VICTORIA GRAHAM – THE HUMAN TOUCH
Written by Stella Nicholls / Photography by Nick Hook
If I were a child again, Victoria Graham is the kind of person that I would’ve loved to have had ‘sleepovers’ with. I can imagine us mischievously planning midnight feasts together. You know, those secret ‘forbidden treats’ meant for midnight but normally eaten by 9 pm, torches lighting the darkness, as we continued chatting in whispers long after the adults had called for ‘lights out’.
I guess this image came to mind after chatting to Victoria and finding a woman with a heart of gold who really values her friendships. She says that they ‘are everything’ they are the ‘constant’ through all of life’s bumps and I can certainly see why someone would want to be known as her friend.
If you had told me a year ago that I would be sitting opposite Victoria Graham, drinking coffee and chatting, I would never have believed you. Although I was initially nervous at the prospect of meeting the BBC Spotlight Presenter for the South West, she put me at ease in seconds. Funny, kind, caring, warm and friendly are words that I would best use to describe her. Grizzle and Scampi, her dogs, also helped to ‘break the ice’ with their excited exploration of new territory – our Grow offices.
Victoria describes how she got into the media business and ultimately became a BBC Spotlight presenter as a little unorthodox. She originally did a traineeship at Yorkshire Television, after graduating from Ripon and York St John, where she gained a broad understanding of television and all the technical ‘behind the scenes stuff’ that goes along with it.
She had always wanted to be a Hollywood actress though and after becoming friends with Yorkshire Television weatherman, Jon Mitchell, she decided that she would try her luck with the MET Office in London. She sent them a demo tape, in the hope that she could become a weather presenter. They didn’t need her at the time but must have been impressed with the reel, as they sent it on to an American Weather Channel.
A few months later Victoria began working for the American Weather Channel in the UK, which lasted about 18 months until the station ‘went bust’. She quipped that although we talk about the weather a lot in the UK, we don’t have the variation in our weather patterns to sustain a channel dedicated to the subject. At which point I could imagine her standing there saying, ‘Clouds will be hiding the sun for much of the morning and we can expect light drizzle later this afternoon… and that’s expected to set in for most of the week’. Pretty standard good old Blighty weather, just as predictable as us talking about it.
She says that she was fortunate not to have been out of work at any time, during her career, and was freelancing for the Regional Weather in the South West when she was approached to ‘do a bit of news’ by one of the producers.
After doing a screen test, she began working on some freelance breakfast shifts at Spotlight, and when Teresa Driscoll – the main Spotlight presenter at the time, left, Victoria was invited to take her place. She thinks that she was lucky, in the right place at the right time, but also added that “we make our own luck”. To me, Victoria’s sense of humour, her kindness and compassion, combined with her openness and honesty make her the perfect choice. She is a ‘people’s person’ and you can’t fake that. Perhaps it goes deeper than her being good with people though, she genuinely cares about them. One of her favourite quotes shows just how far she will go to gain an understanding of her friends, colleagues and even her TV audience:
‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’ Atticus Finch – ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
I asked Victoria how she manages to maintain her mental wellbeing, especially given some of the heart-wrenching stories that she covers. She replied that it isn’t easy as she becomes fully invested in the story. She says that it’s not even a conscious thing, as she loves to get to know a person.
One of the viewers, Val, who she recently met, has a terminal illness and Victoria felt such compassion for her, it is the only time that she’s broken down on television and cried. She still tries to visit Val once a week saying that meeting her has been one of the highlights of her career, as they’ve become such good friends. She said that she doesn’t find being with Val a sad thing, she finds it quite a positive experience. They have developed an amazing relationship, and Val’s calm spirituality has, in a sense, helped her to come to terms with her own father’s death, two years ago.
Victoria said that people ask, ‘What about you, how are you dealing with that?’ And she thinks, ‘well I’m just getting on with it’. But she does need to take time out and step back from time to time as she is ‘quite good in other peoples’ crises, never my own. It’s always good to give other people advice but it’s very difficult to take it yourself’. She also finds the dogs help as animals are so therapeutic and taking them for walks helps release those ‘feel good’ endorphins that we all need. She makes sure she leaves her mobile phone behind too!
