredible four months working on the corporation’s Derbyshire and Leicestershire stations.
Next I worked for Central News as a freelancer through the late 1980s and early 1990s, and in 1993, I opened the first GMTV programme alongside Eamonn Holmes.
And that was a year that turned out to be very exciting indeed?
Yes… I opened a new morning news programme. Although ‘morning’ is pushing it somewhat, the starts were 3am, so really it should be called ‘middle of the night’ TV! Then, two months later, I married my partner and fell pregnant later that year too, so it was a real rollercoaster, but an incredible time!
You were there for about eight years?
That’s right. A girl can only miss her beauty sleep for so long, so after eight years of news casting, cookery, foreign travel and fun it was back home to Leicestershire, lots of friends and a job you usually only get to dream of! I moved back to the East Midlands in 2001 to co-present East Midlands Today as well as working on Inside Out and a mid-morning show on BBC Radio Leicester.
Presenting the show must be demanding… and stressful?
I always think that stress is subjective. I remember when I was working at Central News I had been following the progress of two transplant patients. They were two sisters and had gone through the most incredible journey together. The time came for a big operation and I was afforded privileged access to the operating theatre.
I’m useless with medical stuff – I can’t even stand to give blood – but I was suddenly staring at a surgeon performing the most incredible feat, juggling organs and changing two people’s lives so profoundly. At this point he looked up at me and muttered ‘I don’t know how you can do your job.’ I was astounded, but I guess it’s what you get used to.
I would say, though, that we’re a really dedicated and hard-working team. We’re proud of the ethical way we report the news, and how honest we are. You have to maintain professionalism, but to do that entirely would mean coming across as quite detached, so I’ve always felt that it’s a good thing to have that human quality too, to be sort of emotionally honest with viewers.
There are about 100 people who contribute to the programme, we’re all hands-on and all determined to maintain the quality and professionalism of our work, and when others around you show that same quality, it makes working alongside them a pleasure, even in a pressured environment like a newsroom where a late-breaking story can upset all of that day’s carefully thought-out plans.
And reporting the news must involve some emotional moments?
It does, and you meet people in both wonderful circumstances, and terrible ones too. You can’t be weeping and wailing but there are stories that have more emotional resonance. I was reporting on Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in 2007 [for which Anne won an RTS television award] and as a mum of two children there was no escaping the emotional impact of that story.
You see people’s lives in a very raw state, but that can be very rewarding, too. When someone shows positivity in adversity you have to feel privileged to have that front row seat looking into their lives when stories come onto our radar.
Is that why you’re keen to support local charities?
Definitely. I’ve always supported Children in Need and will be doing so again at the end of November. Again, being a mum to two children who are now grown up, you feel that resonance.
And presumably that’s why you’re appearing in Oakham again this year?
That’s right. I’ve been a reader for a number of years at the NSPCC’s annual Christmas Carol concert in Oakham. It’s attended by about 400 people and this year will be the 12th event when it takes place in the first week of December. Last year it raised £34,000 for the charity and the year before it was just as successful. Mary Berry was one of the early readers and rejoined the event for its tenth anniversary.
The event has raised over £190,000 for the NSPCC and benefits children in our area, which is rewarding to know. It’s a heart-warming event but it also represents the start of the festive season, too.
I am proud to be a Patron of Rainbows Childrens Hospice, LOROS, the Leicester Hospice Charity and Forever Stars, supporting families affected by stillbirth. They all do the most extraordinary work and it means a great deal to me to be involved with them.
What are your plans for the festive season?
We’ve had some really great family Christmas Days but the way you celebrate changes as you get older and as your children grow up too. I had a really lovely celebration earlier in the year for my birthday, so I’m looking forward to having a quiet one, enjoying winter walks with my three beloved but thoroughly spoilt Spaniels!
You’re incredibly passionate about the area?
I do love the countryside but we’re really lucky to live in a part of the world that has just the right blend of countryside and civilisation. I live near Melton Mowbray so I’m lucky to live near to Leicester, Oakham and Stamford; all really great places.
And fashion is another passion?
My taste in clothes is a bit like Marmite. I get a lot of ‘boos’ and a lot of applause in equal measure for my taste in outfits. You either love them or you hate them. But they are my passion!
I have far too many clothes. I never throw them out. I buy in sales, on the High Street, abroad and at home. Obviously there are only certain things you can wear on TV, but I do occasionally like to challenge the accepted idea of a traditional newsreader… occasionally!
If I had all the money in the world I would champion Vivienne Westwood. I love her mad jelly shoes, the quirky cut of her dresses, the prints, the bags and the woman herself for her individuality and strength of character.
You’ve also set up a Fashion Awards for the East Midlands? Why?
Because the area is renowned for producing clothing, and the world being the way it is these days, it can be difficult for young people to make their way into the industry.
The fashion industry is worth £32bn to the UK economy, and it’s a form of art as much as any other medium, from High Street to couture. The aim was to recognise the work of young people and allow them to gain recognition for their future as aspiring designers.
The Fashanne Awards began in 2015 with our first event staged at Belvoir Castle being likened in Tatler Magazine to Dior showing at Belenheim. Since then the Fashion Designers of the Future Awards have gone from strength to strength. The next two-day event will be staged in April 2020 offering key note talks from industry leaders, Q and A’s with our judges and of course the fabulous Awards night itself.
Quite the foodie, too?
I am, and I blame my father. Saturday night was his night in the kitchen. He used every saucepan, plate, spoon and knife in the house. He followed recipes religiously and – helped along by a whiskey or three – produced some pretty fabulous dishes. I don’t get to cook or bake as often as I like as I’m really busy, but I do appreciate really good food!
Broadcasting must mean long hours?
Presenting the late news on Monday and Tuesdays means I rarely
get home before 11.30pm, and for the remainder of the week I usually work until half past seven in the evening.
As soon as we reach the studios there’s a production meeting in which we determine the running order for the show. We spend the afternoon writing scripts and headlines, then record the 6pm teaser with two of the evening’s best stories. Though we’re presenters, myself and Dominic [Heale] work really closely with the reporters to really get a feel for the stories that they’re working on, to really understand them.
It’s TV, so anything can change right up to the last minute but I’m lucky to work with some outstanding people who all have the same sense of professionalism and integrity.
A sense of professionalism you’re keen to impart in others?
I also run a series of presenter coaching courses at the BBC which is so rewarding. To help the next generation of presenters find their voice is something that means a great deal to me. I’ve reached a great age in broadcasting and if I can pass something on I think it’s important to do so.
Any final words of wisdom…?
I remember when I began in broadcast and promised myself that the two things I would never do were news and breakfast television… the lesson learnt was never say there’s something you won’t do!
Anne presents East Midlands Today, weeknights, 6.30pm, the NSPCC Concert in Oakham’s All Saints Church takes place on Monday 3rd December.