Unconventional Mentor no. 25 - Moira Stuart
“I have just always wanted to be invisible, I was so shy when I was growing up, I couldn’t look at people.”
I have three very vivid memories about watching the TV growing up in the 1980s; the shoulder pads of Dallas and Dynasty, eating peas in the pod watching Wimbledon and the Six O’clock news. It came on after Neighbours and I always thought it was the most grown up thing in the world. The blue titles and opening music were so serious and the newsreaders on that programme have become synonymous with all things grown up for me. I didn’t really understand what was being reported, but lots of things sunk in. My mum likes to tell the story about when she had to ask me if I was aware that someone we knew had been stealing, without asking me any leading questions. She had been advised to ask me if I knew any bad people and I confidently replied “yes, Pol Pot” I must have picked that up from the Six O’clock news and the memories of it and its reporters Sue Lawley, Nicholas Witchell, Peter Sissons and of course Moira Stuart are very vivid for me.
Moira Stuart is a presenter and broadcaster who has been bringing the news to Britain for the last 38 years. She began her career in radio and in 1981 when she started to present the BBC news, she was the first African-Caribbean woman to be a newsreader on television. She was famously dropped from BBC TV in 2007, much to the dismay of many viewers, and she has since continued her career in radio.
“My whole approach to being a newsreader is to try not to intrude and to be a conduit”
It has been difficult to find a quote by Moira Stuart as she has shared very little about her private life and her own views on the world. She has only given a handful of interviews across her career and is very deliberate about being the “conduit” for a story and not making the story about her. I lost track of her career when she stopped being on the TV, but it seems that reading the news for Chris Evans on radio 2 has allowed her to relax a bit more about allowing her personality to come across. This episode in particular shows her enjoying herself with David Walliams.
It is such a shame that she isn’t on our screens more and I hope that her move to Classic FM this month might mark a change in her being more visible. She is presenting the news on the breakfast show, but from July this year she will also present her own show on Saturday afternoon’s called Moira Stuart’s Hall of Fame Concert.
I loved watching Moira Stuart read the news when I was growing up. Her voice was so confident and reassuring and she always looked so sophisticated and glamourous. Seeing Moira Stuart read the news was so empowering for me. I was too young to really know what it meant that she read the news, but I got the feeling that she represented possibility for women in the working world. I don’t remember being aware of the impact of her being a black woman might have for other black women, but I somehow knew that her being a newsreader meant something.
Growing up in the 1980s I took for granted that sexism and racism were a thing of the past. That it was something that happened in the 1970s and whilst there were hints of it when I was growing up (in my white middle-class, Suffolk bubble), I was taught that these were the exception not the rule. That it wasn’t ok to be racist or sexist anymore and things had changed for the better. I was taught to not see the colour of people’s skin and told that women were capable of anything. I took part in “take your daughters to work” initiatives which encouraged me to find out about the possibilities for women in the workplace, there were no barriers to what my success could be.
I now realise how naïve those beliefs were and I am learning every day that I hold so may privileged ideas about how racism and sexism have (or rather haven’t) changed over time. The days of comedians making awful jokes on the TV might have gone, but the institutional racism and sexism that prevents people achieving equality are still very much present. Nothing has really changed except what it is acceptable to say in public spaces. Even that is taking a step back with the invention of social media and people with the most abhorrent views now having a world-wide platform from which to shout their hate.
I am so pleased that Moira Stuart is continuing to develop her broadcasting career. Now that I am driving to work, I can listen to the radio in the morning so I will be catching her reading the news on Classic FM and I will be seeking out her radio programme when it launches later this year.
Mentor advice: It’s not about how you feel about doing something it’s how you do it
It fascinates me that such outwardly confident people can be incredibly shy on the inside. I don’t know how someone who wants to be invisible to other people can put themselves forward to read the news, on the television, on the programme that was the most watched in Britain at the time. Knowing just how shy Moira Stuart is, despite her outward confidence and self-assuredness is a reminder that you don’t need to feel confident, you just need to act confidently.
Your measure of success shouldn’t be how you feel about doing something, but how you come across. You might feel really nervous giving a presentation to your whole department, but if you have rehearsed your lines and prepared brilliant content that educates your audience then that is a success. You don’t need to feel comfortable pitching for new business with a potential client, but if your pitch meets your clients’ needs and they sign up with you then this is a what is important. If you focus on feeling good about doing these things, you are unlikely to ever do them, but if you recognise that the outcome is more important than how you feel about doing it, that you might feel nervous or shy, then you are more likely to succeed. You may also discover that over time these things do get easier and that your shyness or lack of confidence melts away.