The host of this year’s Birmingham Post Business awards, Natasha Kaplinsky, tells Enda Mullen how she worked her way up to become one of the most recognisable faces on TV.
From working as Sacha Baron Cohen’s stooge, to presenting BBC Breakfast and winning the first Strictly Come Dancing, Natasha Kaplinsky has enjoyed a diverse career.
The host of this year’s Birmingham Post Business Awards on October 17, she admits she always wanted to work in television, though says it initially didn’t seem like a sensible career choice.
“When I left Oxford all my friends had incredible jobs earning huge amounts of money while I got myself onto a secretarial course and learned how to touch type,” said Natasha, who is currently part of the ITV news team.
“I got experience as a secretary and put myself around the industry. I had to swallow my pride, did lots of work experience, making tea and photocopying. Breaking into the business can be a bit soul-destroying but it made me appreciate how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing.”
In her bid to succeed she confesses at one point she wrote a letter to someone in the industry each day asking for advice and still keeps the replies she received in a box under her bed.
“They are a good reminder of how difficult it is to get into the industry and how lucky I am to be in it,” she said. “If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth having.”
Before she was a student she applied for a job as an MP’s assistant and ended up working for Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock at the point when he was poised to mount a serious challenge to Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.
“It was all very exciting for someone who had just finished their A-levels, as well as a good grounding in how politics works and how to be a journalist,” she said.
“It was a great experience at such an early point in my career, such an eye-opener for me and a sense of how big the world was, even though I was a very junior person in a small team.
“I got a sense of the complexities of Parliament and government and how that part of our society works.”
Looking back she said there was a presumption Kinnock would coast to victory in the 1992 general election, so defeat came as a big shock.
“I remember it was assumed Neil would be a surefire winner. Then there was the Sheffield rally a few days before and suddenly everything went wrong. It was a massive lesson in how the tide can turn and how quickly someone can fall out of favour.
“All of the people supporting him lost their positions, which showed how overnight someone’s career can essentially end. They have all gone on to do amazing things, but at the time everyone was so thoroughly depressed. I had to go and clean out the office for the next leader.
“That was a real lesson at a young age and quite formative. I feel I was fortunate to be involved with that bit of history, even though it was devastating for the people I worked with. I think you can easily get addicted to politics but I got rid of that drug before it swept me in.”
Pressed whether she ever considered staying in the world of politics, Natasha says it wasn’t an option, bearing in mind her father was a professor of economics and her mother was a psychotherapist.
The 40-year-old attributes much of her success to a strongly instilled work ethic.
“I have always worked extremely hard and it has not been easy,” she said.
“After touch-typing as a secretary at the BBC someone put me in touch with someone casting a programme with Sacha Baron Cohen. I was his stooge. After that I moved into newsrooms and haven’t left.”
Her first ‘proper’ presenting job involved commuting to Maidstone from London, leaving home at 3am, followed by a similar stint in Southampton.
The early morning theme continued when she worked on Sky Sunrise, followed by BBC Breakfast.
“Everyone says you get used to it but you definitely don’t,” she said of the early mornings but added that such a punishing schedule paled into insignificance when compared to being a parent.
“I found that easier to cope with than having two small children,” she said. “You go to bed at 8pm and know you’re getting up at 3.20am. But being a parent has been utterly dreadful at times. There have been points I thought just can’t cope with another night being woken up 18 times.
“But they’re the most treasured thing in my life, like a little whirlwind and the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
On the changing media landscape she hopes regional newspapers will continue to thrive, believing they have a crucial role to play. She said: “They are the scaffolding of any local community and vital components of a community that thrives.
"I think local news is a very important part of our existence in terms of what is happening to our neighbours and our communities. People’s appetite for news is never going to change.”
Natasha also expressed hope that the post-Leveson media would be different, particularly as she was a victim of press intrusion.
“It’s very important that the whole industry is properly regulated,” she said. “I’m in the fortunate position where I haven’t worked with anyone who hasn’t behaved properly but I have been a victim of it. There was a lot of intrusion into my own life and I’m sceptical about where the information came from.”
Despite the many famous people she has interviewed, she admits it is often the less well known who impress her most.
“There are so many incredible people I have had the good fortune to interview, including prime ministers and film stars, but the people who really mean a lot to me are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things, with their lives.
“Teachers and youth workers who have dedicated their lives to improving their communities, or people like Barbara and Ray Wragg, who won the lottery and spent all their time giving it away, rather than people who have a huge entourage with flunkeys and massive egos.”
And what of those days working with Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G and Borat) and the heady days of Strictly?
“Working with Sacha was very dangerous, you never quite knew what was going to happen next but even in those days you knew he was the most incredible talent. It was very obvious to everyone he was going to be brilliant – even if I was very much his stooge.
“As for Strictly, I’d like to say it was fun but it wasn’t. I was so stressed and it was so desperately hard. I was incredibly against stepping into that world and have never been more nervous in my life.
“But I was the first ever winner and the programme has swept the world – so it is a great calling card.”
• Nominations are now being sought for the 2013 Birmingham Post Business Awards, which will take place at Edgbaston Stadium on October 17.
The Post will be recognising the fantastic achievements of the companies that have not only weathered the recent economic storm but have delivered success for themselves, their staff and their customers.
It is an opportunity for companies to showcase the efforts of their teams – from managing directors to menial staff – who have come together to strengthen and grow despite an imperfect economic situation.”
Categories include Communications, Property, Legal and Business Advisory, Finance, Environment, Manufacturing, People Development, Small Business and Business Start-Up, Emerging Professional, Medium to Large Business and Company of the Year.
Among last year’s winners were IM Property, Wesleyan Assurance Society and Chiltern Railways, who all enjoyed strong years despite tough conditions.
Being shortlisted is a great way to raise your company’s profile as its achievements will be highlighted in front of hundreds of the city’s movers and shakers on the night of the awards.
The success will also feature in a special post-awards supplement in the Birmingham Post.
Full details and eligibility criteria are available at www.bpbusinessawards.co.uk
• To discuss sponsorship options or for more information contact Andy George on 0121 234 5476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.