Work­ing mums can’t have it all says broad­caster Cathy new­man

the broad­caster Cathy New­man talks to Char­lotte Wil­liamson about her new book Bloody Bril­liant Women, fight­ing in­equal­ity, and be­ing a bit of an od­dball

Woman & Home - - In This Issue… -

Not that long ago, Cathy New­man, pre­sen­ter of Chan­nel 4 News – one of net­work tele­vi­sion’s most high­brow news bul­letins – got cross about the lack of recog­ni­tion for work­ing women in British his­tory. So cross, in fact, she de­cided to write a book about it. Avail­able now, Bloody Bril­liant Women fea­tures a host of pioneer­ing women from 1918 on­wards.

“I set about in­ves­ti­gat­ing, and found there were amaz­ing women in his­tory with in­cred­i­ble sto­ries to tell,” she tells me when we meet at The All-Bright Club, a net­work­ing venue for women in Cen­tral Lon­don – her choice, and a fit­ting one.

A ta­lented vi­o­lin­ist, Cathy, 44, grew up in Sur­rey and was con­sid­er­ing a ca­reer in mu­sic un­til Kate Adie’s dis­patches made her want to be­come a jour­nal­ist. She started her ca­reer at the Fi­nan­cial Times be­fore mov­ing into TV in 2000, join­ing Chan­nel 4 News six years later. Her nu­mer­ous scoops in­clude ex­pos­ing al­le­ga­tions of abuse made against the British bar­ris­ter John Smyth, and al­le­ga­tions of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour made against Lord Ren­nard, the Lib­eral Demo­crat peer. Cathy lives in Lon­don with her hus­band, John O’Connell, a writer and arts jour­nal­ist, and their daugh­ters Scar­lett, 14, and Molly, nine.

Grow­ing up, I would never have thought of my­self as a fem­i­nist. Even when I started work­ing, I still wouldn’t have called my­self one be­cause for me, fem­i­nism was about equal­ity – and I thought that would all be sorted in a cou­ple of years. How wrong I was! there’s still an 18% gen­der pay gap across the UK and, de­spite the Equal Pay act of 1970, there are still al­le­ga­tions of women be­ing paid less than men to do the same jobs. We’ve never had a fe­male Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer, and what strikes me as the big­gest in­jus­tice of all is that every week, two women in Eng­land and Wales are killed by their part­ners or for­mer part­ners. My two daugh­ters, on the other hand, have no doubt in their minds that they’re fem­i­nists.

Writ­ing Bloody Bril­liant Women was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I thought I’d find loads of women in the arts who did amaz­ing things, but what re­ally sur­prised me was how many there >>

were in the more tra­di­tion­ally male­dom­i­nated fields such as science, engi­neer­ing and com­puter tech­nol­ogy.

I was a bit of an od­dball grow­ing up

– a girly swot with thick NHS glasses. We didn’t have a tv for the ma­jor­ity of my child­hood so I prac­tised mu­sic and read a lot. now when I go into schools to do talks, kids all want to con­form, but I al­ways tell them to be proud of be­ing dif­fer­ent. at the time

I did feel a bit of an od­dball – I prob­a­bly am a bit of an od­dball. but that’s okay.

My par­ents were quite pro­gres­sive, al­ways en­cour­ag­ing my sis­ter and me to pur­sue our in­ter­ests. my mum gave us each a lit­tle patch of gar­den to grow our own things. I re­ally wanted a pet but my dad and sis­ter had al­ler­gies, so one day I dug up my bit of the gar­den, lined the hole with a shower cur­tain and made a pond. I ended up with pet frogs and a stick­le­back that I caught in the river across the road. I can’t imag­ine tol­er­at­ing my own kids do­ing that! but my mum was fine.

Now when I go into schools to do talks, I al­ways say, “Be proud of be­ing dif­fer­ent”

Chan­nel 4 News doesn't put pres­sure on women to look a cer­tain way. but when I was work­ing on news­pa­pers, I had lunch with a very se­nior tv boss and he said, “oh, you’d be great on telly – just fix your teeth and your hair.” I had buck teeth so I did fix them, but there’s no way I’d change my hair!

My aim in all my work is to give a voice to the voice­less. I’m most proud of the work the Chan­nel 4 news in­ves­ti­ga­tions team has done, such as ex­pos­ing a british pae­dophile in Kenya – he ended up get­ting 17 years in jail as a re­sult of our re­port­ing. I carry my pass­port with me at all times as I never know if I’m go­ing to be sent some­where.

My old news ed­i­tor once said to me, “When you lose the power to be moved by the story you’re telling, you shouldn’t be a jour­nal­ist any more.” I will al­ways re­mem­ber in­ter­view­ing tony nick­lin­son, a man with locked-in syn­drome who wanted the right to die. He couldn’t speak and had to blink every let­ter on a board held up by his wife. It was so emo­tional – every so of­ten he would erupt in heav­ing sobs.

I re­ceived death threats after my in­ter­view with Jor­dan Peter­son [a right-wing Cana­dian psy­chol­o­gist] ear­lier this year, but it didn’t make me ques­tion what I’m do­ing. the more trolls do that, the less likely they are to si­lence me. It’s not just me – there are lots of women in the pub­lic eye who get abuse. they want to drive women out of the con­ver­sa­tion.

Luck­ily, I can switch off quite eas­ily. When I come home and put the key in the door, a to­tally dif­fer­ent life be­gins and I for­get about ev­ery­thing else. but my work/life bal­ance isn’t al­ways per­fect. I was on ma­ter­nity leave when the MPS’ ex­penses scan­dal broke but, as I was the po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent at the time, I called the of­fice to see if they wanted me back in. I was in such a flus­ter that although

I put the baby in the car, I drove off with the buggy left aban­doned on the pave­ment!

I hon­estly couldn’t do what I do with­out my hus­band. He helped me a lot with the re­search for this book; I think he’s prob­a­bly a bloody bril­liant man! Women can’t have it all – I make sac­ri­fices be­cause I can’t see my kids as much as I’d like to. my hus­band also makes sac­ri­fices – he’s a free­lance writer, which fits in per­fectly with pick­ing the kids up from school, and he’s a great cook, but he misses out on things ca­reer-wise. When you’re a work­ing par­ent, you can’t have it all – you have to ac­cept that and do the best you can.

bloody bril­liant Women by Cathy New­man is out now (Wil­liam Collins)

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