“We are all in the same boat,” she said, “and none of us know what the next few hours will bring, let alone the future. The world is collapsing – restaurants, banks, engineering, hotels, entertainment… everything. “
One thing is clear, however: the Steph Show could be his time. Because they are surely strong, intelligent and imperturbable women like her that we need right now. Channel 4 was ahead of the curve by naming this 37-year-old new mother from Middlesbrough as the face of the day.
Antidote to some of the fluffiest and most harmless presenters who have dominated the afternoon television scene for the past decade, Steph is a former financial producer on Radio 4’s Today program, which aired Last 10 years at the forefront of BBC Breakfast.
Regardless of the maelstrom’s brewing, she looks calm and unruffled upon her arrival – it was the days before an unnecessary trip was banned and social distancing in place – with her short blonde hair, a neatly assembled black suit on a black t-shirt decorated with coats of arms with lips and black moccasins with silver studs. It also happens to have a thick accent like a Middlesbrough parmo (a local delicacy of Teesside chicken topped with bechamel sauce and melted cheese). Once considered too common for television and told by a BBC official, “I didn’t think people who spoke like you were intelligent”, what makes it stand out is that it combines the brain of ‘a coffin with people’s voices.
If someone can run a program filmed in their room, that woman can. She was born to solve problems. At 15, she won the prestigious Arkwright Engineering Scholarship. Then four years later, while an apprentice at Black & Decker, she developed an innovative new production technique which saved the company £ 150,000 a year – as a result, she was appointed a young engineer for Great Britain.
But “our Steph,” as her fans know, is in the midst of a whirlwind, and it’s not just the dark confusion of Covid-19. It’s the first time in her career that a show relies solely on her name, and on top of that, just five months ago, she gave birth to a daughter, along with her longtime girlfriend.
And then there are things in it that just make you laugh, like his story of doing a serious live interview with a leading British architect on the street to hear, halfway, “the very clear sound of a couple having sex in a bedroom floor with the window wide open. [That clip] is now used as part of BBC training for producers on live interview traps, ”she adds.
Or there was the time when she was mistaken for a prostitute and – in front of a few members of her crew – offered £ 10 and four cans of Stella for a very specific sexual act by a man at the Grimsby fish market at 4 am in the morning when she was filming for BBC Breakfast. Rather than being indignant, she joked: “If he had offered me £ 15 and a Grolsch, I would have done it!” “
Her keen mind – as evidenced when she hosts Have I Got News For You – was helpful in a 2012 interview with Donald Trump. “He did this scary big thing by telling me that I was so beautiful that he would need more time to apply makeup because otherwise everyone would be looking at me. I knew he was trying to butter me, so I said, “I heard better aftershocks than that at Club Bongo in Middlesbrough. “I don’t know if I would be so cheeky now, he’s president, but I can’t bear all of these fake c – ps, so I would probably be exactly the same. “
“I work in the media, I know it’s important to keep certain things private,” she said.
I ask her if her sexuality has ever been a problem. She shrugs and smiles. “Curiously, I think I am more defined by my accent than by my sexuality. And I found very warm and accepting people.
“As soon as you become a presenter on BBC Breakfast, you are part of people’s lives. They think they know you and come to talk. Very few even mention my sexuality, even if some women tell me that they want to thank me because I gave them the strength to become gay. This is a good thing. It was never a problem for me because I don’t think I ever treated it as a problem. “
It was in high school – the brand new Macmillan City Technology College – that Steph really flourished. “We were made to feel we could do absolutely anything,” she says. “We had incredible facilities, including recording studios, excellent laboratories. We didn’t have assemblies, we had our own college intern news that I presented with a girl named Natasha [Maguda] who now works for CNN. The school had ties to local businesses and industries, so we were all fully aware of the world of work. It was the most amazing place for many children who were doing great things. “
What makes it easy to understand is that it doesn’t fit into the mold. She had to prove herself more than most, either by taking an apprenticeship for a year so that she could pay her university fees (she studied communication and science policy at University College London), or that she was ignored for a promotion because she didn’t look like everyone in the media.
She counts Peston as one of her closest friends and asked for her advice when she was poached by Channel 4 during her maternity leave in November. “We just clicked,” she says. “With Robert, what you see is what you get. It is exactly like on TV. I loved working with him. He was the one who took root for me and believed that I should be a presenter only because he thought I knew what I was talking about. He would be in the meetings saying, “Why don’t you ask Steph to do this? She knows all about it “and” Steph would be great to do it. No one saw me as anything but a producer. I am aware that my voice would have been considered too common, but Robert saw beyond that and kept pushing. I owe him a lot of what I have today with Alison Ford [the former head of BBC Breakfast, who died from breast cancer in 2013], who gave me my job at the show in 2010. “
“I came in a shiny Topshop dress with big New Look heels, and I was taken aside by Alison and asked to take it down a notch or two. I guess laurel outfits combined with my accent would have meant that I would have been difficult to take seriously. “
You wonder how the other presenters, Louise Minchin, Susanna Reid and Sian Williams, behaved towards her. “Charming,” she said with relish. ‘All. It was a good family atmosphere. During my first presentations, I was really nervous and Susanna was adorable. I also remember that my mind went completely blank when Sian asked me a question. She saw it immediately in my eyes and covered me by answering herself. There was no bitch. And when people tore each other apart, like Susanna did when she left the show for Good Morning Britain, we were on the phone or texting for support. “
Steph attaches great importance to his comrades and his family. She is still close to school friends and does a weekly podcast (Not bad for a Monday) with Claire Waters, an old friend from her dancing days. Surely life as a new mother has slowed down to some extent? “No,” she says. “I wanted to have a baby. I don’t know if I thought I would ever find the point in my life to do it, but I did it and it’s great. I love being with our daughter. Certainly, I now feel that I have brought her into a very strange world, but it will be the only world she will know and it is our job to be good guides for her. My parents are so happy. She is their only granddaughter and it’s nice to see them together.
“In all this madness, we have to hold on to real life. We have to get through this. We must be informed, we must help each other and with my broadcast, I want to participate in the dissemination of these messages. “
“The Steph Show” is on Channel 4, weekdays from 12 noon