Solid an­chor

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FASHION - By CH­ERYL POO

In­ter­na­tional news pre­sen­ter Mishal Hu­sain talks about life in the fast lane and rais­ing three chil­dren in the midst of it all.

WHEN Malaysia hosted the First Ladies Sum­mit 2010 ear­lier last month, it came as no sur­prise that Mishal Hu­sain should be ap­pointed (in her own ca­pac­ity) to mod­er­ate the dis­cus­sion be­tween five se­lected First Ladies. Fol­low­ers of BBC World News’ flag­ship Im­pact Asia would be fa­mil­iar with her style.

She is knowl­edge­able, warm and her straight-to-the-point yet tact­ful ap­proach has gar­nered her a solid rep­u­ta­tion for han­dling tough is­sues.

It’s a beau­ti­ful af­ter­noon when Mishal breezes over for our meet­ing at the glass en­closed lunch hall at the ex­quis­ite Palace of the Golden Horses in Se­lan­gor. The First Ladies dis­cus­sion is be­hind her and she will be board­ing the next home­bound flight later in the evening. It has been a brief but busy trip for the 37-year-old mother of three, but there’s not a sign of stress on her flaw­less skin. She looks com­posed and rea­son­ably re­laxed. As we ex­change greet­ings, I ex­pe­ri­ence first­hand her ap­peal to the in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence. El­e­gant, poised and ar­tic­u­late, the strik­ing brunette is ev­ery bit the world-class news pre­sen­ter that she is.

Born to ex­pa­tri­ate Pak­istani par­ents in Bri­tain, Mishal grew up in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emi­rates, and later re­turned to Bri­tain to be ed­u­cated in a board­ing school. Now bliss­fully mar­ried to a lawyer, she too had read law at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity but switched paths to pur­sue a ca­reer in jour­nal­ism, backed by a Masters de­gree in hu­man rights law.

‘To me, the most im­por­tant thing is ful­fill­ing your pur­pose,’ says Mishal Hu­sain.

“At that time I sup­pose I had ten­ta­tive plans for a ca­reer in law but it was dur­ing the course of my de­gree that I de­cided that I wanted to ex­plore a dif­fer­ent path,” Mishal says. “There was al­ways an ex­pec­ta­tion that I would do well. They are very en­cour­ag­ing par­ents who never doubted that I would try my hard­est in any­thing I put my hands on.”

Asked if break­ing into the world of broad­cast jour­nal­ism as a woman was dif­fi­cult for her, she ex­plains that the chal­lenges she en­coun­tered had lit­tle to do with gen­der. The jour­nal­ism scene in Bri­tain in ear­lier decades was tough on as­pi­rants be­cause train­ing schemes were scarce. “It’s much eas­ier nowa­days be­cause technology has be­come so much more ac­ces­si­ble, and there are more av­enues now for a fresh per­son who’s try­ing to get a foothold in the in­dus­try.”

With her law de­gree in the bag, Mishal started do­ing some work for BBC when her big break even­tu­ally came. Flair, grit, per­se­ver­ance and a like­able per­son­al­ity worked to her ad­van­tage, earn­ing her a spot as BBC’s first Washington-based pre­sen­ter, fronting news pro­grammes around the time of the Iraq war. A typ­i­cal morn­ing in the news­room finds Mishal and her team in an ed­i­to­rial meet­ing where they look at in­ter­na­tional hap­pen­ings to de­cide on the lead story.

“I work closely with my team, es­pe­cially the pro­ducer. A good one tells me what to look out for but ul­ti­mately, it’s our job as jour­nal­ists to do proper re­search be­fore­hand,” she adds.

To this day, her work con­tin­ues to bring her on brief but fre­quent trips around her world to cover break­ing news. I ask about the time she trav­elled around Bri­tain, In­dia and South Africa to film a three-part doc­u­men­tary se­ries on the life of Ma­hatma Gandhi.

“We wanted a more rounded view that in­cluded the con­tro­ver­sial as­pects of his life. Also, be­cause more about Gandhi had emerged in the last few decades,” she ex­plains. “Ini­tially, I wasn’t aware how much was in­volved the project but I grew to be very thank­ful for it be­cause my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Gandhi’s work height­ened through this. He made a huge ef­fort to in­clude Mus­lims and I was very moved by how many lives he touched.

“There were about 50 days of film­ing, which wasn’t done all at once, for­tu­nately, so I could see my fam­ily in be­tween,” says Mishal, who perks up at the men­tion of her fam­ily. She gave birth to her first son six years ago and within 18 months, had a set of twin boys. “I try to do short trips if pos­si­ble. We have a nanny to help out and I’m thank­ful that my hus­band is ex­tremely sup­port­ive of my work. As for my sons, they’re still too young to give me a hard time about my trav­els!” she says with a laugh.

As I graze over the topic of free time and hob­bies, Mishal re­peats, “Free time?” with such in­credulity that we both laugh out loud. I quickly re­alise that “free time” does not re­ally ex­ist in her vo­cab­u­lary nor in her world. “I try to play ten­nis but I don’t re­ally have the time for it,” she says with a smile.

She keeps her mind busy by find­ing time to read on the go and ad­mits to feel­ing “slightly pan­icky” if she’s on the plane with­out a book. She en­joys con­tem­po­rary fic­tion, ro­mance sagas and mys­tery – all of which are a break from her usual deal­ings with hard news. As I learn more about her life, I’m amazed at how she man­ages to stay abreast with so many topics, from en­ter­tain­ment to sports, his­tor­i­cal fig­ures to con­tem­po­rary is­sues. She recog­nises that while what’s de­manded of her is chal­leng­ing, it’s cru­cial that one has an in­her­ently cu­ri­ous mind about the world.

Her heart for women and their cause is ap­par­ent in her speech as it is in her life­style. “In­vari­ably those First Ladies have a lot in com­mon. They are pro­fes­sion­als who are then sud­denly known only as the wife of their hus­band. It’s amaz­ing how they cope with all the scru­tiny,” Mishal says.

She em­pathises with women who of­ten have the bulk of the re­spon­si­bil­ity heaped on them. “I have tremen­dous re­spect for women who com­bine ca­reer and moth­er­hood. So many of them are keep­ing their minds ac­tive by read­ing and get­ting in­volved in the world around them. Be­ing a mother of­ten comes with do­mes­tic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties which you have to work around rather than fight against.”

As our en­joy­able con­ver­sa­tion comes to an end, she leaves me this fi­nal mes­sage: “To me, the most im­por­tant thing is ful­fill­ing your pur­pose. There are many peo­ple out there who are em­pow­ered to do great things even with very lit­tle ed­u­ca­tion.”

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