My Life in Media: Helen Terry
'Competition for performance slots is ferocious and I have to steer along a path that will please both the broadcaster and those of us who still love music'
Monday 18 February 2008
Helen Terry, 51, is the executive producer of the Brits, the annual pop music award show. Terry's first taste of success was as a singer with Boy George in Culture Club and she later had several solo hits. She switched careers in her mid-thirties to work in television and refused to take part in Culture Club's 1998 reunion tour, having fallen out with George over his portrayal of her in his autobiography (the pair are reportedly friends again). Terry lives in Perthshire, spending four months of the year in London to make the Brits. This year's show, hosted by Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, will be broadcast live from London's Earls Court on ITV1, from 8pm on Wednesday.
What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?
I was inspired by what I wasn't seeing on television. I was ancient when I started my TV career so I absolutely knew what was wrong with music television and, having been on the receiving end of it in my former career, I thought that I could make a change for the better. Easier said than done at first, but I'm getting there these days.
When you were 15 years old which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?
I was hardly ever in the house when I was 15 so I can't recall what my parents read, aside from the Maldon and Burnham Standard, our local newspaper, which I would read from cover to cover. I devoured my grandma's Cork Weekly Examiner, which I remember was required reading for all expatriate Irish Catholics at the time.
And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?
I loved Civilization, those old school patrician broadcasters infused a passion for discovery in me. Schoolgirls in rural Essex didn't have much in the way of role models back then so my childhood path was 50 per cent swot, 50 per cent rock'*' roll. This did not go down too well at school but my wonderful parents just let me get on with things.
Describe your job?
Part Mystic Meg, part diplomat. I have to second guess the mood of the nation six months in advance and put together a show that either reflects this or acts as a diversion. Naturally I also have to figure out who might win the gongs and then mix it up with performers who are at the peak. Competition for performance slots is ferocious and so I have to steer the show along a course that will please both the broadcaster and those of us who still love music.
What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?
I always log on to BBC news and then trawl through Popbitch and Holy Moly for a bit of sanity. Daily papers don't figure at all because they just make me angry.
Do you consult any media sources during the day?
As above really. We get the New Statesman, New Scientist, Prospect and Private Eye at home and they keep me going.
What do you tune into when you get home?
I'm addicted to CSI and House. I'll tune into random programmes occasionally but it's either Five US or BBC4 who make some of the best music documentaries. I do love a good drama as well – Cranford was a wonderful example of an ensemble piece.
What is the best thing about your job?
My team. I rather treat my job like being in a band and so I take huge delight in working with a bunch of people who never cease to amaze me with their ability to get things done and to get them done well. It's the same sort of pride a singer has in having the best players in their band.
And the worst?
The commute. I live 500 miles from London so I have to leave home for four months, returning to sanity on the weekends.
What's the proudest achievement in your working life?
Bringing extraordinary talent to the attention of a broader public and seeing it change their careers.
And what's your most embarrassing moment?
Far too many to mention.
What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?
I do get The Observer, but only for Nigel Slater's marvellous food section. A good friend was a Sunday editor and so I know far too much about how the press works and how divisive they can be. I love Vanity Fair. Graydon Carter is an extraordinary editor and the standard of writing is superlative. I polish off most inferior magazines in about 20 minutes, but if I start reading VF at Kings Cross I'll just be finishing it whenthe train reaches Stirling.
How do you feel you influence the media?
I don't. The artists speak for themselves, I just do the maths and write the scripts.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?
I've got a cinema release documentary up my sleeve, watch this space . . .
What would you do if you didn't work in the media?
I'd probably be a washed-up has-been singer by now. Television has rather saved my life.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
Andrea Wonfor (the late managing director of Granada Television and producer of The Tube) was an inspirational figure. Never smug, always questioning and rarely averse to a good night out. The perfect balance. Germaine Greer is also up there because she is utterly unafraid to take on the sacred cows and few can match her erudition.
1974 Abandons educationin favour of random employment including work as a performance artist, comic synopsis writer and singing teacher
1981 Becomes a member of Culture Club alongside Boy George
1985 Leaves the band to launch a successful solo career
1990 Moves into television as a researcher on Saturday morning children's TV
1992 Begins making documentaries including an Omnibus on Creation Records founder Alan McGee and Collectors with Damien Hirst for BBC2
2001 Joins the team behind the Brit Awards as the show's music producer
2005 Appointed the show's executive producer
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