No, no, no, no, no. Please tell me the clicking sound I just heard isn’t the front door locking behind me. For the love of all that is good and holy pllleeeeaaaaaseeeee do not tell me I am standing outside a very lovely flat, on a very lovely street in very lovely Kensington…in my pants!
I thought I had it all sussed, red-eye flight from Belfast to London, straight to my sisters flat to get freshened up for the Journalism Diversity Fund celebratory reception…sorted…organisation personified…or so I thought!
Note to self: never decide as you are undressing to have a shower that nipping out of a house for a quick nicotine fix without having the keys to the house on your person is a good idea, it’s not, it’s really, really not!
Thankfully, after a few dodgy looks from people walking their dogs, the estate agent arrived with a spare key and I was back in the game.
There is clearly a lesson for us all in this tale, smoking not only damages your health, it also completely obliterates your street cred!!
Thankfully, I made it to the reception on time, albeit with a somewhat damaged ego! The venue, Northcliffe House, was akin to a Tardis, fairly unassuming from the exterior, but absolutely humongous upon entering. With the necessary security checks complete, I wondered, did I look a little dodgy? Was it my Irish accent? Or are the security guards really that thorough?
Regardless, I made it through and was on my way to meet the other recipients. And what a charming, dare I say, diverse mix of men and women they were. I was the only student not yet to have started their course. I listened with growing fear as they regaled tales of horror about something they referred to as ‘shorthand!’ Having now completed/suffered my first class in this subject, I wholeheartedly share their despair. 100 words per minute feels like an almost impossible task, but that’s another story for another blog!
The chatter in the room came to a still hush as the chairman of the NCTJ, Kim Fletcher, began talking very frankly about how, once upon a time, in the not too distant past, the vast majority of journalists were middle class, privately educated and male. As he spoke, I looked around the room at this year’s recipients, I was struck by how none of them seemed to fit the bill of which he spoke. We were a veritable amalgamation of male, female, black, white, brown, young, not so young…..you get the gist.
It is abundantly clear that the Journalism Diversity Fund prides itself on kicking open doors that would otherwise be firmly shut for people like me…those who don’t fit that stereotypical, and let’s be honest, to some extent, rather dull profile. Nope, this room was positively brimming with an eclectic mix of bodies from all walks of life.
If I’m being really truthful, I had a special interest in one specific part of the reception. Namely, the Claire Prosser bursary. Claire Prosser was not only a first class journalist; she was an outstanding spotter of new talent. This well-honed skill lent itself to her being positioned as the first director of the BBC’s Journalism Trainee Scheme. Her wonderful (and I do not use that word lightly) family saw fit to create this award as part of her legacy when she sadly passed away a few years ago.
I listened intently to Mark Wray; the managing director of Press Association Training as he paid tribute to someone who was not only a colleague, but also clearly a dear friend.
I felt goose bumps rise on my arms as her husband Paul and daughter Ellen took to the stage to share stories of Claire as a wife and as a mother. And all the while, I couldn’t help but think, what an honour it would have been to have had an opportunity to get know this powerhouse of a woman over a gin and tonic or four. There was no denying it, she cared about people, and in turn they cared back.
Claire’s parents, who I now know affectionately as Granny Peggy and Grandad Gordon, could only have been filled with twenty four carat love to hear so many people talk so warmly of their beloved daughter.
And then it was my turn…”we are pleased to announce that the first recipient of the Claire Prosser bursary is Katie Boyd.”
I am humbled to my core to be the first of what will become a long line of Claire Prosser Bursary awardees. One day, there will be a lengthy list of kick-ass journalists whose studies were funded in the name of a lady who wholeheartedly believed that regardless of a person’s background, if they had the passion, determination and will to succeed in the industry, they should be given that chance.
The icing on the cake came for me as Grandad Gordon was filling plates at the buffet and dishing them out to all at our table. Paul, Claire’s husband began to tell me of the work experience opportunities he had lined up for me. He introduced me to the news and current affairs managing editor of the BBC, Keith Blackmore and the wonderful Husain Husaini, director of WireFree Productions, both of whom offered to have me aboard their ships to gain that much sought after industry experience. What a gift.
My head spun as Joanne Butcher, the NCTJ chief executive, put her hand on my shoulder and told me how proud she was of me. That’s the thing about the guys in the Journalism Diversity Fund and NCTJ, there’s an overwhelming sense of warmth and togetherness in their interactions with the recipients and this filters from the top of the chain, down. They desperately want to see the people they have funded succeed. They are the journalistic equivalent of soccer moms, standing on the side-lines offering masses of encouragement to their little David Beckham wannabes!
A quick glance at my watch reminded me I had a plane back to the Emerald Isle to catch. Exhausted, overwhelmed but still grinning like a Cheshire cat, I made it back to Belfast. Lying in bed that night, I pondered over the day’s events. What a journey, and I’m not just referring to the geographical sense. If I have only one piece of advice to give to all you aspiring journalists, it’s this:
If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. The Journalism Diversity Fund are there to help, they want to help, please, please take advantage of the good fortune they are offering and follow your dreams, Claire followed hers and now I am too.