Can you have it all? In episode 20 we chat to BBC and BT Sport Broadcaster Reshmin Chowdhury. We discuss the captivating nature of sport, how as a mother of two she juggles multiple responsibilities and how one always has to be at the top of your game on live sport.
Reshmin Chowdhury is a multilingual sports presenter, reporter and event host, broadcasting globally for the BBC and BT Sport. She is one of BT Sport’s key reporters for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. She also works across BT’s FA Cup, BDO Darts World Championship and NBA coverage and previously anchored the network’s nightly news show, SportsHUB.
For the BBC, Reshmin has covered news from almost every recent major sporting event for BBC World News and the BBC News Channel since 2010, most recently reporting for BBC Radio 5Live at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
Reshmin began her career at Reuters TV News and honed her skills as a producer at BBC News, ITN and Bloomberg TV. Her work has taken her as far afield as Africa, Asia and the Middle East. She is an ambassador for the Prince of Wales’ charity, the British Asian Trust and the Heart4More Foundation. She is a keen mentor, working at Kick it Out’s “Raise Your Game” conferences and the Mosaic charity.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 01.7.17 – Ep 20. Reshmin Chowdhury – sports broadcaster on the challenges and rewards of a media career
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
TP: Welcome to A Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.[Music]
Today, I’m with sports broadcaster Reshmin Chowdhury. I’m a big fan of Reshmin and that’s not just because she gave me home made muffins for my journey home. Reshmin has a spark, a strength and determination that I find really quite motivating. In her interview she talks about the captivating nature of sport, how as a mother of two she juggles multiple responsibilities and how one always has to be at the top of your game when you’re on live sport.
I started by asking her what sport was like for her growing up.
RC: Sport for me growing up was a massive part of my life in terms of sitting on the sofa with my brother or my friends and watching it but doing sport was never, ever something that I really considered. Sport was never that important to my family really, it was never something that they encouraged actively. My dad genuinely … this is a true story, he actually thought I would be tired if I did sport so it was just something, he said, oh, you don’t want to do sport, you’ll just get tired. So it was just never seen as something that was a necessary part of life. If you weren’t part of the PE gang, the enthusiastic ones that always wanted to do sport … I don’t think PE teachers when I was growing up were that great at encouraging you otherwise. I was always quite happy to find an excuse, oh, it’s the time of the month, I don’t think I can do it, although there was always something, oh yeah, I just don’t feel well, I’d always come up with something ’cause it just wasn’t … I wasn’t interested in exerting myself and doing any kind of sport. But it’s such a stark contrast to my interest in sport because I watched pretty much everything, I think golf maybe is the only thing I didn’t really watch growing up. Maybe there’s one or two others but out of all the major sports it was, you know, I was a complete sports nut.
TP: How come, what captivated you?
RC: Oh, well, growing up I think the Olympics and … yeah, Olympic events were always massive in our house so we always used to watch but in terms … but footfall is the big sport that I love and that was a very, very clear moment in my life, that was during World Cup ’90, it was taking place in Italy and it’s really silly really, I was at my family home and don’t ask me why but I was somebody who used to just love tidying the house at weekends. That was not something that was instilled in me by my parents, I think that was just the kind of person I was. I like things being in order. And my parents’ bedroom had the TV on and Gary Lineker scored a goal in a group game during this tournament and I genuinely was, I use that word, captivated, I was absolutely mesmerised by that on TV, you thought, god, that was … this football lark’s not bad, is it?
TP: What was it, was it the way he did it, was it the crowd reaction?
RC: I think it was his reaction, the team reaction and the crowd, it was just the general elation of what it meant to score and make a difference in that game and to win the game. And then from that point on I watched every single game with my family during that World Cup and it was a really magical World Cup, I don’t think I’ve seen one like it and it was, you know, with England getting to the semi finals, Gazza’s tears, it was … and then Cameroon, Roger Miller, the dancing, [unclear 0:03:50], you know, the Brazilian players doing their baby celebrations, there was so much that happened in that World Cup that was amazing so it just stuck with me and then from then onwards football was a massive part of my growing up.
