Sunday Sit-Down with… Steph McGovern
TV’s Steph talks to Jo Dunbar about why it’s important to broadcast from the North, diversity on telly and why she can’t wait to be back on a North East beach
By Jo Dunbar
Steph McGovern has long been one of the most recognised faces – and voices – of the North East. Fiercely proud of her Middlesbrough roots, Steph became well known for having one of the few regional accents on national TV when she worked as an economics journalist and presenter on BBC Breakfast.
Steph left the BBC in 2019 and signed up to do her own show on Channel 4, which launched just as the pandemic set in and, famously, was broadcast from Steph’s own home. Now, Steph and the team are back in the studio in Leeds…
Steph’s Packed Lunch is broadcast from Leeds, you’re from Teesside – is it important to you to showcase the North?
The whole I reason I left the BBC was because the Channel 4 show was coming from the North – and not the North West. Having a daily show coming from Yorkshire was a big draw for me, although technically Leeds isn’t the North if you’re from Middlesbrough! I think it’s really important to showcase the North and provide jobs as well. It was a big factor when I was trying to decide whether to leave the BBC or not. There are load of people working on the show who now don’t have to go to London to work on national TV. You can really feel that in the studio. There’s a real mix of people from all over the place and behind the scenes there’s a good vibe. Every celeb or guest who comes on the show comments on the atmosphere and it’s because of happy people enjoying their jobs. For me, one of the most important things about the show was creating a friendly atmosphere, not like some TV shows which can be really hard to get a job on or move up in.
Lots has been said about your Teesside accent in the past…
When I was in London I would noticeably stand out for my accent. On our show, you stand out more with a posh accent because there are so many Manchester, Leeds or Geordie accents! And I love that. We often don’t talk about diversity in class. We talk about diversity – importantly – in so many other ways, but class is one that often gets neglected. I guess it’s hard to show class on the telly but accent, I think, is tied to diversity. I don’t want the show to be all Northerners though, I want a mix because that’s what society is.
It feels like Steph’s Packed Lunch is full of advice – was that important to you?
I want to entertain people, but also inform. I don’t want to ram information down your throat, but perhaps you can pick up some handy hints, particularly around consumer stuff because that’s my background as a consumer journalist. My success has come from trying to explain complicated things in a simple way with examples from real life, so it’s more tangible. That’s key to the show, trying to help people get through their lives.
Just as you started the show, COVID arrived – and you’ve faced it head on. Do you enjoy a challenge?!
I am someone who doesn’t like to accept that I can’t do something if there’s a way I can! That’s been my philosophy throughout my career. My baby was four months old when we launched the show from the house. I was on maternity leave doing various meetings about the show, then COVID hit. It was either we didn’t do the show – therefore lots of people wouldn’t have any work – or we do it from my house and be part of the real story of everyone working from home. I’m quite a private person and I never talk about my child’s name or my partner. I’ve never even done photo shoots at my house, but this was either we do it from home or we don’t work for months and months. I genuinely think I will look back in a few years and wonder how it was even possible! We didn’t have any childcare; my partner and I were passing the baby between us and the baby would be in rehearsals with me. In a way, everyone has been live broadcasting from home because everyone has been doing Zoom calls with kids or animals around!
Live TV must be exhilarating. How do you unwind afterwards?
I’m not very good at relaxing. I spend time with my daughter, playing with her or going for walks. I don’t think I ever switch my mind off completely. I’ve always got a to-do list and I find it more stressful if I don’t have a list of things to do. I did a health show with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and one of the things they got me to do was forest bathing. I got really stressed because I had to turn my phone off and then spent the whole walk thinking about all the things that I could be doing! I love reading – I love Ann Cleeves books, she’s the North East writer who created Vera – so I do lose myself in books, but I don’t let myself do it very often.
One revelation of 2020 for me was having a routine in my life. I never had a routine before. As a news journalist, I was constantly moving. I’d get a call saying: ‘Right, tomorrow morning we need you in Bognor Regis.’ I always had a little case packed. Before that, I was a producer and I also worked in a factory. I never had a routine. Now, it’s the other extreme. I know where I am every day, I know what time my daughter will have a nap, I know what time I need to be at the studio, and I find all that really helpful. At the BBC I never knew where I would be from day to day and that made relationships quite difficult because I would arrange to meet people then often let them down.
Obviously, the pandemic has prevented you from going home to Middlesbrough. What do you miss most?
I haven’t been back for ages. My parents are there, and I have friends there and all over the North East. I used to go back loads – I haven’t been back for about a year now. Aside from my family, the thing for me is the coast. I love the North East coast, it’s so beautiful and that’s what I’m missing the most. Saltburn, Tynemouth, Redcar – I really want to take my daughter so she can run around on the beach and try a lemon top ice cream at Redcar.
Steph McGovern presents Steph’s Packed Lunch Monday to Friday from 12.30pm on Channel 4.