12 November 2019
View from the BBC Radio 4 building
The view from the BBC building across Salford Quays to the Lowry

The table was covered in grey felt, with a wooden edge. I spread my hands out across it, as I tried to stay calm. Then I looked up and the presenter said "I'm joined now by Rachel Morgan-Trimmer in the studio!"

Oh crap, that's my name. I needed to start talking to millions of people across the country!

But how did I end up on Radio 4 in the first place?

"Can I talk to you about career breaks?"

A producer called my office one day. Her name is Tara. She said she works for BBC Radio 4's "You and Yours" and they were doing a piece on career breaks. Did I know of anyone they could interview?

We get calls like this quite a lot. We contact our partner base and ask them if they know of anyone who fits the bill. Journalists and radio producers normally have a few criteria - sometimes they want volunteers, sometimes they are looking for people in a particular age group, and sometimes they specify women or men, or people of colour or whatever.

Our partners are great and they can normally turn around requests like this really quickly - which was great because Tara said she needed to find someone to interview that day! "You and Yours" goes out live, but they do an associated podcast with it, and that's what she wanted the case study for.

I told her I'd send her request out and she should get replies straight away. Tara then started asking me about career breaks generally. Now, I knew what this was about because I mucked it up once before (that was a Radio 4 programme as well). The producers ask you for your expert information as part of their research, but they're also seeing how you talk to see if you can speak nicely on the radio.

I did my best to answer her questions as fluently as I could. Fortunately, having run this website for 14 years, I store a lot of the information in my head so can trot it out as and when required. It didn't help that as it was half term, my kids were in the office so I had to break off occasionally to say:

"I'll be with you in a minute sweetie."

"Yes, that's a lovely train."

and

"Stop licking your brother."

Not the professional image I try to cultivate but Tara was very understanding. She said she'd sort out the case study, and then get back to me to see if it would be possible to get me on the programme (I did drop in that it was no trouble to get over to Media City, where they record, as I live in Manchester).

The podcast

A day or two later, Tara contacted me again. She told me they'd found a brilliant case study, Jo Clay from Empower - Be the Change. Jo took a career break in India and they'd recorded the podcast where she talked about her experience.

Also on the podcast was Beatrice Pickup, who is planning to take a career break. She is actually one of the producers at "You and Yours" as well, so they didn't have to look very far for that case study!

Tara told me they would use a clip of the podcast on the show, right before they brought me on, so it would be a good idea to listen to it. I did so, to help me prepare, but I found I really enjoyed it from a personal perspective as well. I like the vibe on a podcast - it's a lot more informal than the show, and I found both Beatrice and Jo to be really inspiring.

Rachel Morgan-Trimmer outside the BBC Radio building at Media City
Me outside the BBC Radio building at Media City in Salford.

Getting booked on the show

Tara also confirmed that I was booked on the show. She told me where it was - there are loads of buildings at Media City and I didn't want to rock up at the wrong one! And what to bring, a list of questions I might get asked and so on.

I was really nervous. Even though I had the list of questions, I knew from doing live radio before - and because Tara had told me - that the presenter treats it like a natural conversation, rather than an interview. So it means they might ask completely different questions! The ones I had been emailed were just a guide.

Tara also advised me not to bring notes. I never ever use notes - not even when doing a 40-minute talk, but I like to have them around to help me feel a bit more secure. But Tara said if you read from notes, it sounds like you're reading, instead of having a conversation. She also pointed out that the rustle of paper sounds terrible on air!

Going to the recording

On the Monday morning, I got dressed in my smartest clothes. I know it doesn't make sense - no-one could see me on the radio - but I wanted to feel professional and reassure the people at the BBC that they'd invited a very sensible and grown-up person to be on their show.

I headed off to the tram stop to get the tram to Media City. I went over the questions all the way there, and rehearsed in my head what I might say, and how I might say it.

When I arrived at the right building, I checked in at reception and was very excited to be given a visitor's badge. I had to wait for Tara to come and collect me, then have my bag checked and have the security man do the business with the wand.

"I'm sorry about all the security," said Tara. I thought it was just for safety (there's been a visible increase in that kind of thing in Manchester since the arena bombing) but she said it was because people have invaded studios before!

We chatted as we went up in the lift to the swanky Radio 4 offices and studios. It was all trendy and modern and exciting.

Rachel Morgan-Trimmer's BBC Radio 4 visitor's pass for "You and Yours"
My visitor's pass

Waiting... and waiting

Tara invited me to sit in a chair in the corridor while I waited for my piece, then thanked me and headed back to her office. I was quite early but happy to sit and surreptitiously take photos - and take in my surroundings too!

