Steph McGovern on her new lunchtime show, Steph’s Packed Lunch
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 November 2020
Channel 4 / Tom Barnes
Steph McGovern returns to the studio after a scary lockdown lesson in live TV
Lockdown posed all sorts of challenges, not least the need to transform our homes into effective work spaces, but Steph McGovern went one step further by turning her abode into a makeshift studio when she launched her new series The Steph Show at the end of March.
She’s no stranger to live TV, having worked as a presenter on BBC Breakfast for eight years, but admits hosting a show from her living room in Harrogate was ‘the most stressful broadcasting I’ve ever done in my life’.
‘You’re relying solely on technology and there were so many times I didn’t even know if I was on telly anymore, and it was just me chatting in my room. Technically, I feel I’ve been through the worst that could ever happen,’ says Steph, 38.
The series aired for a month before the decision was made to pull it until they could film from a studio in Leeds. Now she’s back with a reformatted lunchtime show, renamed Steph’s Packed Lunch, that airs live from a studio in Leeds Docks each weekday.
A couple of weeks ago she hit the headlines when she broke down in tears on her live show as she talked to football pundit Chris Kamara about his experience of racism growing up in Middlesbrough - Steph’s home town.
She told viewer’s she’d ‘had a moment’ when she returned to the screen after an ad break. This is what ‘live’ is all about - interaction with her guests.
‘When we did the lockdown show, it was obviously very different to what I wanted to do on telly, but it was a great opportunity to try different content. Since we’ve had the break and sat down and reassessed things, this show feels really different, which is why we changed the title,’ explains Steph who’s enjoying the fact she can now interact with guests and crew in person.
‘It’s really lovely to be around people, just to have a gossip because on Zooms you don’t have the time to just have a bit of a blather, but the social distancing is hard. The floor manager’s walking around with a two-metre stick. But we’re all getting used to this new normal aren’t we, and I’m quite enjoying not having to shake hands or hug people anymore to be honest because I’m not much of a hugger.’
The show’s format includes celebrity interviews, chef demonstrations, and a look at consumer and health concerns, ‘but fundamentally what we’re doing is driven by who’s in our audience, our ‘lunch mates’, and their issues, so they are very much part of the show,’ notes Steph.
‘It’s a canter through the topical stuff for the day, so you can sit and have your lunch with us and we have a chat about what’s going on, hopefully make you laugh, tell you heart-warming stories and introduce you to heart-warming people.’
The relaunch hasn’t been without hiccup, with reports of low viewing figures, something that’s been partly attributed to the fact it’s up against the Loose Women juggernaut. However, Steph credits the team at Channel 4 for their unfailing support in these early days.
‘They’ve been really good in that they’re letting me try stuff out, things I’ve always wanted to do on telly, like bringing in real people to do things. I feel massively supported, like they’ve got my back, but we’ll see how the show goes. When your name’s on the tin, there is no one else to blame if it’s rubbish. If it’s rubbish, it’s my fault.
‘Of course, I feel nervous, but I’m an adrenaline junkie and someone who loves live telly and pushing myself. The first time I hosted Have I Got News For You [in 2018], I was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life, but equally I love that feeling of just taking that risk.’
Born in Middlesbrough, Steph’s initial interest was in engineering, winning an engineering scholarship at school and Young Engineer for Britain at 19 after helping Black & Decker design a more powerful leaf blower and saving the company £1million.
She studied Science Communication and Policy at University College of London before doing work experience at the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and becoming a researcher in current affairs for the corporation. She progressed into producing business segments on the likes of Radio 4’s Today programme, as well as BBC’s main news bulletins before stepping in front of the camera as a business presenter on BBC Breakfast, which she left in 2019, shortly before welcoming her first baby in November with her girlfriend whose identity she keeps a secret.
‘If we’d done what we’d originally planned, which is launch the show from a studio in April, I wouldn’t have seen my baby as much as I have done because I would’ve been going out to work every day, so that has been a real treat,’ says Steph who’s also fronted Shop Well for Less with Alex Jones and Easy Ways to Live Well with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
‘I’m not going to deny it was stressful at times, both myself and my partner working from home and looking after a baby with no childcare, but lots of people have been in that position.’
Now she’s in the studio every day, she believes finding a balance between her personal and professional life is ‘about being organised’.
‘I don’t want it to feel like you have two separate lives, it can be all together,’ adds Steph, who for the first time in years is no longer required to be impartial on screen, something she’s still getting used to.
‘It’s interesting because I’m allowed to have more of a viewpoint but I don’t think I have any particularly outrageous views, so I won’t be saying anything too controversial,’ remarks the presenter who’s made headlines for speaking out about the discrimination faced by herself, and others.
Discussing how her accent and background has impacted her career compared to ‘posher’ colleagues at the BBC, she’s stated she had to fight harder for pay raises. One viewer even offered £20 to help ‘correct’ her ‘terrible affliction’, meaning her northern inflection.
‘People are always quick to tell you what they think of how you look more often than they’re talking about what you say, but I’m used to people talking about how we look and how we sound and I’m not bothered any more about that,’ says Steph, who’s keen to include a diverse crowd onto her show.
‘As a northern lass, it’s great to have as many feisty, clever northern women on as we can but equally, I want women and men from all over the country to come on. I don’t want one particular flavour, I want it to be as diverse as possible because the thing that’s great about our country is the fact it’s so colourful and there are so many different accents and characters from different backgrounds, so that’s what I want to reflect,’ she explains.
‘It’s not a northern programme, but it does have a northern feel about it, which for me is inclusive, warm and cheeky. That’s why I’m glad it’s coming from up here. I spent my career doing a lot of stuff in London and then Manchester, so it’s lovely to bring something from this side of the country.’