TP: Was it a given that your career would end up going into sport?
RC: No, I wouldn’t say it was a given, I think the fact that I had an interest was a big thing, I wanted to work in sport, at that time Des Lynam was the presenter of Match of the Day and I always used to say, I want to do his job when I grow up, I want to present with him. But, to be honest, there was never … you know, later on when I went to university and I studied politics and economics but there was never any set route to do sports journalism, it’s not like it is now, now there are real … I think journalism, the media industry, yeah, there are real pathways, it’s opened up a lot but during my time it wasn’t so it wasn’t at all actually so in sports journalism was even further away so … No, it was something I would … if someone had told me when I was watching that goal going in I would eventually be doing the job that I’m doing and actually working on the same show as Gary I’d say, no, that’s just silly, you know. But it would be exactly what I would have wanted, but I just wouldn’t have seen a path to reaching it.
TP: Yes, we’ll come back and talk a little bit more about your path. Your bio on various websites …
RC: Oh god, which ones?
TP: Says that you’re a broadcaster. Talk to me a little bit about what you currently do.
RC: I just talk to people about stuff. At the moment I work for two broadcasters, one is the BBC, so I work for their sports news department and I have done for the last seven years or so, give or take a couple of stints of maternity leave. So I present sports news on the 24 hour news channel and BBC World and I do various other things as well. And then with BT Sport who are the newer broadcaster on the block, I work on their European football coverage so I report on the UEFA Champions’ League and the UEFA Europa League as well at various games throughout the season. So, yeah, I do a bit of everything actually which keeps me motivated and happy as well because I’m not just stuck behind an autocue reading that all day, I’m not just on the road the whole time, I get a real variety in my work which I love. I also host a lot of events and things like that so that’s all … it all keeps me very excited about what I do.
TP: You’ve covered news from almost every recent major sporting event since about 2010, I think, are there any that stand out for you?
RC: 2012, London 2012 was just …
TP: Why, or is that a silly question.
RC: No, it’s never a silly question, it’s just I think there are so many dimensions to why that stood out but I was … for that one particularly I was working on BBC World News for most of that and we had to give sort of updates at the top of every hour and the back of every hour and I remember the BBC was based in a former council block that it had bought out, it bought out kind of the top floors I think, or maybe the whole building, don’t quote me on that but anyway our studios were built at the top of this building that oversaw the entire Olympic Park so we got an amazing view of the whole thing and our offices were a couple of floors down so I remember just running up and down the stairs every hour to go and give these updates and it was just, you know, as fast paced … there were results coming in all the time, it was so exciting but, you know, this is on our doorstep, quite literally on mine in some ways, you know, being able to work not just for any other broadcaster but for the BBC, you know, the host broadcaster, the big broadcaster that I’d grown up with and respected since I was a kid, there was no one else I wanted to work for. And to work on the London Olympics, my home Olympics, with them was just fantastic and the stories that came out of it … I mean that’s by the by but that goes without saying but it was a magical, magical time and London was as I’d never seen it before, a lot of people can testify, it was just such an exciting place to be, everyone was so happy and nice and kind. It was fantastic, it was amazing.
TP: What are the biggest stresses in your line of work?
RC: In my line of work … I think there are a lot of stresses with general journalism because you have a responsibility to be accurate, you have a responsibility to be on the ball, get things right and produce, whether it’s live TV, whatever it is, you have to be at the top of your game all the time, if you have an off day, it happens to everyone, but you shouldn’t really, when you switch on the … yeah, and you know, when you flick the switch to perform you have to perform so that’s one side of it I think. There’s a lot of research that goes into what you do as well so you don’t just perform on the day, everything you do is leading up to that as well, you’ve got to build a lot of knowledge, you’ve got to show credibility, I think in what you do as well, so there’s a lot of that. I’m on TV so when I’m travelling the thing I have to remember, you know … the hair straighteners, you know, all the things that … what am I going to wear, these are things that are important to me so that’s another thing that I have to think about on top of all the basic elements of actually match prepping and getting all of that right but I’m also a mother of two, I’ve got two young children so that in itself is a massive job so it’s a huge balance and …
TP: Must be quite a lot to juggle. Talk to me a little bit about that.
