Emma Barnett has already carved an enviable career as a broadcaster and journalist, but this is just the beginning. She spoke to JLife’s Laura Sefton ahead of her new role at BBC 5 live Daily about launching innovative channels and making the move into TV.
From her early beginnings growing up in Manchester’s Jewish community and exam success that saw her score a perfect result in religious studies at A-level, through to fulfilling her ambitions of becoming a broadcaster and journalist, Emma Barnett has come a long way. Over the course of her career to date, she has interviewed many famous faces.
One interview for BBC Radio 4 saw her speak to a female rabbi – something Emma, as an Orthodox Jewish woman, struggled to understand, despite seeing herself as a feminist and demanding equality in the workplace in her secular life.
It is this series of contrasts that makes Emma such an intriguing interviewee…
When are you starting your new role at BBC 5 live Daily?
I’m starting 21st September and my slot is Wednesday to Friday, 10am to 1pm. Wednesdays are always broadcast from London and will have a political focus as we always cut live to Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s a brilliant time to have a programme with a political bent as Brexit Britain has never been so turned on to politics.
Thursdays and Fridays will come from Salford and will feature big guest interviews, breaking news and taboos – and original journalism about subjects that matter to 5 live listeners. I can’t say any more than that at the moment, but more will be revealed.
Is there anything you are most looking forward to about it?
Yes. Being in the eye of the news storm and also creating a space on a national radio for people to have conversations publicly that they would normally have in private.
How did you end up in radio?
I started as a pundit on air while I was a media and tech correspondent for The Telegraph and I soon caught the radio bug. So I convinced my local radio station (LBC) to trial me. They did, five nights of the graveyard shift ensued and I was smitten, despite the terrifying prospect of four hours of potentially dead airtime ahead of me. Nocturnal family members were lined up to call me if no one else did!
And what is your favourite thing about broadcasting live?
My interviewees have nowhere to run. And the fact that anything can happen because listeners can get in touch and change the whole course of a programme with one heart-stopping story.
What are your areas of presenting expertise?
Powerful interviews, making people feel at ease to tell their stories well and interacting with my listeners – whether on the phones or on social media.
Who would be your dream interviewee/s?
Michelle Obama or Prince Philip.
Can you tell us about Telegraph Wonder Women?
I created and launched the Telegraph’s women’s (Telegraph.co.uk/women) channel four years ago with the aim of removing the overly worthy or lightweight tone that often surrounds women’s issues. I am hugely proud of what it became: a reactive, agenda setting destination covering politics, work, life, sex, religion and health, with some of sharpest female writers online. I left The Telegraph earlier this year to join the BBC and now write an advice column for The Sunday Times Magazine, Tough Love with Emma Barnett, but continue to read Telegraph Women proudly from afar.
I’ve heard you guest presenting Woman’s Hour on Radio 4. Have there been any stand-out topics you’ve covered?
I love regularly guest presenting Woman’s Hour and chairing the programme’s Power List too. This year Woman’s Hour turns 70 and it’s an honour to work on it. I am the youngest person to present it – a fact that did little to steady my nerves the first time I did so nearly four years ago. I love conducting the big interviews on there, from Yoko Ono to Jeremy Corbyn.
You’ve already had a varied career. Do you have anything on your bucket list that you’d still like to achieve?
Yes – lots. I’d love to build on my live TV presenting work. Currently I co-host a weekly political debate programme on Sky News, which is great fun. And I would love to start making TV documentaries. It would be great to find a book I want to write and I would also love to start my own business. All ideas welcome…
How did you find attending Manchester High School for Girls? Was it an enjoyable experience?
MHSG, in many ways, made me the woman I am today. I joined the prep when I was eight and was remodelled from an impish naughty schoolgirl into a free-thinking but diligent MHSG girl. The school where Emmeline Pankhurst sent her daughters is still churning out strong, spirited women today and I am very excited to be speaking at the school’s upcoming Founders’ Evening in the Bridgewater Hall in October.
Hear Emma on BBC 5 Live Daily, Wednesday to Friday, 10am to 1pm from 21st September. Tweet her @emmabarnett.