Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to attend our Women in Radio Day at BBC Broadcasting House, London on Thursday 20th March.
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For those of you who know me well, you’ll be aware that I am a big fan of local radio. It all started when I bought a bungalow in Findon Valley as a renovation project: my financial rescue plan.
After the terrible events of 9/11, American composers stopped flying to the UK to record British choirs for film soundtracks. Overnight my singing income dropped by a third. I had to find something to do to make enough money to survive but which was also flexible and I could drop if a tour came up. The elderly lady who lived next door to my Dad decided to emigrate to Australia to live with her daughter. He was going to New Zealand and as he helped and kept an eye on her, she decided it was time to make the move.
I remortgaged my lovely flat in Hove, based on the letting income (those were the golden borrowing days!) and released some equity to use as a deposit on the bungalow and pay for the nearly all the renovations. It was a peach of a project. A good, solid building with a big garden and a view over the Downs and Cissbury Ring. The lady had bought it as a new-build with her husband in the fifties, when they were newlyweds. The bungalow was in good repair (my Dad had helped with that) but it looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the early seventies. I moved in and lived in one very dusty room with boxes piled up to the ceiling and going to the loo, washing and cooking next door at my Dad’s place. He had sent his furniture ahead on a container ship but had left me a single reclining chair which I regularly fell asleep in after a hard day’s graft.
I spent the next year knocking down walls, building kitchens and decorating for all I was worth. Gradually my singing jobs picked up but when I wasn’t singing I was sanding, stripping wallpaper and painting. I was single at the time and, apart from a few days when the electricians or plumbers were there, it was a lonely time. The bungalow was on the hillside on the outskirts of my home town of Worthing, a town not renowned for its nightlife and culture.
I felt a very long way from my friends and the hustle and bustle of Brighton.
The thing that kept me going with paint roller in hand, was the chat and camaraderie of Radio Sussex (Southern Counties as it was known then). The highlight of my day was the hand-over from Dominic Busby and Bill Buckley. Their witty banter and not so gentle teasing always made me laugh. My Brothers-in-law ribbed me mercilessly about listening to ‘old ladies radio’ as they dubbed it, but I liked the great mix of chat, guests, local news as well as the choice of music – old and new – of course I sang along as I worked. When there was a big shake up at the station and Dominic and Bill went, I was moved to write to both of them saying what a difference they had made to my life at a difficult time, to which they both kindly replied.
When I finished my project and sold my bungalow, I moved to Shoreham to buy another dilapidated house to gut. This one had been smoked in for fifty years so was filthy – I carried on listening to local radio, with sugar soap and sticky orange nicotine running down my arms as I washed the ceilings for the fifth time.
Every year, Radio Sussex has a Carol Service at Chichester Cathedral. I’ve even sung on two of those occasions. The first year I persuaded the very talented songwriter Mark Allen to write me a song for the occasion called You’re Never Alone. The brief I gave him, was to think about all the people who might be listening to the service on Christmas Day on their own, for whatever reason. I recorded it with classical guitarist and Shoreham Beach resident Richard Durrant and we sang it on the mid-morning show in 2009 (for Gordon Astley) as well as at the Chichester Cathedral service.
Here’s a video we made when we recorded that song.
In the same year, I stayed in Paris for a few weeks doing Bizet’s Carmen with the Monteverdi Choir. We started rehearsing in the afternoons and went until about 10pm. After scraping off our ‘dirty’ cigar factory make up, having some food and peutetre un petit vin rouge, we always got to bed very late. I ate ‘breakfast’ listening on my computer to Joe Talbot’s midday show on Radio Sussex.
I would send messages to my singing friend Katie on the top floor of the hotel, via Joe’s email. He would read out our Parisian exploits and tell Katie to eat something decent before we went off to rehearsals. Here we are looking particularly filthy!
The best thing about Sunday is listening to Joe’s gardening show with a cup of tea in bed – I’ve even converted my partner Richard.