RC: Oh, god, do you want a full on moan, or …? You know, it’s hard, I mean I think we were saying, there probably are other people that do the job that I do but I don’t … I can’t name them unless you can, I don’t know a female sports reporter who has children, you know, as young as me who travels as much perhaps, maybe Jackie Oakley would be a closer example, I don’t know how much she travels though, I don’t know what her timetable is but possibly ’cause she goes away as well for stints and things like that … and actually, yeah, Jackie’s probably the closest because I remember we spoke about it once and she said to me, how do you do match prep, I said, my god … match prep, that whole thing. It’s true because we both have the same issues and it’s wow, it blows your mind, I think … I’m not sure that I breathed in the last few years because it’s just a lot to take on all the time and I think there was a time when everybody, I think, in a working environment would put everything behind them and just, you know, make sure that they could just concentrate on the job, no, nothing’s too stressful, nothing’s too difficult and I think no, I make a point of saying to my bosses, look, I need to plan around my children so let me know because I think people do need to understand that side of your life otherwise it’s just impossible, you can’t keep saying everything’s easy, yes, I can do that, yes, I can do that as well. Well, I can’t because I have a responsibility elsewhere, I have one million percent responsibility to my job but I also have a trillion percent responsibility to my children as well so you have to have that balance. It’s on so many levels, I don’t even know where to start, you know, in terms of the practical sense of getting match prep done, getting everything ready in the house before I leave.
I was talking to a male broadcaster, a colleague of mine, and we were talking about lots of different things, it was a really open conversation about lots of things and I just said to him, you know, when I walk out the door and you walk out the door you probably do about, or you probably don’t even need to do about five percent of what I do before I leave the house and he said it’s absolutely right, because I leave, I close the door and my wife does everything. I’ve got no idea what’s in the fridge, I’ve got no idea what the kids are going to eat, I’ve got no idea what they’re going to do the next day. But that’s not the same for me, all of that stuff is in my head before I leave whether it’s making food before I go or whatever it is I’m doing and that’s, you know, that’s a lot to do before you’ve packed and got everything ready, you know, as I explained, there’s a lot of things that I have to do before I walk out the door. And I have family around me, I have parents and in-laws and support but even with that it’s still really, really difficult because if you want to be hands on, which I do, which I always am, then it’s a big balance to strike.
TP: Do you think it’s part and parcel of the job and doing the role that you do or do you think there are ways that the working environment could be changed in order to support mothers better?
RC: I think the job is what it is, to be honest with you. I think if you’re going away to report on a high profile football match and you love football and you’re working in it then I think you’re extremely privileged to be able to do that, I think it’s just that maybe it was a more male world, you know, maybe the people who do that job don’t have the responsibilities that I have in their home as well. You know, it’s equally difficult for a father leaving his children as well, don’t get me wrong because of course you all miss our family members but, as I explained on the practical sense, it’s not the same so it is very, very difficult. But I think that’s just the nature of the job and I think as long as your bosses are more aware of your life situation I think that’s a really important thing, I think it’s like everything it’s often about education and people just need to know what goes on in other people’s lives because if someone’s working for you it’s not just … it shouldn’t be that they’re just your employee, you send them out wherever they go and that’s it, you know, they need to … if they’re investing in you in any sort of way they need to understand where you’re coming from and who you are as a person and what’s important to you and your family situation. Some people might have, you know, they might not have children but they might be caring for somebody or whatever the situation is it’s … everything can be worked around but I think there just needs to be a greater understanding of it.
TP: Your experience through your career, what you’ve achieved in journalism and so forth does that affect how you bring up your kids?
