Esther Rantzen: My Life In Media

'I was about to give evidence on behalf of some abused children in a trial. I realised that I'd tucked my skirt into my knickers'

Esther Rantzen, 65, has used her 40-year career in television to campaign on behalf of her viewers. Best known as the presenter of That's Life! and Hearts of Gold, she is also the patron of 23 charities and the president of ChildLine. She was married to the broadcaster and producer Desmond Wilcox for 22 years until his death in 2000. She has three children and lives in north London. This week, she is supporting Carers Week.

So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

My father was a television pioneer. He was a boffin and regarded people who appeared on televisionas the backwash of the entertainment industry. But he enjoyed that I was doing it.

Which newspaper did your family get when you were 15?

We started off with the Daily Express. Butthey gave it up because the editor at the time was very anti-homosexuality. My mother thought this was appalling.

What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

I liked all the children's programmes. All Your Own, a children's talent show that Huw Wheldon presented. Muffin the Mule from when I was very young. On the radio, it was Children's Hour.

Describe your job

I'm a journalist and broadcaster, and I like it when people describe me as a campaigner. I do as much as I can on behalf of charities, notably Childline and the NSPCC, and for disabled and older people.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

Depending on the day, it would be Radio 4's Today or BBC News 24.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I read the Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Times and keep up with news on the radio. I research by Google, which I find invaluable.

What is the best thing about your job?

It's varied, and I meet people with fascinating life stories or expertise. It's fun and makes me laugh. The work with children is moving and rewarding.

And the worst?

The unpredictability, and the difficulty of maintaining relationships. I have to let people down as work forces me to be places I hadn't planned to be.

How do you feel you influence the media?

Asone of the early women presenter/producers, I brought women's issues to the screen, from post-natal depression to child abuse. Recently, I've been doing a programme for BBC2 about death. I've been able to bring emotional issues to television. That's very rewarding and exciting.

What's the proudest achievement of your working life?

My work with ChildLine.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

When I was about to give evidence on behalf of some abused children in a trial, I realised that I'd tucked my skirt into my knickers. I adjusted it, but that was a moment I won't forget.

At home, what do you tune in to?

I've got a TiVo, which is like Sky+. I watch reruns of Friends and shows like The X Factor - Battle of the Stars, which was brilliantly done. I watch ITN and the BBC's major evening news. I love Horizon and Inside the Actors Studio.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Telegraph. My luxuries are the gardening pages and the theatre and television reviews. I love The Sunday Times's News Review. The Week is fantastic; it has improved the quality of my life. I look forward to it coming and adore reading it.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?

It would be great fun to start on a major adventure now - for two or 30 years.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

I'd love to have been a teacher. My headmistress said that it was better to get some experience outside school first, though.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Michael Grade has always spotted talent, rewarded good ideas and combined skill for entertainment as well as very serious programmes. He commissioned Childwatch, from which ChildLine was launched.

The cv

1963 Graduates from Oxford to a job in BBC radio, then becomes a TV researcher

1968-72 Reporter for BBC1 consumer programme Braden's Week

1973-94 Works on That's Life!

1982-present Presents/produces shows on drugs, mental health and stillbirth

1986-96 Launches Childwatch series about child abuse

1988-95 Produces/ presents Hearts of Gold

1991 Awarded OBE for services to broadcasting

1995-2003 Presents weekly ITV show That's Esther

1997 Inaugurated into the Royal Television Society Hall of Fame

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