Sian Williams: Questions & Answers

Name?
Sian Williams

Age?
41

Where are you from?
Born in London, of Welsh parentage and grew up in Eastbourne

How did you get started in broadcasting?
I applied for the BBC’s local radio training scheme in 1985. I’d initially thought I’d go into newspapers and got a job with the Western Mail in Cardiff, but when I got a place with the BBC, I decided to go into broadcasting instead. I ended up working in newsrooms in Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, before settling in Liverpool for five years as a reporter and producer. Then in 1990 I came to London to work for Radio 4 current affairs — World at one and PM.

When was that?
1985 – so I’ve been here for 21 years!

Why News broadcasting?
I had won a place to study journalism in America during my degree and ended up doing some broadcasting there. I loved it (not sure they loved me — strange Brit reading the news..) But it’s the immediacy of news broadcasting which makes it the most challenging job in journalism. Just after I joined Radio Merseyside — we heard the first reports about what was happening at Hillsborough. We broadcast for 24 hours, doing phone-ins, updates, just being the place where people could talk and express how they felt, as well as finding out what had happened to friends and family. The first example of rolling news — but also a crucial service to people who were desperate for news and also wanted to talk.

Where else would have viewers seen or heard you before?
Local radio in Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester. I presented 4-7pm on News24 when it launched in 97 and stayed for a couple of years — also doing a political show which went out on BBC2 called Despatch Box and covering various elections. Then I was Special correspondent on the Six O’clock news for a few years. Then to Breakfast Jan 2001. I occassionally pop up on 5live – doing Breakfast, Midday or Drive. I do a few series for BBC1 Wales – the last ones being a year trying (and failing) to learn Welsh — and a series on immigration. Daytime — I’ve presented City Hospital and did a chat show that replaced the Kilroy show for a while. But now I tend to stick to Breakfast Mon-Thurs and the Six O’clock News.rn

What is your Best on-air moment?
I don’t know — but I can say which I think are the most significant on-air moments. The most traumatic events are the most important ones for broadcasters, in terms of providing information to people desperate for it. Hillsborough I’ve mentioned — but sometimes, it’s disasters abroad which resonate here, because of the communities in Britain waiting for news of relatives. I was sent to cover the Tsunami in Sri Lanka and Thailand — and also went to Pakistan for the earthquake and did all the main BBC1 news bulletins from there. They’re not “best on-air moments” — the experience is frightening, upsetting and daunting – and when I’ve been most aware of the responsibilities of a broadcaster.

What is your Worst on-air moment?
Loads. Recently being unable to speak with hysterical laughter when I pulled a leg off an Action man. Tears were flowing, I couldn’t get back into “newsreader” mode and I had to cover my face and grunt to Bill to carry on. And a year ago I asked a woman when she was due to have her baby — and she’d already had it. Also a recent Saturday night show when even my mother was astonished at how ghastly I looked after they’d attempted to make me look “young and funky “.

What would you like to do before your career ends?
Sleep.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Walk, drink wine, watch movies.

What advice would you give to anyone that would like to get into the broadcasting world?
Someone once said to me “if your mouth’s open, you’re not learning”. So listen a lot. Especially to people whose work you admire– ask questions of them, people are often flattered you’re interested. Be persistant. Start early, helping out. Don’t whinge or gossip. Be good to have on a team. Have fun. If you don’t – do something else. Take failure as something that spurs you onto try different things. I’ve had loads of knocks and they’ve all pushed me somewhere else where I’ve learnt something new and come back the stronger.

A big thanks to Sian for taking part.