RC: Yeah, I think massively. I think in my career I’ve never, ever, and I’m not getting out the violins, it’s just generally how my … like I explained there was no career path that was mapped out for me and I was never one of those people who was really lucky to find that mentor along the route either. I mean mine was literally … I was never, you know, picked out of obscurity to do anything in particular, I genuinely found my own path by myself and it was fuelled by the fact that I knew I would be really good at this job, I just knew it one million percent and I had a lot of backing from my family to … you know, they understood that passion in me. So because I’ve had that, nothing’s fallen into my lap. That absolutely drives me in a way that I bring up my children, I want … you know, as hard as it is I want them to see me working hard, I want them to know that I can give them that love in exactly the same way whether I’m there or not, I want them to be able to understand that, you know, a mother is a strong role model and I want them to know that. And I think having that respect for your mother, having that respect, you know, for a woman, particularly from the point of view of my son, you know, I want him to grow up seeing a strong female in the house and, of course, that goes without saying with my daughter, that’s a given. But particularly for my son as well I want him to able to see that, yeah, I think it massively influences, you know, maybe not in a day to day manner but I think overall the picture is they’re watching a mother who works really hard and, yeah, she can’t always be there all the time but the majority of the time she is so I want them to just know that … I think just working hard, I think that’s the point, you know, I’m not … I’m very rarely just sitting around doing nothing, I’m always busy and it’s a good thing, I don’t see it as a bad thing at all.
TP: What is success for you and are you successful?
RC: Hmm … that’s a really [unclear 0:17:19] question, yeah, it really is, you’re not bad at this, are you? Am I successful and what is success … okay, so success I think is reaching or going beyond a level that you thought was possible, maybe, I think, I think maybe that’s how I would define it. So yeah, I think if you exceed your own expectations, I think that … in whatever field, you should class that as successful, I don’t think you should compare yourself to others, I never look at myself and compare myself to any other broadcaster because there is no other broadcaster like me just like there is no other broadcaster like anyone … we are very individual in what we do. So I think that’s one side of success.
I think success is also your journey, so if you have overcome barriers, if you have had set backs and you’ve been able to do well in spite of them I think that’s success as well. So I suppose from those, both those angles I guess I’ve been successful. But then I don’t want it to stop there so there’s still more that I can achieve and want to achieve so I suppose at the point that I’m at I guess people would say that I’m successful but then I have higher aspirations so I think there’s more still to be achieved. But for me the big success is if I can balance everything in my life and do it well, like there is no perfect balance. I remember, it’s another million dollar question, can you have it all? Well, you can, I remember a good friend of mine who’s a journalist at the BBC, not in sport but in news, and she once said to me that I think you can have it all but maybe at different periods like there’s definitely a time for everything. And I really identified with that when she said it, I thought that was absolutely true because I remember when I was first producing and I was looking for that opportunity to go on air it was just never there, I had to go and find it myself, I went to Madrid for two years leaving my husband at home, you know, in London while I did that. And then I came back and then everything was going really well at the BBC but then they moved up to Salford and I was having a baby, and then I had two children very … within 20 months of each other and then suddenly as every mother will testify in a certain industry, particularly in my industry where you’re freelance and I think your success is completely dependent on your own endeavours and what you put in, when you’ve got two children to look after or just even a child or whatever the situation might be when you have another side to your life you’re completely in the wilderness, you’re wondering when am I ever going to be able to achieve what I want to achieve, how is it going to happen, my job was up in Salford, I have two children at home, I thought how on earth am I going to get my career back on track.
TP: How did you?
RC: Well I have an amazing boss at the BBC who is soon to be leaving, Nick Dixon is his name, and he’s absolutely wonderful, he’s always been lovely and he’s been very supportive since having children so he always … he was always very open to me coming back to work and also on my terms so he has a pool of presenters and people that he has at work but he always left the door open for me so I remember after I had my daughter I would go up to Salford once a month, a couple of days once a month and that was … you know, my husband, we worked that out with my family, we all worked it out and it was fine, it was doable, he would look after my daughter, he would come up, my husband is from Manchester anyway so it would work out he would be with his friends and then when I had two children that’s more complicated for him to take them both up so family got more involved and they would look after them and then I remember when BT Sport was launched in Straford and I said to my mum, I mean I live north east London and everything traditionally is based in the south or south west or whatever and I’m saying to my mum, we can’t just be … like there’s a major sports broadcaster on my doorstep now, there is no way I’m not working for them. I don’t care how it happens, it’s going to happen.
