So… it’s time to wrap up this 3-part introduction and bring it right up to the present. Where am I now? If you’ve stuck with me so far, thank you. It’s been remarkably helpful to write this as something to kickstart my blog, as it’s made me realise just how far I’ve come in a relatively short space of time, especially against the backdrop of a period that feels uncertain and full of isolation.
If you haven’t read parts 1 & 2, be sure to check them out:
Last time, I told you about how much I started to come out of my shell in Wales, and how that had led me to apply for a place on the BBC Broadcast Operator Apprenticeship, in its inaugural year in 2016. Astonished, I was shortlisted and asked to create a mock TV news piece (within 2 days!) to test my resourcefulness and creativity. This would be followed up by a day of interviews at the BBC’s base at the Mailbox in Birmingham. This blew my mind. Not only was I going to have to venture to a major CITY, but I also had a shot at securing a dream opportunity.
LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION!
Having never actually filmed anything professionally, I panicked. Surely, I’ wouldn’t be able to do something good enough. But the situation called for determination, so I roped in a friend from high school to don a suit and become a newsreader for the day. To keep to the time limit set in the criteria, I also completely reorganised the information provided – something I was unsure about doing, but which, thankfully, paid off. We found a spot at the local craft centre that fortuitously had the word STUDIO written across a window (a nice touch, I thought), and filmed the report on my second-hand, slightly creaky DSLR. Having no professional editing software, I had to make do with the pre-installed Movie Maker on my tiny HP notebook. With the video finished, I closed my eyes, hoped for the best and hit SUBMIT.
A week later, it was time for the interview. My mum, my brother and I – because, of course, such a big event warranted a family day out – trekked to Birmingham, which was easier said than done. We first had to get to the nearest train station, nearly 25 miles away, and I still wasn’t driving! Hardly able to contain my nerves and excitement, I was like a coiled spring the whole day. Checked in and given a brief tour, the prospective candidates – there were quite a lot of us there that day – were taken through a series of interview stages. First, a face-to-face interview with a senior manager, where we discussed the video we’d made; then, maths, English and logic/puzzle-solving tests; and also a group scenario exercise that, I think, involved a sinking ship. By the time this came around, the day had already been very overwhelming. After meeting back up with my family, we squeezed in one (slightly premature) celebratory cocktail before heading home. We couldn’t stay for more, as I had my driving test – the next morning!
Thankfully, I managed to calm myself down just enough to pass my test, which only made the week more amazing. Having got my long-craved licence, I also allowed my auntie to talk me into buying a brand new car that weekend. Looking back, it has to have been one of the busiest but best weeks of my life. And things were only to get better. After nearly two agonising weeks, the word came that I had been accepted onto the apprenticeship scheme and given Oxford as my placement location. I was ecstatic. I had three months to go until the course started in September, which flew by quicker than I could have imagined. It’s fair to say that the celebrations continued almost throughout.
Flying the nest
I’d continue to call Ruthin “Home”, despite splitting my time between there, placements in Oxford, college in Newcastle and also stints at other BBC hubs; it felt like a chapter of my life was ending. I was over the moon, but it also felt bittersweet. I’d done so much in the last three years and found such a welcoming community that to be starting a new adventure somewhere else felt like I’d be leaving a lot behind.
September came and, after a few unforgettable days at New Broadcasting House in London, I once again headed to Birmingham, where our induction to the BBC continued to impress upon me what a brilliant opportunity it was. There were 17 of us in the cohort for the BOA scheme and apparently, for each one of us, there were 195 people that didn’t get a place – a fact that still humbles me.
We spent a while in Birmingham, learning about the BBC and its values, and the foundations of what we would cover on the course, before moving on to MediaCity in Salford, back to Birmingham again, to BBC Wood Norton – a fascinating facility integral to the organisation – and then to Newcastle to begin college. And this was all before Christmas! I could never have imagined only a few weeks before how my life would change. Over the next two years, I would spend hundreds of hours travelling, by car and train, up and down and across the country, spending my weekdays in big cities, and then heading back home to rural Wales every weekend. My feet barely seemed to touch the ground.
