I have always loved storytelling and people. So there was never any doubt in my mind about what I wanted to do, and I set out straight from school on a path to journalism. I also grew up in a household that consumed a lot of news. Radio 4 was always on at breakfast time, and we would sit around to watch the 9pm news together every day. I was about 16 when I set my sights on becoming a news anchor.
I studied politics and theology at Bristol University in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It seemed at the time like everything that was in the news was linked to politics or religion, so it felt a sensible path. By that reasoning, I’d probably be studying microbiology if I was starting again in the pandemic era!
The first years of my career were spent as a reporter in the South West at local BBC radio and then regional BBC TV. It was an excellent training ground – I owe many of my skills as a journalist to what I learned then, from pitching story ideas, to shooting and editing TV reports, as well as how to do live inserts into news bulletins.
Eventually I was seconded to London where I was a general reporter for network BBC – covering the London riots, the ‘Arab spring’ and many other big stories on the Today Programme, BBC Breakfast and the like. From there I was poached by Sky News in 2011, to become their West of England correspondent.
It was a fantastic experience, but a very tough gig. I would drive for miles and be away from home for days at a time covering rolling news stories. The acronym for West of England correspondent was WoE – which my family changed to 'Correspondent of Woe'! I seemed to go from one murder scene to another for a few years, interspersed with nasty criminal trials – like that of Lostprophets lead singer Ian Watkins. He changed his plea at the last minute, so fortunately we didn't have to see all the evidence in his child sex abuse trial. But the summary the court heard was enough to haunt me to this day.
My big break came when I was offered a three month attachment presenting with the Sky News veteran, Adam Boulton, on his daily flagship political show, ‘Boulton + Co’. Shortly after that I landed a role presenting ‘Sunrise’ with Eamonn Holmes which we did together for several years. After Eamonn left in 2016, I continued at Sky for another five years anchoring many shows including News at 10.
I got the job at GB News after being headhunted by my old boss from Sky News, John McAndrew. I was excited about the prospect of being involved from the very beginning in a news channel start-up – they don't come around very often. I was ready for a new challenge and thought, ‘Why not?’ Eamonn once said to me, it's amazing how much luckier one becomes the harder one works. I have always been a grafter, but that just encouraged me to keep going.
Eamonn and I never thought we’d work together again – but I was thrilled when joined me. We anchor three and a half hours of news every day which inevitably means we will make mistakes. I recently had to stop myself from cursing Eamonn on live television for implying I was older than I am, but we were so relaxed that I nearly forgot we were on camera. I’m only human!
I’m often asked if I'm comfortable with the way opinions are being used to shape the TV news landscape. As a journalist, I am only there to ask questions. When I ask a question, that is not me giving an insight into my own personal views, it is in pursuit of the truth or the flip side of an argument. I am a journalist, not a commentator, and we chase facts, evidence, corroborated sources and honesty. I only offer my opinion occasionally, on trivial matters but never on politics or anything that would compromise my impartiality.
But there is a growing market for presenters to offer their opinions – something GB News does with great success after the breakfast show, later in the day. But we have news at the heart of our programme. Our show is the fastest growing breakfast news programme on TV. We have already doubled the audience, but we want to triple it.
There is no work-life balance as a reporter. Some people are cut out for the excitement of living on-call or dropping everything at a moment's notice, but I found that hard to cope with. Presenting is much more compatible with raising kids.
Thankfully, I am a natural early bird. The work pattern works very well with family life. I have very young children, so this enables me to collect them from school and nursery and put them to bed at night while prepping for the morning show. I know how privileged I am to be able to do that as a working mother.
To other working mums, I would say this: don't believe the line you'll be sold that you can 'have it all'. There are usually compromises and sacrifices involved, and often ones you wouldn't choose. It is not always possible to prioritise the needs of your children over work, which is difficult. Most mums also manage all childcare, after-school clubs, sports fixtures, playdates, homework etc, as well as their own careers. This is not a dig at men – it's how society continues to operate – and sometimes that can be a burden.
My job is the best gig in the world. I live for the high-pressure moments – there is no thrill like it. Deep breaths are essential, as is making sure you've done your homework. I am constantly mentally stimulated and challenged. I also get to meet interesting and important people and, very often, have a front-row seat to history in the making. Remember, though, it is not a 9-5 industry. It's shift work and the news never stops…
‘Breakfast with Eamonn Holmes and Isabel Webster’ airs on GB News every morning from 6am. Follow @IsabelWebsterTV on Instagram.
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