Very interesting how people in your community or in your circle perceive you doing the job that you’re doing, you know, it’s the criticism that you get as well by people saying you’re not … she’s a mother and how can she travel so much as a mother and all the stories that I have to hear from people, I’m very good at blocking it out because I think you have to develop a thick skin in this industry anyway ’cause you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t. But the number of times I’ve heard people saying, well, she’s away all the time, isn’t she, so what about her children, what about, you know, as if I’m neglecting them completely and just … and they don’t know what I do outside of that. And they also don’t know that I might be away for three nights one week but then the next week or for maybe the next two weeks I’m completely at home with them. And I can be, you know, the full time mum when I’m there and I think actually that’s better than leaving the house at 6:30 am and coming back at seven pm or eight pm at night five days a week. So I get it a lot, I get people in my community, I grew up in a lovely Asian Bengali Muslim community but people often say to my parents, well, so she’s away again, oh right, okay, god her husband’s so patient isn’t he letting her do all that, oh god how do you all let her do that … and people even say, Reshmin doesn’t need to go to the BBC anymore does she now that she’s got BT Sport, what planet are you people on and they just don’t understand but you know, the other day someone was saying to me, oh, you know, the children are very … you know, they’re so well mannered aren’t they, they’re very nice, aren’t they, oh yeah, but she travels so much, you just think, well ’cause I don’t teach them anything do I, it’s just ’cause I’m away all the time. You know, you have to fight fires, I feel like I fight fires all the time. It doesn’t bother me unless it’s someone close who thinks something and I think no, they should know me better. But if it’s someone on the outside I actually just … my mum said to me once, she said, [unclear 0:24:12] they’re either just stupid or, you know, they just don’t get what you do, or they’re ignorant, it’s something along those lines.
TP: Just brush it off.
RC: Yeah, you can just brush it off I think and you have to, it’s … and if someone asks me I quite happily stand up for myself and say, well, you know, this is my job and what I do, what do you want me to do, shall I just … and this is how a conversation came about with my male colleague and he said, what would people prefer, would they prefer that you just sat at home and did nothing, or just had a boring job that you didn’t like, or you just went to work for a couple of hours a day and then came back, you know, or maybe just presented for a day or two and then came back, is that what’s better or is what … you know, the job that you’re doing better where you’re actually learning and you’re enjoying what you’re doing and you’re actually developing and giving something, you know, it’s … yeah, that’s a hard one as well I think in terms of perceptions, how people see you and what you do and I think you just have to brush it all off, it’s hard sometimes, it is hard, I think the fighting those fires are actually really hard. But you just have to … because as a mother and, you know, as a parent, any parent, you will always get the guilt of am I doing enough for my kids, oh god, I’m away or you know only last week I was away on a job and I remember when it came through and I thought oh, god it’s my daughter’s first sports day at this big sports field and oh god she’s going to do the three legged race and it’s going to be so cute and everyone goes for the day and they all take picnics and I thought, god, I’m going to miss that. And you know I remember talking to the lady that booked me ’cause I knew she would understand because she’s also a mother, she said, to me oh god I had to watch her birthday party on Skype once, you know, and that’s encouraging to know that other people are in that same situation but you can’t actually do everything because there could be a parent who can’t take a day’s leave as well so you have to tell yourself that it’s all part of this particular job and there are good things and there are bad things or not probably the right words, there are positives and negatives and you just bring that …
TP: Like you say, when would you have three days of work but then able to have a chunk of time …
RC: Exactly, exactly, so I think it’s all about that balance but I think that’s a tough, definitely being a mother I think that’s a really tough part of the job that you have to … it’s hard enough balancing it yourself and the guilt but then when other people try to tell you that you’re doing the wrong thing and try to imply that what you’re doing is wrong I think… it actually makes me annoyed and angry and I think well they should just go away or they should try doing what I do and see if they can manage because it’s a tough balance for everyone so I think yeah …
TP: So we’ll end with some quick fire questions.