2013 was my annus horribilis. I spent it nursing two friends, both who died from Cancer. The first was diagnosed with late stage Lung Cancer which had already metastasized to his spine. He lived with me for a couple of months until I had to go on a long tour. Back in his own flat, his condition worsened and he was eventually virtually bedridden and needed somebody to visit every day. I shared this with an actor friend who fortunately had a similar work life to me, working for patches with quite a lot of time off and between us we managed to cover all the days. For the last ten days he went into the Martlets Hospice – an amazing place. Steve died in July and I’d barely had time to arrange one funeral when my other long-time friend with Breast Cancer went rapidly downhill. (I wrote about her search for alternative treatments in a previous blog). In September I received a timely letter from the Martlets Hospice offered me free counseling. This was part of their compassionate follow-up bereavement support service. I jumped at the chance, as I felt that my partner and friends, whilst being very understanding, were suffering from sympathy fatigue. I think they all found it difficult to understand how I agreed to do it again so soon – I didn’t feel I had a choice. Knowing I could visit The Martlets meant I could save up all my darker feelings and questions for Mary, who was my wonderful counseller. When she should have been winding things up, she realised how difficult things were getting for me again, and offered me more sessions.
In October, I heard an advertisement saying that the BBC were trying to encourage more women into Radio and appealing for them to apply to come on an open day to learn about local radio, perhaps with a view to becoming a radio presenter. I went onto the website address that they had given out but was disappointed to find that the closing date was the previous day. I sent them an email explaining that I was very interested but had missed the deadline date. They wrote back telling me that other days around the country were planned in the future and to keep an eye out on the website.
Events overtook me and I spent November visiting Lynne in hospital, driving her for treatments and then eventually going every day to the Hospice.
I forgot all about the BBC event until I got an email in the middle of November telling me about an upcoming London and Manchester date. By this time the Birmingham date had happened and there was a video about the day on the BBC Website and also a link to an excellent blog about the day by freelance writer and busy Mum Clare Macintosh.
I clicked on the link and found these questions:
Do you enjoy meeting and talking to people from different walks of life?
Are you interested in what’s going on in the world around you?
Have you got something to say about where you live?
We are interested in hearing from women of all ages and backgrounds who believe they could become part of BBC Local Radio’s future presentation teams.
It seemed something that would really suit me and it was a ray of hope in an otherwise rather dark time in my life.
To apply you needed to make a two minute recording of your voice talking about ‘what it’s like to live where you do’. You had to come up with a programme idea for the mid-morning show in only 200 words (that was hard!), explaining your idea, why the listeners would be interested and who you’d interview about your subject. They also needed a CV. The judging criteria was your voice recording first, then your programme idea and CV and finally how well you followed the brief.
You may have noticed how I didn’t blog much last year. To be honest, I found my caring role drained me of creative energy. In the face of such tragic illness at such an early age (both Steve and Lynne were in their early fifties) my singing career seemed frivolous and unimportant. Watching their life slowly draining away seemed to take a part of me with it – the enthusiastic, creative, productive part of me.
The deadline was New Years Eve at midnight – a BBC Cinderella Challenge.
I thought about it through that month off and on. My programme idea was based around my friend’s wildly differing experience during their Cancer treatment. This was the thing I felt strongly about and seemed important to me at the time. When I told this to my sisters and best friend, they understandably tried to steer me onto something lighter and fun in content.
In December, Lynne discharged herself from the Hospice to die at home. Another desperately sad and traumatic death and another funeral to arrange. After the service I spoke to various people who had treated and helped her in her struggle against the disease. Robin Daly from Yes To Life gave me a glimmer of positive hope for the change of the status quo of NHS thinking around Cancer and it’s treatment. He emailed me a link to a ‘hope for the future’ that might tip my programme idea into a positive end.
As one of her executors, I was consumed with endless admin surrounding the practicalities of dying. Particularly sad is sorting out a friend’s life and the mountains of stuff we all accumulate. Taking things that are so important to us in life and coldly reducing them into piles of important admin, people to notify, ‘for the family’, shredding, recycling, donating, clearance and rubbish.