I could look out of the window over at Salford Quays. A couple of chairs down from me, a man was sitting talking on his phone. It sounded like he was discussing possible guests with a colleague. Staff occasionally emerged from the other end of the corridor, to get their plastic tupperware tub of lunch out of the fridge and so on.

Most excitingly though, I could see the presenter, Shari Vahl, live on air! My chair was right outside the large, reinforced window into the studio. There was a big "on air" light outside and red and amber lights by the door to tell you when you could or couldn't go in. There was also a red light right on the studio table.

In case you haven't listened to "You and Yours", it's a magazine format consumer affairs show. It means some bits (like mine) are live, and some are taped. That's why the on air light keeps going off and on.

It was really weird, being there. You'd think it was all people rushing around (I certainly would have been) but it was surprisingly quiet. I could only see Shari, alone in the studio, and it looked like a lady sitting in a room talking to herself! I mean, I knew she was talking to listeners all over the country, and the producers were listening to her too, but when you're not used to it, it looks very strange!

On air sign
The "On air" sign at the BBC studios. You can see the corridor as well. The studio is right behind this sign.

Into the studio

Beatrice, who featured in the podcast, told me that they had had to rearrange the running order of the show as a guest hadn't turned up. It meant that I could enter the studios during a taped bit, which made me feel better. I don't mind creeping around like a weirdo, but there's less worry about falling over your own feet if you go in when it's not live.

Eventually, I was shown into the studio. I went through a big soundproofed door which felt like an airlock. To my right was another door that went into the producers' room, and straight ahead, was the door to the studio.

I went in. Shari looked up and said hello, and I was immediately smitten with her. She had curly brown hair, ginormous red-rimmed glasses and a friendly, genuine smile. She said hello and invited me to sit down in front of a green microphone. There was a big window directly facing her, which I hadn't seen from the corridor. Behind it were a load of desks, computers, and jolly, smiling people! All that time she looked like she was all alone, she had a big team of people working with her.

Shari asked me to do a sound check while the taped bit was on, so the producer could get the volume level right.

Then she interviewed someone from another studio. It looked like such hard work! Shari was talking to the lady (someone from a charities' association) while looking at her screen, looking at her paper notes (she was experienced enough to be allowed some), communicating with the producers, and so on.

When I've listened to the radio and heard taped bits, I always assumed the presenter had time to chill, grab a cup of tea, maybe even go to the loo. But there is no time to do anything but focus on the show. There are constant time checks, and two clocks showing the seconds ticking round. Shari was always talking to the producers - I couldn't hear them and had my back to them but I assumed they were talking to her too.

I put my massive earphones on and waited.

The studio where they were broadcasting "You and Yours"
The studio sign

Time to go on air!

Then Shari introduced me. She talked for a while before asking me a question, and I did my best to respond without bumbling. I think I tripped over the word "travel" - you'd think I'd be used to saying it in my job! But apart from that, I did my best to answer as fluently and as intelligently as I could.

I had to focus so hard on what Shari was asking me, and on my answers, that I stopped being nervous as soon as my bit started. I got quite into it and even enjoyed it! And then - my 4 minutes were up.

As soon as another taped segment started, a producer came in to escort me out. I said goodbye and thank you to Shari and I think she probably said the same to me too, but I was all overwhelmed and don't remember.

The producer chatted as we walked to the lift - you're not allowed to walk anywhere by yourself at the BBC, which I actually quite like. I know it's for security - they don't want you bursting into the 5 Live studios to start an argument with Ian Wright - but it makes me feel like a VIP.

The producer was talking about how only one guest had shown up, out of two they had booked earlier, and the difficulties they'd had in rearranging that day's show. But he said that was the nature of live radio, and "If it didn't work, we wouldn't do it."

Back to the real world

I got to the desk and returned my lovely BBC lanyard - but I kept my pass as a souvenir. I headed over to Wagamama's to decompress over a well-earned hirata (like an Asian taco) . Well, I tried to but I kept getting texts from people who had listened to the show!

I know all this makes me sound like a tourist, or a giddy, starry-eyed idiot, but I was genuinely honoured to be asked to be on "You and Yours". Radio 4 is such an institution and it's so exciting to do live radio. I've done it before (I've done live TV as well, BBC2 if you're interested), but for me, the nerves never get any better.

It was a great trip out, and I'm really grateful to the BBC for looking after me so well. Thanks everyone!

 

You can listen to the podcast here, and you can listen to the programme here. My segment starts about 8 minutes in.