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HLN Meets: Sharon Barbour of BBC Look North

BBC Look North’s Sharon Barbour on fake news, lockdown gardening and watching COVID–19 unfold

BY: JO DUNBAR

In her role as BBC Look North’s health correspondent, 2020 has been an ultra-busy year for Sharon thanks to coronavirus and its implications. We found out how the New Zealand native has seen the pandemic develop, how she switches off from the news and what she loves about the North East.

2020 has been a huge year for you professionally. How has it been working on such a massive story?

It’s been quite overwhelming for all the BBC health correspondents. To be honest, the health correspondent role in itself is a really busy job: we are rarely not busy, with stories from medical breakthroughs to trolley waits in hospitals and incredible case studies. When this virus started in China I knew immediately that it was going to be really serious. I remember trying to find anyone who knew anything about COVID and discovering this amazing professor at Northumbria University who had worked with Ebola. On 27th January I couldn’t find a single picture of the virus. I finally managed to get one, then the next day 100 people had died in China. After that, the first two cases in the UK came to Newcastle, so we were right in the middle of it.

What’s been the trickiest part?

Since January, there have been more and more stories every day. What’s been the hardest is how to prioritise them. We still don’t know a lot about this virus, so it’s been an incredible learning experience but tiring, and there’s also a lot of fake news about treatments. It’s been hard standing everything up and throwing out the stories that aren’t true so we can keep informing the public every day. But it has also been hard seeing so many lives devastated through illness and a terrible death toll. I also nearly cried the other day thinking of all the people losing their jobs and the students who have worked so hard.

How have you managed to switch off from the news when you have time at home?

I enjoy running and also eating lovely food! The weird thing I got into during lockdown, which I’d never been into before, was weeding. I decided to get rid of the ground elder which was in my back garden. Even when it was really late or wasn’t great weather, I’d be out there trying to get the spaghetti-like roots out. And I did. But then I started spotting it in other peoples’ gardens!

Work-wise, what would your dream role be?

It’s hard to think outside this landscape and, to be honest, I feel incredibly privileged to do my job. Aside from the health correspondent role, I do quite a lot for the network because I work weekends and have done stuff for the 6, 10 and 1 o’clock news and the Today Program. I think I’m in quite a lucky position to be able to be really solid here in the North East but also work for the networks. As long as I can keep getting network access and show off our region and its amazing people, then I’ll be happy.

You’ve been a part of the Look North team for a while. What do you like best about the region?

I really love the people of the North East. They’re just so genuine and I really feel at home here. It’s so beautiful too. I love the blue sky! I lived in Manchester when I was at BBC Salford and that was a bit grey. I’ve got to know people here like Alan Shearer and Ant and Dec and they are such fun. But we cover the whole region, from down in York right up into Northumberland, and you couldn’t have a better place to cover.

Where are some of your favourite spots in the North East?

Coming from New Zealand, I like being beside the sea. To be able to walk along the beach before a shift is just wonderful. So, Riley’s Fish Shack in Tynemouth and the Ship Inn at Low Newton by the Sea are two of my favourites. When I was training for the New York Marathon, I would run from St Mary’s Lighthouse to Tynemouth backwards and forwards, which was 4 miles. What a beautiful place to be able to train. We’re very lucky. I also love picnics – unpacking sandwiches, a flask and some cake on top of Helvellyn or at Beadnell is just beautiful.

Sharon Barbour is a BBC TV Health Correspondent and Presenter for BBC Look North

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