My Life In Media: BBC presenter Bill Turnbull
'Even when you've done it hundreds of times, getting up at quarter to four is never easy. The trick is not to fight it'
Monday 14 January 2008
Bill Turnbull, 51, is the presenter of BBC Breakfast, broadcast every morning on BBC1 and BBC News 24. He has been with the BBC for 22 years and has reported from more than 30 countries, including the US where he was Washington correspondent for four years, covering the OJ Simpson trial and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He has presented
Breakfast since 2001, broadcasting the show live from King's Cross in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings. He keeps chickens and bees. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife Sesi and their three children.
What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?
I started writing for the student paper at Edinburgh in my second term, and went on to edit it. By the time I graduated, the bug had struck. I discovered the joys of radio at the Centre for Journalism Studies, and never looked back at print.
How do you feel you influence the media?
I don't, on a personal level. I hope occasionally to inspire others to have a go, that's all.
When you were 15 years old which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?
My parents read The Times, The FT, and The Daily Mirror. I learned a lot from The Mirror. I was really impressed by its economic but warm style, and direct approach.
And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?
As I was locked up in boarding school at the time, I barely saw any TV. We were allowed, by special dispensation, to watch Monty Python. And John Peel on Radio 1 was a late night listen with the wireless under the pillow.
Describe your job?
I present Breakfast on BBC1, a job I've had – and loved – for six years. I sit on the sofa with a variety of delightful partners and we try to guide our audience into the day in as friendly and informative a manner as possible. Because it covers so many bases, it's the best job in news broadcasting – apart from the time of day.
What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?
On my way into work at 4.30am I tune into Radio 5Live, to catch up with the news. On days off, I listen to Today in the bedroom and watch Breakfast in the kitchen.
What is the best thing about your job?
Breakfast has great variety. We get to cover all the important issues of the day, but we can also have a lot of fun, especially with the showbiz and culture segment at the end of the programme. We get all the famous faces onto the sofa sooner or later.
And the worst?
Even when you've done it hundreds of times, waking up at a quarter to four doesn't get any easier. The important thing is not to fight it. Once you start doing that, you're lost. Pilates every morning helps me to get the blood flowing.
What's the proudest achievement in your working life?
There's no one single moment, but there have been a few along the way. Making a radio documentary single-handed about the New York City subway 25 years ago was a high. Becoming a foreign correspondent, and going to Washington during the Clinton years. And recently, helping Breakfast beat GMTV in the ratings – that's been very satisfying.
And what's your most embarrassing moment?
There are too many to mention. In thousands of hours live on air, there have been plenty of stutters, stumbles, and bungles. I'm sure you can find them on YouTube.
What would you do if you didn't work in the media?
Broadcasting is all I've ever done professionally, so I'm not qualified for anything else. I'd probably try my hand at writing. A lot of former journalists go into "consultancy". I could try that, if only I knew what it was.
Do you consult any media sources during the day?
Lots. Apart from the obvious – TV, radio, newspapers and BBC Online – I like to check out the Country Channel, about all things rural. I'm the beekeeping correspondent (honest). As a Wycombe Wanderers fan I also have to get my daily dose of gossip from the club's and fans' websites.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?
The novel. It's in there somewhere, but don't ask me what it's about.
What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?
The Sunday Times and The Observer. I find The Week is really useful for catching everything that matters. And I enjoy some of the writing in The Spectator.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
When I was a reporter I was lucky enough to work alongside Martin Bell a couple of times. He had everything a TV correspondent needed: great courage and integrity, a generous spirit, and a magical ability to make a news script read like a poem. Amazingly, he never wrote a word of it down.
1978 - Joins Radio Clyde in Glasgow as a trainee, before freelancing for radio stations in London and New York
1986 - Becomes a reporter for Today on Radio 4
1988 - Joins the BBC's Breakfast programme as a reporter, covering the Lockerbie air disaster and the Romanian revolution of 1989
1990 - Becomes a reporter for BBC News, covering the disintegration of the USSR and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
1994 - Is made the BBC's Washington correspondent, covering the O J Simpson murder trial and the Monica Lewinsky scandal
1998 - Moves back to the UK to become a presenter for BBC News 24. Also hosts the Weekend Breakfast show on Radio 5 Live.
2001- Becomes a presenter on Breakfast. Presents News 24's coverage from King's Cross after the 7/7 bombings.
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