Cathy Newman, ‘Bloody Brilliant Women’

What made you get into broadcast journalism?

I’d been a newspaper journalist for about a decade and I’d started doing bits of telly on the side, commentating on politics mainly. The more I did the more fun I had, and when Channel 4 News came knocking it occurred to me I could combine what I did on newspapers – digging away on scoops, doing long investigations – with more immediate breaking news, which was exciting.

You have two children with your husband John, how do you find juggling work and home life in the modern era?

No one finds juggling a high pressure job and a growing family easy, but I’m very fortunate that John works from home (he’s a writer and journalist too) so his schedule is  flexible. He does the lion’s share of the childcare, so that makes the juggling a whole lot easier. Without him, everything would fall apart. He also makes sure there’s food on the table as I’m a useless cook. He sometimes says I bring home (most of) the bacon, and he cooks it. He does a whole lot more than that of course, but it gives you the idea.

Describe your typical working day.

I usually struggle out of bed at 6.45 (far too early for a night owl) before getting the girls up for breakfast. We all eat together, then I clear the dishes while listening to the Today programme, and John takes our youngest to school. Then I’m in work for 9.30 for the morning meeting, where we start to shape that night’s programme. There’s often quite a heated debate about what should make the grade. After that, it’s finishing off the papers, catching up on social media and emails, calling contacts and trying to root out the next big story, before reading the noon bulletin, which is only a few minutes long. Often I’ll meet a contact at lunchtime before returning to prep interviews and try and bring in guests for 7pm. At 4.45 we do an on-air trail, and then it’s head down, gaming the interviews, writing headlines, keeping across anything breaking, before heading into the studio at ten to seven. At 8 we all gather to dissect how the programme went before going and enjoying what remains of the evening.

I have always wondered how important fashion is to news presenters, how important is it to be seen in new clothes on-air, i.e. not being seen in the same dress, top, etc and do you have more clothes than you could possibly need?

I still wear a lot of the same clothes I started presenting in back in 2011! I’m always refreshing my wardrobe with new styles though, so it’s absolutely crammed, and getting more so by the week…I hate throwing clothes away as it feels so wasteful. And if you buy decent quality and reasonably timeless styles, they last. The guys wear the same suits for years after all, so there’s no reason why we should ditch our dresses and skirts every season.

How important is fashion to you?

I love beautiful clothes and especially shoes but I don’t have time to do much shopping, so I tend to do it all at the click of a button online. I’m very efficient about it and tend to use the same three or four trusted brands – some high street, some designer. And I do like a good sales bargain!

You started your career at companies like The Independent and The Financial Times and then as a correspondent at Channel 4 News, before becoming a presenter, do you feel you have reached the pinnacle of your career? If no, what else would you like to achieve? 

I am doing my dream job, and love (almost) every minute of it. Every day is different – in fact every minute is different – and I get to combine breaking news with interviewing fascinating and exciting people, and doing documentaries too.

You’ve covered just about every story and scandal since you started at Channel 4 News, in 2006, which one stands out for you as particularly disturbing and or interesting, if you could choose one, and why.

If I had to choose one it would probably be the allegations of abuse we broadcast against the British barrister and Church evangelical John Smyth. With the stellar investigations team at Channel 4 News, I spent months speaking to men who alleged they’d been brutally abused as boys. Their allegations were shocking, but what was even more disturbing was that a charity linked to the Church of England knew of the alleged abuse but had failed to report it to the police at the time. After our investigation the Church apologised unreservedly for failing the victims. These men showed such courage in talking about what happened, and I felt so honoured to help them in their quest for justice. The police opened an investigation, but sadly Mr Smyth passed away before he could be questioned.

You’ve written a book called ‘Bloody, Brilliant, Women’, which ‘’celebrates the female pioneers, revolutionaries and geniuses who transformed 20th century Britain. Many of them should have been in the history books but aren’t’’, can you give us an example. 

Aeronautical engineer Beatrice Shilling is THE definition of a Bloody Brilliant Woman. It baffles me why she’s not a household name up and down the country. As a child when, as her biographer said, a career in lion-taming was easier for a woman to contemplate than a future in engineering, Shilling honed her skills taking apart motorbikes in the back garden. Fast forward to the Second World War and her amazing expertise enabled her to fix a fatal flaw in the Spitfires. Without her the UK might not have won the Battle of Britain.

Bloody Brilliant Women, by Cathy Newman, Published by Haper Collins
To purchase a copy – click here – the rest of this interview will be published in the Jul-Dec 2019 issue of I-MAGAZINE.