On the air and feeling the pressure for radio show...
PUBLISHED: 18:00 20 March 2018 | UPDATED: 18:07 20 March 2018
If my life were a book, my first crack at presenting radio could be a chapter entitled: "How to become a nervous wreck without really trying."
I found myself at Radio Verulam studios after West Herts Drivetime presenter Danny Smith invited me to co-host his commuter show in aid of International Women’s Day - and to tie in with the Herts Ad’s ongoing commemoration of 100 years of women’s suffrage.
Initially jumping at the chance, the gravity of the task hit me about 10 minutes prior to going on air - the community station is available to thousands of people in Herts and I would be interviewing, live, multiple inspirational women.
As a journalist I interview people every day. But normally, nobody is listening in and the aim is different. At the office I need detailed information. On the radio you need a flowing, interesting and passionate conversation.
“You will be fine,” Danny reassures me kindly. What have I done?
The first guest is Rosemary Ross from the Harpenden and District Local History Society. She is here to talk about three local historical women who achieved great things. We chatted about Mencap founder and 1940s autism campaigner Judy Fryd, pioneering Rothamsted Research botanist Katherine Warrington, and diary writer Theodora Wilson.
So far, I have asked a few questions, announced the weather and introduced the show. Okay. I can survive this.
Up next is child amputee campaigner Sarah Hope. Visiting London in 2007 with her mother Elizabeth, and then two-year-old daughter Pollyanna, the three pedestrians were hit by a bus which mounted the pavement.
Elizabeth tragically died, Sarah was severely injured, and Pollyanna lost a leg. Since then Sarah has been fighting for child amputee victims and has won numerous awards for her work.
She said: “My mum is my role model with everything she did, the way she lived her life. She was a very kind person and she was very busy.”
Danny asks me to do the sports news next - a tiny section where I simply read out a script. Easy, right? Wrong. It is not an easy task for someone incredibly out of touch with any kind of sports culture. I battle through regardless. Fake it till you make it, right?
Next I had lined up former St Albans mayor and Herts county councillor Annie Brewster, to talk about political life and working in a competitive industry.
She has been instrumental in a number of community projects, including the new St Albans museum and the new Harpenden community leisure centre.
Cllr Brewster spoke about inspiring politically-minded young women: “Personally I think the Punch and Judy style politics and what we see on Question Time and the aggression, I don’t think attracts many women into leadership, full stop.
“It’s male and personally I think it’s unnecessary. If someone came from Mars to say, ‘Who’s making decisions?’, they would say, ‘Why are some of those people making decisions?’.”
My next interviewee Annie Lawrence. She is a young OCD sufferer who has started her own mental health awareness initiative called Huelo. She plans to produce interactive educational posters for schools, coding the app herself.
She explained OCD as a coping mechanism to banish negatives thoughts: “So they think, okay, so I am going to fail this exam tomorrow and then they do a behaviour or compulsion to override that, which could be tapping, organising things, washing, cleaning.”
She said it feels like if the ritual is not completed, the bad thought will come true. One of hers was fearing she would kill her drama teacher.
My last guest is 12-year-old Gabriella Farrugia, who has had a rare and life-threatening auto-immune disease called Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM) for three years.
The pre-teen is eloquent and strong, naming lupus sufferer Selena Gomez as her role model: “I think it is amazing that she is doing what she always wanted to do even though lupus has come along. Rather than letting it take over her life, she is putting it aside and getting on with her music career.”
Since the broadcast, there has been one recurring critique - sportspeople’s names were pronounced bizarrely. “Hilariously,” apparently. Oh well.