Interview: Anna Foster, breakfast show presenter on Radio Five Live

From South Shields lass to breakfast champion, radio presenter Anna Foster speaks to HANNAH DAVIES

Anna Foster

SHE’S the voice more than one million listeners wake up to every weekend on BBC Five Live, but Anna Foster is adamant she’ll never leave the North East.

Anna, 31, declares: “I’ve been to London three times in my life for jobs and I’ve always come home at weekends.

“I’ve never ever been the person who spends the week there. I’m resolutely Northern.”

Anna is a few weeks into her new job for Five Live, presenting from 6am to 9am, but it is in regional radio she made a name for herself.

Anna was born in South Shields to dad John Lee, an engineer-surveyor and magistrate in South Shields, and mum, nurse Christine. She also has a brother, Matthew, who is in the Navy, based in Portsmouth.

Her parents met at South Shields Marine Technical College, which is where Anna ended up doing her A-levels.

She was already on track for a career in radio journalism.

She recalls: “The first thing I ever did was work experience at Metro FM. I woke up because the news editor used to work an early shift. I set my alarm for 4.30am and asked if I could come in .

“So I went in there for a week. The news editor was lovely. The first morning I was sitting there I remember thinking ‘This is brilliant’.

“I nosed around and decided it was just what I wanted to do.

“I’ve listened to radio a lot from being young. There’s something about the sound of it and the pictures it creates.”

Anna worked as a Saturday girl at Metro while she was studying for her A-levels, helping out with the sports team compiling football scores.

Next up was Durham University.

Anna quips: “I still maintain the only reason they let me in was because they had a local quota. Mind you, Collingwood College was the one I went to which is a non-toff college.”

She studied English but spent as much time as she could working on student radio. In a natural progression Anna decided to study broadcast journalism at London’s City University with an eye on securing her first radio job.

That was at Radio Cleveland (now BBC Tees) in Middlesbrough, where she worked as a broadcast journalist.

She says: “I loved it. I worked there for three years starting as a reporter and then on to news-reading before presenting drive-time.”

It was also there that she re-met a man, John Foster, who was to become her husband.

Anna exclaims: “We met after I’d done my work experience when I was helping on Saturday sport.

“I’d go in there and write down the football scores. John joined when I was 16 or 17 and was the breakfast presenter on Magic FM.

“When I was 16 he asked me out. I said no purely because I was just the Saturday girl.

“We went off in different directions and then he appeared one day to do some cover work when I was at Radio Cleveland, just before he got a job there.

“So we were reminiscing merrily about those days and kept in touch.”

The couple married in October 2009 at Crathorne Hall near Yarm, in North Yorkshire.

“John said in the wedding speech that I turned him down when I was 16, but like I said, if we’d gone out together then we wouldn’t be married now.”

Shortly after reconnecting with John, Anna was offered a job in Manchester as the North England news reporter for BBC Five Live.

Her work was varied to say the least.

Anna says: “I did everything from features stories to the breaking news stuff.

“It was exciting. Everything was done on location.”

Anna was disappointed when they moved her base to London, but it meant she ended up getting her dream job on Radio One’s Newsbeat.

“That was really good, although it was really hard work,” she admits.

One of the highlights of that time was meeting Victoria Beckham.

Anna recalls: “She was lovely. I was interviewing her for Newsbeat.

“She was really, really nice. Surprisingly so. She had her press people with her but sent them away for the interview.

“When we’d finished I asked her to record a message for John’s niece.

“She did this lovely little piece where she explained that when she was younger she didn’t understand why people wanted autographs, but since she’d become a mum her kids always wanted basketball players’ autographs. She was lovely, very nice.”

Another highlight was, Anna recalls, meeting “The Hoff”.

“David Hasselhof was in one day. He walked in with this big stack of postcards for people’s kids.

“He presented me with a signed calendar and said “This is for you,” like he was presenting me with some really rare expensive piece of art.”

Still, Anna felt the time had come to base herself back in the North East.

She explains: “I left because basically I’ve never wanted to live in London. I was always travelling back at weekends.

“I used to rent a room for £20 a night from a woman who lived out in Osterley, which is right out near Heathrow Airport. It wasn’t glamorous. It was renting rooms on the cheap where I could find them.”

Nowadays she lives with John in Stockton and says she would never relocate to London.

“I’m from Shields and John is from Middlesbrough,” she adds by way of explanation.

But it’s not a problem. Currently Anna travels to London on Friday afternoons and is back home on the Sunday. During the week she reports for Five Live in the North East.

It’s a job Anna says she loves.

“Presenting is different from reporting. You sit in a chair and there are so many things coming at you the whole time.

“You’re always being bombarded with new things.”

The demands of an all-speech station can also be hard, she admits. “There’s never a pause to catch your breath.

“The weekend programme is me and Phil Williams and in three hours the microphones are hardly ever switched off.

“There’s hardly any time to clear your throat. The only time you get a rest is when the other one is talking so it is full-on.

“It is great, it really suits me. I don’t feel the need to be anyone other than me.

“You can be completely yourself. You don’t have to think ‘I need to do this in a particular way’.

Anna adds one of the biggest challenges she’s faced so far was reporting Osama bin Laden’s death.

She says: “I did a weekday breakfast show on May 2. I sauntered in at 4.30am and they said, “So Bin Laden’s dead then”. I went ‘What?’

“On a day like that everything gets thrown out of the window and you just go with the one story. It’s just made up as you go along.”

Anna reveals the person she’d like to interview most is US President Barack Obama.

She explains: “There are just so many questions I’d like to ask. I might not get the answers I was expecting though.

“But interviewing people in positions of genuine power on a massive scale, that’s incredibly interesting.”

Husband John presents on Radio Tees, but Anna says there will definitely be no Richard and Judy-style broadcasting partnership.

She comments: “I’d never work with him.

“It’d never work because we would both want to be in charge.

“I’ve done reports for him before, but I think we both have too strong an idea. He has presented with other people before and I present with other people, but we would always want to be the person in charge. There wouldn’t be that give and take.

“Anyway, I can’t imagine people wanting to hear about what we’re doing with the back garden.”

There are positives though, Anna says, about both being broadcasters.

“It’s quite good because we pass each other stories. Working for the BBC on different stations, he’ll flag things up to me and if I have a good guest on I’ll take it back to him.

“He gives me nice, honest feedback, but we talk about work far too much.”

One of the things Anna loves about her job is, she says, interviewing and speaking to normal people who have exceptional stories.

“They’re often the most interesting.”

Some of the listeners have been pretty interesting as well by the sound of it.

Anna tells me: “We have fans. They’re always lovely, but sometimes a bit crazy.

“In regional radio there was this woman who used to come in and leave stuff like cookbooks and keyrings she’d picked up.

“But having said, I remember saying one day how hungry I was and a woman brought in a chocolate muffin for me!”

It might be a normal route for many, but don’t expect to see Anna moving into TV anytime soon.

She says: “I’ve never wanted to work in telly. I can’t think of anything worse. I’d be really shy with everybody looking at me.

“I like the fact I can turn up looking like whatever as a reporter. I’m a bit lazy like that!”

She looks far from lazy today, but as she slips unnoticed into the streets, you can’t help but think she’s got the balance right.

Anna says: “No one recognises me. I don’t really fit – or want to fit – that mould.”

I sauntered in at 4.30am and they said, “So Bin Laden’s dead then”. I went ‘What?’

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer