My Life In Media: Victoria Coren

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The Independent Online

Victoria Coren, 34, is the presenter of Heresy, a comedy discussion show on Radio 4, and a journalist. She started writing for newspapers aged 15, after winning a Daily Telegraph competition. She has written two books, and one play for stage and TV. She also presents various poker programmes on Channel 4, is a member of Team PokerStars Pro, and was the 2006 European Poker Champion. She is the daughter of the late writer and broadcaster Alan Coren, and lives in London.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

I didn't consciously "embark on a career in the media", I just wanted to write. My hero was Jo March from Little Women. When I was 14, I sent a story off to a magazine just like Jo did, and I've still got the acceptance letter framed on my study wall. I also wanted to impress my father, whose life I found very romantic. Some people imagine nepotism working very directly my dad taking us round editors' offices and demanding jobs for the children but it was never like that. It was more indirect; when you have a relative who's a successful writer, it's easier to believe that it's possible, that it isn't mad or arrogant to have a stab at it, that it's not an impossible dream but a job like any other.

When you were 15 years old, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

Oh, we got them all. My dad did The News Quiz, so it was important not to miss a key story about an escaped lion or a man who left a tuba on a bus. It's left me with a lifelong interest in the funny stories and almost no ability to get through 3,000 words on the Middle East.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

I used to love Phillip Hodson's agony uncle phone-in on LBC; I learned everything I know about sex from people who were having terrible trouble with it. That's made me a weird lover, but a very understanding one.

Describe your job?

Most days I'm writing on my own, or drowning under the boring admin of freelance life. Other days my friend Charlie Skelton is here and we're writing jokes for Heresy; I love working with Charlie. And then I have a totally parallel life as a poker player. I have sponsorship commitments and sometimes I go to a live tournament and do nothing but play poker all day and night. Those are the best weeks.

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

My favourite luxury is having the newspapers delivered. Every day it's like Father Christmas has left a sack of treats on the mat. The internet can't replace them; who wants to sit in bed with a cup of tea and an Apple Mac?

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

I don't tune in to news much during the day, I wait for the newspapers and get everything there. I figure if the world has actually exploded, someone will probably phone me.

What is the best thing about your job?

Coming up with a funny sentence. I don't always write funny stuff, but sometimes you start with a news story and end up with a couple of really good jokes, and that feels like a very happy little piece of alchemy.

And the worst?

The worst time is when a column deadline's looming and you don't have an idea yet. On a bad day you realise you're a total idiot, doing a preposterous job that you're not very good at anyway, nobody's interested, and the whole thing is a pointless sham. But tea helps.

How do you feel you influence the media?

I honestly don't think I've influenced the media in any way at all.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Charlie and I spent a year making an X-rated film and writing a book about it (called Once More, With Feeling). I'm really proud of that book; I think it's very funny and its heart is in the right place. The film, unfortunately, is dreadful.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

During the making of the film, one of our actors (Eddie from Amsterdam) asked Charlie to leave the room for his "solo act". He felt it would be sexier if he and I were alone, and easier for him if I made flirtatious noises throughout. I think I can safely say that was the most embarrassing 10 minutes of my life.

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

The Observer is my favourite newspaper, Roger Alton was a brilliant editor and John Mulholland has kicked off doing a great job, too. I love reading it on a Sunday lunchtime, with a spoonful of the News of The World for pudding.

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

I'd be very chuffed if I could write a 1,000-word piece without smoking a cigarette. Or writing a 10-word sentence.

What would you do if you didn't work in the media?

I'd play poker all the time.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

My father had the ability to make people laugh without being cruel or playing dumb. Stephen Fry is a master of that never ashamed to be clever, never nasty, always funny and my admiration for him borders on reverence.

The CV

1987 Sells a short story to Just Seventeen magazine. Wins a Daily Telegraph competition to write a column about teenage life

1994 Leaves university and freelances for The Daily Telegraph and Esquire magazine. Presents Fourth Column for Radio 4

2000 Works on a play based on the writings of John Diamond

2002 Columnist for The Observer

2003 Co-writes Once More, with Feeling: How We Tried to Make the Greatest Porn Film Ever

2004 Starts working as a poker commentator for Channel 4

2005 Starts writing poker column for The Guardian. Presents two documentaries for BBC4 on grammar and surrealist art

2006 Presents Balderdash and Piffle on BBC2

2008 Takes over as the presenter of Radio 4's Heresy