RC: Okay, let’s go, oh god …
TP: What did you eat for breakfast?
RC: I had nutty granola with yoghurt and maple syrup. It’s really nice, it’s really good …
TP: Favourite piece of kit?
RC: To take on a job do you mean?
TP: Whatever you want to define kit as.
RC: Makeup bag.
TP: Sporting hero?
RC: God, there are so many. You’d think I could answer this one quickly, wouldn’t you?
TP: Not when there’s so many.
RC: I don’t know where to start. I think someone like Jessica Ennis is fantastic but I mean there’s more.
TP: Why would Jessica Ennis be fantastic?
RC: I think she’s a great role model, I think, you know, she’s just … I’ve never met her, she seems like a lovely girl but she’s so down to earth, and I think it’s being able to excel at the top, top level and still come across as normal, I think that is lovely, I think that’s a really nice quality. So I think she’s someone I really respect and …
TP: Usain Bolt and …
RC: But I think of going back even further, there were loads, there were loads. God, do I actually have to answer it properly, have to really think, can I come back to it?
TP: Absolutely. Most useless piece of advice you’ve been given or given to somebody else?
RC: Again, I don’t even know where to start.
TP: Sometimes, I give people an out and say, or a piece of advice that you’d give but your face is just.
RC: Just so many things that I get told, I think being a parent you just get told so many things of how you should do this that and the other with a baby and most of them are … are just silly and useless so from my parents and from my in-laws, you know, you get stories about how they brought up their children, you know, back in the day and stories that they were told from someone in the village in Bangladesh and you’re just like, that is totally impractical.
TP: Greatest passion outside of sport?
RC: Well music I suppose, I grew up with singing so I think performing and singing was a big part of my life. But now it would be my kids really, they’re just, you know, I think for me having children, my life is much more balanced I think having children because it means that even if something happens at work nothing is ever that bad because, you know, I’ve got something that makes me really happy at home so I think yeah, I think my kids. They ground me.
TP: And the last one, best performance enhancer?
RC: Well … depends what I’m doing. I think it’s a mental challenge I think when you perform you’ve got to mentally be able to … as we talked about that switch that you flick and I think for me it’s what are people going to see, when they see you what are they going to see and that switch goes off whatever it is.
TP: Like a little mantra or something that you …
RC: No, I don’t say that, no, no, I think it’s something that is innate now, I always look at how people are going to perceive what I’m actually saying to them.
TP: Sort of step outside yourself?
RC: Yeah, you step outside yourself. I remember saying that to someone the other day like when I grew up singing it’s never about … you know, I could be singing to one person or I could be singing to a million people it doesn’t really matter what you do, you’re … I keep saying the word, don’t I, performance, but I think what you produce as a broadcaster has to be consistently at that level regardless so it’s, yeah, I think it’s that mental switch is my performance enhancer.
TP: Brilliant thanks so much Reshmin.
RC: Not at all.
TP: Appreciate talking to you today.
RC: I don’t know about the sporting hero …
TP: Oh, yes, the sporting hero.
RC: God, it would be footballer really someone I’ve grown up watching, I want to say Lineker though … even though … oh, it’s Gazza. I love Paul Gascoigne.
RC: Because, just everything, I mean I know … I’ve heard stories outside, you know, from ex footballers that, you know, just … a bit too much to handle sometimes, he was always a bit silly, you know, whether it was funny or not, but I think as a performer I just loved his hunger for the game, I loved how he played, I thought he was just a fantastic footballer, World Cup ’90, the way he put himself out there and just that skill and that, you know, I think he’s just such a hero, and I loved watching him and I was … I became a Spurs fan after that World Cup as well because of Lineker, because of Gascoigne, Gary Mabbert and then … plus my brother was already a Spurs fan so it just made sense. And yeah, I think Gazza.
TP: Brilliant, thank you.
RC: No, thank you.
TP: Thanks for listening, you can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and also don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com.
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