The Sunday Telegraph this week fawned over newsreader Katie Derham, but what has Derham got that a certain wrinkly-nosed magazine columnist hasn’t?
“The 34-year-old ITN News anchor, Classic FM presenter and mother of two is sitting, her legs tucked underneath her, in a shaft of winter sunlight that streams through the large window of her home in north London. She is wearing jeans and a slinky black shirt. The nails on her bare feet are painted dark purple, her nose wrinkles prettily when she smiles and, generally, she gives the impression of having just stepped out of an advertisement for Silvikrin shampoo.”
The purpose of Farndales’s visit to north London, temporarily forgotten when the poesy struck him, was to confront Derham with the slanderous comments of jealous rivals, such as Kate Adie, John Humphrys, Michael Buerk, Jon Snow and Andrew Marr, who allege that newsreaders are overpaid, lack journalistic experience and do nothing more than read an autocue.
She dismisses the calumny with effortless disdain. “It’s nonsense, isn’t it? It’s an easy line, but it is self-evidently rubbish. We do have to think on our feet and we do have to have journalistic training, and professionalism, and common sense – because otherwise the product would be crap and we would be taken off-air.”
There is, she adds, a lot going on behind the scenes. “It requires camera-cool; an ability to stay calm under pressure, even when people are shouting into your earpiece. It’s about having friendly gravitas.” To give us a sense of her gravitas, Farndale adds that, as she answers his questions, “her blue eyes are steady, her voice even”.
With a professional lick of his pencil he presses her about the autocue. Does she write any of what she reads? “It’s a joint effort, really. There are sub-editors who bash out the intros and scripts and they are then tinkered with at great length by us, the presenters and the programme editors.”
This is all very well, I hear you mutter, but what on earth makes you think that you and she have anything whatever in common? Allow me to explain.
I ask you, does not the shaft of light that rests on my bald spot emanate from the same winter sun whose beams play and twinkle in her hair? Does not the same breeze that fans her north London home tease my eyebrows and tousle my nostrils’ whiskers?
I, too, look indecently serene, if by serene you mean half-awake and if by indecent you mean vaguely unbecoming.
I, too, have my legs underneath the rest of me and though my toenails are not dark purple my nose is, and – really eerie, this – it is also wrinkled when I smile, and indeed when I do not. I, too, look as though I have stepped out of an advertisement, though in my case it is for Help the Aged.
I, too, have been criticised by rivals, jealous of an income that allows me to change my socks whenever I wish – often as frequently as weekly – and ignorant of my craft.
Pooh, they cry, anyone can tap a keyboard. Why even a monkey can do it.
Bilge of course. You have to know where to put the verbs. Without a verb a sentence would be crap.
There’s an awful lot that goes on behind the scenes as I toil in my Hertfordshire home, winter sunlight carelessly strewn all over the place. The cursing, the carpet-chewing, the silent screaming, the broken pencils, the opening of the window and the bawling of “sod off” at the man wanting to re-tarmac the drive.
Yes, you have to be cool in my job. Serene, that’s the word. Indecently serene, now I come to think of it. To say that my eyes are blue would be paltering with the truth. Nor is my voice even, especially in moments of stress. Shrill, yes, but not even. I do, however, put in my own full-stops. There was a time before I became self-employed and worked from home, when sub-editors put in the full-stops. They also took out all the jokes, but that is another story.
Let me conclude by reminding you that I am noted for my friendly gravitas, as many an importunate tarmacadam practitioner will attest. And did you know that, when I smile, my ears flap?