Victoria says that she has been fortunate to have enjoyed every moment of her career, she loves her role as a Spotlight presenter, saying it’s definitely a high point in her career and she feels lucky to be here in the beautiful South West. Her friendship with Justin (Leigh) her co-presenter, shines through when they are on screen together. ‘You can’t make that up’, says Victoria. ‘I’m not very good at pretending, really’.
I asked Victoria how technology has changed since she started out in the business and she replied ‘Hugely, hugely!’
She said, that television and the media move on so quickly. The way she trained at Yorkshire television was on very different equipment to what they use now. She joked, ‘don’t ask me all the names of the things that we use’ but said that with the way news is spread online so quickly today, that they are fortunate that Spotlight is not only still going but is a very successful channel. In fact, they are one of the most watched BBC regional news channels in the country.
I thought about that and realised that technology is what it is – forever changing and developing. Social media, the internet, the latest smartphones pretty much ‘level the playing field’ when it comes to finding out information, news or events. There is something that technology will never achieve, however, just by the very nature of it, and that is the human touch. That connectivity that exists between people, the curiosity to find out more about what makes us tick and the love that exists between us, can’t be replicated by a gadget.
The chemistry between Victoria and Justin is often what people tune in to watch. They like the interaction, to see the twinkle in their eyes, to see their compassion over bad news and perhaps to feel that when we weather a storm, we do it together, as a community.
With the average viewing age of sixty-seven, Victoria says it is important that as a news business, they keep up to date with where the younger generation are getting their news from. She mentioned, at this point, that perhaps as people get older, they would watch the news more and has a theory that it may be a ‘cyclical’ thing. Young people want social media, they want quick hits, but she thinks eventually that they might slow down and want to sit down and watch the news.
A little more challenging for the newsroom, with today’s modern technology, is that the presenters receive emails and texts while they are on air. Not a bad thing in itself, except if someone is emailing to criticise something personal, like the way someone looks. In this instance, Victoria feels that she has a right to reply. She says that it is almost as if some people don’t think they are human, with feelings. But she always makes sure that she is ‘measured’ in her response, even if they haven’t necessarily been ‘measured’ in their criticism. Fortunately, by and large, they will often write back to say, ‘Oh Gosh, I didn’t mean anything by that’. She thinks that it’s positive to respond, and it shows that they do take on board what people are saying.
In my mind, it also highlights how ‘us humans’ can tend to hide behind technology, and perhaps we can all be mindful, when online, to only write things that we’d be prepared to say, face to face.
One of the most exciting moments of Victoria’s early career was during university. She got the chance to work for the California Film Commission, as a location scout and so spent a few months in California. She says that it was an incredible experience – getting to walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard among the stars. It wasn’t all glamour though – she worked in the location library that contained huge folders, filled with hundreds of houses and locations that were available for use in the making of movies (She guesses that with today’s technology it has all been digitised). She fondly recalls how she got the chance to be on the set of ‘Speed’ (the Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock movie) at the point where Sandra Bullock’s character has to accelerate the bus to jump the gap in the freeway. I loved that movie!
Victoria is passionate about cooking, she joked that she is a ‘feeder’ and likes nothing more than to prepare a big ‘one pot’ meal and finds her ‘perfect time’ in having family and friends around a table, sharing a meal together. She also loves singing, she said that she doesn’t sing professionally or to audiences but loves ‘Bluesy Jazzy’ sort of stuff and finds it a real release. She says, you ‘sing for your soul and from your soul’ and would love to have the time to join a choir, or a Rock Choir. She has always loved music, playing the piano and the cello but says that she is a bit out of practice, and her first love is singing. I asked if she ever sang Karaoke. She laughed and said she has dabbled with it in the past, her favourite song to sing being ‘Hey Big Spender’ by Shirley Bassey, but ‘only after a couple of glasses of wine.’
My final question to Victoria was asking what she would change about the world if she could only choose one thing and she replied that kindness doesn’t cost anything, and she wishes people would be kinder to each other. Victoria is definitely an example to follow in that regard.
She is planning on being kinder to herself next year too – sound advice for us all to take on board. She hopes to make more time for herself and to step into other areas of her life, visit her mum more and do more charity work.
I also have a sneaky suspicion that one of our local Rock Choirs may soon hear an additional sultry ‘bluesy’ voice, ringing out.