Christmas was very quiet and I still hadn’t done my submission. After Boxing Day we went to Bath to visit family and I worked on my programme idea and CV – That was strange, as I’ve only ever been a singer. I decided to do a one page singing CV and to try to cobble together a CV with my other ‘skills’ – website design, tour management, social media, links to articles I’d written. I remember when I left the Swingle Singers after 10 years, I tried to get some temp work and four agencies wouldn’t take me on. Despite having 10 O levels, three A levels, four years at Music College and a diploma and 10 years of tour managing, they said no because I’d never has a ‘real job’.
After much editing, here is my programme idea:
If a Cancer patient decides not to undergo conventional treatment, should they have the right to a personal health budget to support their choice?
In 2013, I cared for two friends. One was diagnosed with advanced lung and spinal cancer with a poor prognosis. Despite this, he was given every possible invasive treatment and multiple scans. The other friend had breast cancer but because of existing ill health, decided to opt for radical surgery but declined chemotherapy against NHS advice. As a result, she slipped through the NHS net and had to fight to get basic follow-up care, costing a fraction of the recommended treatment.
Every listener will have been touched by Cancer in some way; the side effects of treatments often seeming worse than the disease.
Robin Daly who runs YesToLife.org.uk for cancer sufferers raising money for treatment.
Dr Siegfried Trefzer who treats hundreds of Cancer patients, supporting their immune system through alternative and conventional treatments.
A patient undergoing alternative treatments
A way forward?
Doctor Alison Austin, Head of the NHS Team introducing personal health budgets, which has already proven to promote quality of life and be more cost effective. Could this be extended to Cancer patients?
We arrived home on the evening of the 30th December leaving me only the next day to record my audio and get my application emailed off. I’d written what I wanted to say and thought it would be easy to record it. Four hours later Richard was getting hungry – he gingerly knocked on the bedroom door asking how I was getting on. The more I recorded it the more unsure I was of the result. I played him what I thought was the ‘one’.
He gently said that he didn’t think it was right. It didn’t sound like me but like a Radio 4 announcer perfectly reading a script.
We looked again at the brief and he was absolutely right.
- Start your recording with your name and the location where you’re recording it
- Don’t worry about producing something that’s super-slick – we’re not evaluating your technical skills. The most important thing is that we can hear you clearly
- Sound natural – think that you’re chatting to a friend at home or over lunch
- Remember you have a maximum of two minutes; we are unable to listen to audio that is longer than two minutes.
I gave up, cooked dinner and we drank a bottle of fizz we’d saved from Christmas.
He wisely told me to throw away the script and just be myself – I allowed myself half an hour and made myself send what I got – I had no idea if it was any good anymore but it had to do. I wrote the accompanying email and attached the audio file, programme idea and CV. This is what I said
“Dear Women In Radio Event Team
Attached is my application for the London Event. My CV may be a little different, as up to now I have been a professional singer and not really had a conventional career path. Despite or perhaps because of this, I hope you will consider me a suitable candidate.
Happy New Year!”
2014 certainly seemed to bring me hope for better things (frankly this wasn’t hard).
In January I celebrated my Big Birthday in style with the man I love and lots of lovely friends – We suitably went to a live recording of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue laughing ourself silly and afterwards had a great meal and party – raising a toast to the two friends who couldn’t join us.
On Valentine’s Day I was in lucky enough to be singing with Michael Tilson Thomas, Synergy Vocals and the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. I woke up, made a cup of tea and checked my computer – I found an email which opened with the words:
“Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to attend our Women in Radio Day at BBC Broadcasting House, London on Thursday 20th March.”
It would be an understatement to say I was thrilled – this was perhaps an opportunity for a different career path, something I could develop alongside singing, maybe combining lots of things I loved with life experience. It was an open ended opportunity to do something……I just didn’t quite know what.
Join me to hear about the fun I had on the big day……Women In Radio Event – London
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