All in it together
The other apprentices did just as much travelling, and we formed an extremely tight-knit group, all having been thrust into this new endeavour together. There was such a diverse group of us in terms of age, interests and backgrounds, and for the most part that made it all the more fun. For the younger ones among us, it was the most time we’d spent away from home up to now, and the fact that there were others in a similar position was a saving grace. Not many of us had traditional media experience – one of the aims of the course was to make the industry more accessible to people who’d not gone through the usual routes, and none of us had been to University. It was refreshing to find peers who’d also felt that there were other ways to achieve and build a career. While some parts of the college course weren’t all that interesting – and, due to the nature of apprenticeships still building their reputation as a viable route, a little haphazardly put into the syllabus – on the whole, we learned a great deal through the combination of in-house training and learning in an educational institution.
By the new year, it was time for my first placement in Oxford: another milestone. This was perhaps one of the more nerve-wracking points of the course. There were no other apprentices spending time at Oxford, and I would be sharing a house, rather than a hotel, away from home for the first time. It would also be the most “work-like” scenario so far at the BBC.
Unbelievably and by some amazing coincidence, on going down to scout out rooms to rent in Oxford, my phone alerted me that a Facebook friend was “nearby”. Ignoring what I thought was an error, it wasn’t until later, back in Wales, that I received a message from a schoolmate who’d been in my form to say that one of the rentals was the same house he lived at, having moved down to Oxford for his own college course. Extremely grateful for a friendly face, I chose that house, and I couldn’t have been happier. I became well acquainted with my host, Ruth, and her four dogs, and was genuinely sad to move on when the time came.
Behind the scenes
My time at BBC South Today in Oxford was so helpful in starting my career in TV. I was lucky to have colleagues around me who were keen to share their knowledge and experiences, about both the role and the wider industry. I worked in the TV gallery, out on the road with journalists, and on location when broadcasting programmes from outside the studio. The benefit of working alongside real industry people is one of the reasons I would never change having done an apprenticeship and something that, when speaking to other people my age who went on to higher education or other routes, they often feel they would have liked, too.
I should probably segue briefly to explain what it is I actually do at the BBC, and what a “Broadcast Operator” was meant to learn. Behind what everyone sees when they tune into the news, there’s an army of technical staff and engineers operating all the gadgetry to make it happen. Cameras, sound and vision mixing equipment, circuitry to feed everything to the right places… This is where I fit in. Although there’s a general move to automated technology, people are still needed to do some things that computers can’t (yet). So at the office, you’ll often find me running cables, plugging different equipment into innumerable sockets and boxes and at the sound desk as our programme goes out on the air. I also design and animate broadcastable graphics and edit videos with journalists. However, these last two are things I’ve picked up on the job, rather than what was taught on the course.
After a successful first stint at Oxford, it was back to crisscrossing the country – and this theme continued for the rest of the two years, with me also spending time on placements in Southampton and Birmingham. This fast-paced life taught me to be, more than ever, a sponge for information, and to embrace new situations head-on and with enthusiasm. I met so many new people along the way and am still in touch with a lot of them. Socially, it was one of the most exciting but challenging times in my life.
Finding my crowd
Besides the “work” side of things, I was also almost permanently away from home and had to try and make these new places feel as normal as I could. With Newcastle in particular, where our college days were sometimes quite short, I had a lot of time to kill, and I didn’t just want to spend it in a hotel room. Luckily, we had been placed extremely close to the city centre, and also a vibrant, predominantly LGBT, nightlife scene just yards away. Although I spent a lot of time with my cohort, I also decided I needed to be brave and broaden my social circle, and so I got to know some locals and spent (probably too much) time in what was an unexpectedly warm and welcoming environment.
