A Conversation with Eleanor Oldroyd

  • Date13/6/2023
  • LocationLondon

Breaking barriers in broadcasting to become an icon of the airwaves, Eleanor Oldroyd joined us to discuss 35 years spent covering momentous royal occasions and legendary sporting spectacles for the BBC.

Having presented 13 Olympic Games, several royal weddings, and the first coronation in 70 years, Eleanor Oldroyd’s extensive radio portfolio makes her more than qualified to talk about the excitement and challenges that go hand in hand with broadcasting big events.

She joined her former colleague Mike Young – himself a veteran BBC presenter and producer, and current head of Broadcast Revolution’s Newsroom – to discuss stand-out moments in her career.

Below the video you’ll find a few key points from the pair’s conversation.

Eleanor broke several glass ceilings along the way

The discussion began with Eleanor highlighting a change in attitudes between modern broadcasting and that of yesteryear. While her voice played a key part in BBC radio’s coverage of King Charles III’s coronation, female commentators were few and far between during that of Elizabeth II 70 years ago.

Indeed, Eleanor noted that even when she was finding her feet, just 30 years ago, male voices were preferred for events that required gravitas and authority. That environment often caused women to feel like they needed to prove themselves more.

The same, Eleanor pointed out, was true in the world of sport, in which she became a pioneer – one of the first female commentators to cover football. Today, she was pleased to note that there are plenty of opportunities for women in broadcasting, assisted by gender-equality initiatives such as the BBC’s, which requires a balance of male and female voices across its programming.


The difference between planned coverage and breaking news

Having covered both throughout her career, Eleanor explained the fundamental difference between broadcasting during a sporting event and when breaking news is developing: preparation.

She used King Charles’s coronation as an example of lengthy preparation. Knowing that she was going to cover the event with plenty of advance warning allowed her to read several books relating to coronation traditions and ceremonial objects. She was even able to take a tour of Westminster Abbey with her neighbour, a Blue Badge Guide, who pointed out architectural and historical details associated with the building that might have been missed on the day. The sense of ceremony even extended to the studio, as she broadcast from a purpose-built sound-proof booth, viewing the ceremony through a window made for Catherine of Aragon by Henry VIII.

The example of the coronation and its extensive preparation was contrasted during the conversation with the day that Russia invaded Ukraine. With very little warning, Eleanor recalled how she was required to speak with authority on a subject that was developing minute-by-minute. That situation required on-the-spot thinking, and a fundamental understanding of the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.

It was being well-versed in both situations that allowed her to take them in her stride. At the heart of her broadcasting is knowledge, which she is constantly developing.


Brand spokespeople are a valuable part of the coverage

As the conversation continued to flow and questions came through to Mike via Twitter, he wanted to know how important brand spokespeople – such as charity ambassadors or C-suite executives – are to a story.

Eleonor confirmed that they are crucial, drawing on both her and Mike’s experience presenting and producing BBC Radio 5 Live’s weekend breakfast shows. Despite a reduction in segments since she and Mike worked together – from nine to six in each hour – the demand for content (and, therefore, qualified voices) is as high as ever.

As she was keen to point out, though, it has to be done right. The spokesperson needs to have something valuable to say about a subject that is genuinely relevant to their role or their perspective. 

The conversation returned to the king’s coronation, and how members of a charity of which King Charles is a patron were able to provide colour to a story relating to the monarch’s philanthropy. Likewise, the news was filled with people who had met members of the royal family. While these people weren’t necessarily specialists, it was important to recognise the value of their perspectives in relation to the headlines of the time. 


Spokespersons without experience should embody players during the FA Cup final

Eleanor recognised that her confidence in front of a microphone is the result of decades of broadcasting experience. She acknowledged that if you don’t have any, the prospect can be quite daunting.

While media training is an effective way to prepare your spokesperson for an interview, Eleanor likened the preparation to that which is required by athletes before a test match, or any other big sporting event. She cited how, before an FA Cup final, the players will visit Wembley Stadium so that they aren’t intimidated by it. 

The final takeaway was for anyone preparing for an interview: make yourself comfortable with the seating arrangements, the microphone, and wearing a headset. Doing so can remove the sense that it’s an unnatural situation – and give you the confidence of a similarly storied broadcaster.


Broadcast Revolution would like to thank esteemed BBC presenter Eleanor Oldroyd for taking the time to discuss her experiences in the world of broadcast and how they can inform brand and charity spokespeople who would like to add their voices to the news cycle.