With a different approach to news reporting and presenting, Tina Daheley is the go-to journalist of modern media. Ana Santi meets a very modern reporter.
Tina Daheley never imagined she’d be doing what she does now. Why should she? In the last 10 years – Daheley joined the BBC in 2007 – how many working-class, ethnic minority women in their 30s have presented Panorama? BBC News at Ten? Radio 1? Televised election debates? Royal weddings? Football? Football! “I never saw myself represented,” says the 37 year-old, best known for hosting the news and sport on BBC’s Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw. “One of the first things that happened to me during a regional BBC work placement was that I couldn’t shadow a Leeds (football) game. It was almost as if they thought I was too delicate,” she laughs. “I remember thinking: why can’t I do that? Maybe there’s a part of me that wants to do the things I’m told I can’t do – sport, politics. Even now to a certain extent – it’s a legacy of the programming we had – you see men hosting the big politics programmes. It’s (Robert) Peston, Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil, Evan Davis, or (Jeremy) Paxman for such a long time.”
To look at her CV, there’s absolutely nothing Daheley can’t do. In addition to Radio 1 Breakfast Show, which she left this summer, Daheley regularly presents Breakfast News on BBC One, BBC News at Six and News at Ten, Woman’s Hour on Radio 4, and women’s football for BBC Sport. She was one of the lead presenters for BBC News during the 2017 and 2015 General Election campaigns and the EU Referendum, and the Royal Wedding coverage. In fact, Daheley was personally chosen by The Royal Foundation to host the forum with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Duke and Duchess of Sussex to talk about the foundation’s charitable projects. “I was commissioned by a crown emoji!” she says. Forget referendums, then, the question is: who is her favourite royal? “Oh it’s so hard to pick a favourite!” Eventually, she settles on William, but not as a favourite, rather as the one to leave the biggest impression on her. Daheley met him beforehand, “at theirs” – she says, casually, before bursting out laughing at the relative magnitude of her words – and his opening line to her was: “Oh my God, Tina I’m such a big fan of yours,” Daheley mimics, in a deep, posh voice. “’The future king of England’s got my back! And Meghan was how you’d expect. Charming and so impressive. Really loved up.” Daheley’s achievements and experience aside, part of the reason for her royal commission could be her reporting style. Having never been “represented”, as she says, and instead having watched the established male set lead political reporting, her style is markedly different. Daheley puts her audience, not her ego, first. “I never set out to be Paxman, nor do I want to be,” she recently told The Telegraph. This means that Daheley is naturally measured, not deliberately confrontational.
After Daheley did her first Panorama, on the Manchester Arena terror attack, the producer told her she was ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove’. “And I thought: that is my approach. What annoys me is that people think you can’t be probing, analytical or challenging, but you absolutely can. I think you can get further with people if you use a different approach because it’s disarming,” she explains. “The other thing is the audience. I know my audience. They’re young people. One in four young people in the UK hate Prime Minister’s Questions, the shout-y, aggressiveness of it. If you’re talking about a public service, my job is to break down the issues so they can make an informed decision. Not for there to be a slanging match. Who learns anything from that?” Daheley’s other differentiating trait is her approach to social media. Twitter has been the platform of choice for journalists – it’s succinct, text-led, a news-alert service – but Daheley has made just as much of Instagram, unlike her journalist peers. In fact, if you use Instagram’s “who else should you follow if you follow Tina Daheley” algorithm, you get DJs, not broadcasters. “I don’t think, ooh, this is where I can carve out a niche because Trevor McDonald isn’t on Instagram!” Daheley jokes. “But maybe subconsciously I think I have more freedom on Instagram. It’s just another way to engage. I don’t like conforming to stereotype. Why shouldn’t a newsreader talk about a night out? Yes, I do go out-out!” Daheley has no qualms about the blurring of her professional and personal lives. It's partly down to the world she inhabits. "Grimmy will Insta-story me every morning! It's my worst time of day, but he says 'oh, I'll put a filter on it'," she says. Daheley also believes that it is "old-fashioned" to try to keep the two separate. "All people talk about now is authenticity. It's old-school to think you can have a barrier - the TV screen - between you and your audience," she says. "The expectation now is that people want to know who you are, what you stand for."
Daheley uses her presence and reach – 252k on Twitter and 52k followers on Instagram – to call out gender and class inequality or, more recently, colourism. "I have a voice now so I have a responsibility to use it," she explains. "People will private-message me to thank me. Or parents will tell me that I'm an inspiration for their 15 year-old daughter. It's massively rewarding." In fact, when asked to pick her highlights of the last 10 years – the top three – Daheley struggles. She mentions the “set pieces” of covering the Royal Wedding and election debates, yet there’s a sense that she’s missed something. Sure, when you’ve done so much, whittling achievements down to three is tricky. But then she nails it: “You know, for me, it’s just getting that audience feedback.”