Now, I’m not going to lie: the prospect of heading “up north” again hadn’t filled me with excitement, and there was a fair amount of apprehension on my part in regard to Newcastle. But this is one occasion where my worries were completely unwarranted, and the vibe I encountered couldn’t have been further from what I had imagined. The city blew me away with how vibrant it was, and the people I came to know were friendly and happy to accept me as an honorary Geordie while I was there. I’d never been to a bar on my own, let alone a gay bar, but I soon found myself taken by the heart and integrity of the community. There are so many stories and memories (some a little blurry) that stem from this part of my life, but they’ll have to wait for later posts. But my takeaway in this instance was definitely not to pre-judge people, or a place, and to embrace new experiences with a positive attitude. Had I not pushed myself completely out of my comfort zone and forced myself to be so uncharacteristically outgoing, I would’ve missed out on making friends that I can still call on today if I’m feeling low or need an ear.
I could go on and on about the ups and downs of the course. There were bouts of loneliness and anxiety and being overwhelmed scattered amongst the good times, but I would change very little about the journey. Approaching the end of the program, I started to consider my future beyond the apprenticeship. I had become so passionate about my work and the organisation that I wanted to stay. I applied for any relevant job that came up until, eventually, I secured an offer to cover paternity leave for three months, in Cambridge. I completed my final placement there, allowing me to get to know the team, and then, after passing all the qualifications and exams, it was time for the “real” work to begin.
Oh, you went to Cambridge?
And there you have it. That was May 2018. Three months turned into nine, which in turn became a permanent position, and I’ve stayed at BBC Cambridge. My family also moved down to be closer, which made the city feel more like home. For short periods, I took up part-time work at a club and then a coffee shop, but once I got on my feet financially, I decided I needed time to myself outside of work to concentrate on other goals, too. My learning didn’t end with the apprenticeship, and I’ve continued to grow my skillset and learn more about everything that goes into making TV since being here, spurred on by colleagues who’re more than happy to share their expertise.
Partly due to slightly awkward shift times, and also to the nature of Cambridge as a place, I’ve somewhat struggled beyond the office to feel as comfortable here as I did in Ruthin. Living in one of the most famous University cities in the world as a young person not attending a University brings with it a unique challenge to find peers who share similar circumstances. My social life (pre-COVID, obviously) has mostly included colleagues, with a few exceptions. This hasn’t been a bad thing – some feel almost like family, and we, of course, share so much time together at work that we all have a lot in common. But there are still moments when it would be nice to feel slightly more like a part of local life.
So now I’ve made it here, what next? Well, isn’t that a question? We are currently living through such an unprecedented time that I’m not sure what next week has in store, let alone the longer-term future. I’m not making any major plans right now, and instead, I’m mostly concentrating on keeping my head above water day-to-day. But there are, of course, goals that I was building towards before the pandemic.
What the future holds…
Having worked in Oxford and Cambridge, I’ve been edging ever closer to the capital. Although I’m happy where I am job-wise, it’s a dream to live and work in London for at least part of my life, and I’d like to do this while I’m still fairly young. I don’t know what it is exactly that draws me to the Big Smoke – mum is definitely mystified as to why anyone would want to go somewhere so “impersonal” – but I just get an overwhelming sense of excitement and optimism whenever I visit. People I’ve met through work, or by going to events like Pride in London, seem to love it, too. And I’ve never found it to be particularly “impersonal”. Sure, it’s a major world city, but there are still people at the heart of it.
Besides location, I’m also open to pursuing my interests in other areas of the media. I’ve always dreamed of writing for a living, and over the years, screenwriting has become a major aspiration. I’ve worked hard in my spare time to learn more about the craft and the industry, and with a couple of Evernote notebooks bursting with ideas and partially written scripts, I’m striving to push on in that direction.
Past, present, future… we’ve rattled through it all! In truth, I haven’t quite settled on a clear road to a specific destination, but as I hope you can see, opportunities often present themselves at unexpected times and in ways you may not have considered. I could never have imagined, embedded in unhappiness at high school, that a few short years later I would have got to where I am. I’ve often pondered whether, if given such a power, I would go back and change anything. And while it may elicit an eye-roll: I wouldn’t. I’m a firm believer in a kind of butterfly effect: that things would never turn out quite the same if what had preceded was any different. Lessons have been learned, my skin has thickened and I’ve organically become who I’m meant to be by dealing with life as it’s happened. And I’ll continue to do just that.