Inspirational Women- Maggie Philbin

I have followed the career of Maggie Philbin with interest for years so I’m especially pleased to bring you this interview with Maggie, a well known and much respected broadcaster. Read her story and be inspired to follow your own dream!

Jane: Maggie, you will be well known to many of our readers as the bright young thing on Saturday Swap Shop, voted by professionals as one of the most influential programmes ever, and later as the very knowledgeable presenter of Tomorrow’s World (incidentally a programme ahead of its time I’d say, in terms of how it presented women!)

But what aspirations did the young Maggie have? What did you want to be when you ‘grew up’?
Maggie: My earliest ambition was to be a trapeze artist – very ambitious when you consider I wasn’t the best co-ordinated child and also rather fat! After that I think I had impresario tendencies, rounding up the village kids and staging a puppet show when I was about 9. The profit margin was HUGE – I managed to earn two years worth of pocket money in as many hours. Sadly my parents forced me to give all the money to the local hospital.

Did you have a fairly standard path through school? Were there any early indications of the life you went onto lead?
I owe everything to a French teacher, Mrs Roberts, who joined my school the year of our GCE’s. Up until then I’d only shone at subjects which came naturally but saw no reason to any effort with others  She took me on one side and said, “You’re a bright girl, and there’s absolutely no reason for you to fail French.” She was the reason for an abrupt turn around in my academic life in every subject –and for the 3 As at A level (including French!)

I really loved Physics and Maths but didn’t get on with the Chemistry teacher who used to hurl board rubbers at me, with I’m sure every justification. So I didn’t apply for vet science or medicine – a decision that haunted me at Manchester University because I walked past the medical school every day.

Looking back, one of the things I really enjoyed was doing “sketches”, I loved making people laugh. But I never thought of myself as a performer. By the time I left school, I knew I needed to take a year off to decide what I wanted to do and my Dad was furious when I opted for English and Drama!

How did you end up on Swap Shop? (A Saturday morning TV programme aimed at older children, click here for link to BBC web site).
During my final year at Manchester, I saw a box numbered ad offering “The Chance of a Lifetime” to the successful applicant. I thought it was a bogus agent or a tiny TV company but writing a tongue in cheek reply was a good distraction from revising .To cut a long story short, it turned out to be Swap Shop and to my utter astonishment, they gave me the presenting job. My daughter is named after Rose, the woman who took such a huge risk on a student with no experience.

As a young woman who had the most influence on you, personally and professionally? And why?
I’ve mentioned Mrs Roberts – who taught me early on that it’s worth making an effort with things you think you can’t do, we create most of our own barriers. And Rosemary Gill, the Swap Shop editor, was undoubtedly one of the most talented women working in television, a great mentor to have when you’re starting out. After that I was lucky enough to work with Richard Reisz on Tomorrow’s World – a seriously clever man who absolutely believed in me and gave me the confidence to report live on some of the most complicated Science and Technology stories.

Do you have a mentor now, someone you really look up to and admire?
One of my closest friends is an executive producer, Sally Dixon. Sally keeps a very close eye on what I’m doing and constantly encourages me to think bigger. Every time we meet up for supper she has a list of things for me to think about. It’s really important to have a mentor – otherwise we can slip back into a “comfort zone” and lose sight of what we really want to achieve.

You were a presenter on Tomorrow’s World and still report on innovative technology. Is there one innovation that you think has had a really significant effect on the role of women in society?
You know I’m very enthusiastic about social media – it’s a very powerful connection tool and helps women to build strong networks. And any technology that helps women to work flexibly is great – When I held those early “mobile” phones on Tomorrow’s World, I never dreamed they’d become the “computer in your pocket”.

And if you could invent one, (no limits), what would it be?
Really convincing 3D haptic conferencing, to cut down on travel time to meetings – I loathe telephone conference calls.

Have you experienced femageism in TV? I’m talking about the tendency to have older mature male presenters matched with young female presenters. How do you think women can combat this? (Assuming you think it exists?)
You do still see the “avuncular” pairing of presenters and sometimes it makes me laugh out loud, it’s so cynical! That said, there are probably more older women on screen and on the radio now, than there were thirty years ago. But it’s all about figures… and if your face pulls in viewers, I don’t think broadcasters would care care if you were 120!

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Keep it short.

How do you relax? Are you good at giving yourself time off?
I love music, film and food and I make plenty of time for all three.

What advice would you give to any woman looking for a career in the media, TV and or journalism?
Be the very best. Specialise. There’s a lot of competition

Maggie, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. I know our readers will love your story. Thank you!

You can follow Maggie on Twitter @MaggiePhilbin and read her blog here

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Posted on September 16th, 2010 by

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