Interview with Katie Derham
PUBLISHED: 14:57 27 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:06 20 February 2013
Presenter and journalist Katie Derham left her London life behind when she moved to West Sussex with her family. In between broadcasting commitments in the city, she has thrown herself into country life with aplomb.
Since moving to West Sussex from London nearly four years ago, BBC presenter and journalist Katie Derham has scarcely looked back. It was partly on a whim that she and her restaurateur husband John decided to quit city life for a more rural environment and head for the Sussex countryside. As Katie recalls, We moved here in a somewhat spontaneous, some would say foolhardy, fashion!
We were house-hunting, to look for a bit more space initially in London, where it was a thankless task trying to find anywhere half-reasonable with a garden. Then, one day, John brought home the newspaper and said: Look at this picture... And there was this beautiful higgledy-piggledy country house, very picturesque and romantic...
We went to see it on the most golden Autumn day, and just fell in love with it there and then, and put in an offer. There was, at first, a certain amount of sceptical tut-tutting from folk more experienced in these matters, but thus far Katie feels that she has proved the doubters wrong.
Embracing a project
The house, near Horsted Keynes, is a mixture of styles: Tudor, late Jacobean, late Victorian different ages, heights of ceilings and so on. It has needed, she admits, a lot of work. It has been a steep learning curve and will keep us both busy for many years to come, Im sure. But its been a great pleasure. Ask me any question about insulation! she jokes.
Theres an engaging openness, a natural vitality about Katie Derham and a keen sense of fun. She laughs a great deal, and her enthusiasm is infectious. We meet in a caf in Lewes, a town she visits often.
We always have loved this part of the world, she tells me. Before the move, she had been down to Glyndebourne a few times and they knew Brighton quite well, but not the bits in between. John Vincent, her husband and co-founder of Leon restaurants, also runs a website for Brighton-based chocoholics paradise, Choccywoccydoodah.
Never one to do things by halves, Katie has immersed herself in country pursuits: growing vegetables, even making jam I get teased rotten by my old friends! But I sort of figure if youre here, you might as well (do the lot). I havent quite learned how to pluck a pheasant yet!
They also keep chickens and have acquired the obligatory Golden Retriever, Sunny, who is very much part of the family. Katies elder daughter, Natasha, was eight when they moved, and had been slightly ambivalent about the prospect, not liking to leave her pals and so part of the deal was that they would get the dog.
Town and country
Now, both Natasha and Eleanor (six) have settled into a good local school and are pursuing their mums passion for music. They play the piano and violin. Natasha, now 11, was about to take a piano exam, so were in the world of scales and arpeggios! Singing is her big love. Shes pretty relaxed about it all, but obviously my husband and I think shes marvellous! laughs Katie.
We move on to multi-tasking, and I wonder about the logistics of combining a busy career in London with the demands of child care and maintaining a rural idyll. Were very lucky, explains Katie, in that Johns parents moved down to Sussex at the same time as we did. They are delightful and very hands-on. My mother-in-law helps a lot, and if were not there shell always be around to do the pick-up from school. Its a huge safety-net.
Fortunately, Katies work routine is reasonably flexible. One of her main broadcasting commitments is presenting Afternoon on 3 for BBC Radio 3, which means a regular rail commute between Haywards Heath and Londons Broadcasting House. Im an aficionado of Southern Trains and collect timetables! But Im not on the train every day. I might have a couple of weeks when Im doing other things...so there is a balance.
Mastering new skills
Career-wise, she seems to have come full circle. Her track record has been unusually varied. She started out with BBC Radio as a researcher and business journalist, then joined ITN as media and arts editor for ITV News, becoming at 27 the youngest-ever newsreader on national TV. Now aged 41, she is happy to be back with the Beeb, but in a different kind of role.
I very much wanted to follow up different interests, she says. Music has always played a pivotal part in her life, although not professionally, and she regards her Radio 3 afternoon slot as a bit of a dream job.
The turning point for this change in direction came in 2008, when she took part in the BBC2 programme, Maestro, learning to conduct an orchestra. It was terrifying challenging and utterly absorbing, Katie recalls. But it was such a pleasure to be around musicians.
Fortuitously, the team of people who worked on Maestro also produced the Proms. And Katies next giant leap was hosting the Proms for BBC2 and Radio 3 an experience she describes as a constant thrill Even when I was living in London, to my shame I would rarely get along (to a Prom concert) but now Im evangelical about it! The breadth of choice, the phenomenal quality, its breathtaking. You really can have some fun with it. Its not like eating your greens! And the atmosphere at the Royal Albert Hall when it is packed, is extremely special. Its very uplifting.
And she utterly refutes the notion of a dumbed-down Proms, believing in the importance of inclusiveness, of moving between musical categories, with film music having as much right to a hearing as the Berlin Phil doing Mahler. Her two girls have a lovely head of music at their school, and jazz as well as classical is on the curriculum.
Katie herself has started playing the violin again and has joined her local orchestra, the Mid-Sinfonia. Due to an ever-encroaching workload, she has missed some recent rehearsals, but is determined to get back in there for future concerts.
For Katie and the family, moving to Sussex has been a surprisingly smooth transition, although she admits that there have been moments when the lights go off and the power is out and its rather chilly when they might have had second thoughts. Now, they enjoy open fires in winter and, albeit reluctantly due to Katies strong green credentials, own a four-wheel drive, but not a massive one!
So much to discover
All in all, they have no regrets. So is this, I wonder, as good as it gets? I dont want to tempt fate, but John and I are both busy with lots of different projects. Touch wood, the girls are well and were all happy and were loving being down here. Katie recently became a patron of the St Peter and St James Hospice in Chailey, a charity with which she plans to get more involved. And, when time allows, she is keen to explore the Sussex countryside.
I havent walked on the Downs yet, which is a crime. We drive over them all the time, but cant quite see them from where we live. So I would like to get to know them better, and there are little villages I would like to explore. And when friends come to stay, they all make for the Bluebell Railway, which is close by. Theres a huge amount to discover, she says.
Katie presents Afternoon on 3, at 2 pm on BBC Radio 3. This spring she will present a new series called Global Reach on BBC Radio 4, focusing on the human stories behind the news.