On 11 November 2016, Mary Moreland and I launched the Heritage Lottery Funded project War Widows’ Stories live on Woman’s Hour. We were given eight star-struck minutes with BBC Radio 4’s Jenni Murray, and you can listen to the result on BBC iPlayer. It’s needless to say I was so excited about being able to do this. It meant our project was given national coverage on Armistice Day, a time when the nation is focused on remembrance of the dead, but often forgets about our duty to take care of those who survive conflict, including veterans and families. From this perspective, I’m pleased with what we did: we got word about the project out there, and were able to give a tiny glimpse of the kind of prejudices and challenges war widows have faced – and sometimes still are facing – over the past two centuries.
But it was also my first live radio appearance, and it’s no surprise to me or anyone who knows me that it took me a day or so to just be happy with how I did live on air. I think the fact that we were on a programme I listen to most days of the year, and that I had to negotiate being star-struck with remembering what I wanted to get across, was the biggest challenge. I’m not exactly a wallflower when I feel I have something important to say or contribute: I think I can hold my own and say my piece without being obnoxious. But somehow there was a fire missing in me that I can normally feel when I speak about something about which I feel passionate.
I felt like I was a school girl: hands neatly on the table in front of me, speaking only when spoken to, and finishing my sentence as soon as Jenni started gesturing or nodding that my turn had come to an end. That’s not how I had planned things, and it’s not how most people know me. And so, unsurprisingly, I got quite upset with myself the afternoon after the broadcast. I had such a great opportunity, and I felt I hadn’t done it justice. I was dumbfounded when Jenni asked Mary about what the War Widows’ Association does for war widowers. What programme was I own? WOMAN’S Hour! Whatever the reason for the question, it was a chance (maybe even one deliberately created) for me to follow up Mary’s response with a factual but passionate explanation for why there are thousand reasons we are – and should be – focussing on war widows. But I didn’t. I even forgot to mention our funding by Heritage Lottery!
Everyone says, of course, that it was a good interview. I know the people who gave me my media training wouldn’t, and I still think they would be right. But if there’s one thing I’ve finally learned over the past year, is that I need to give myself less of a hard time. It was my first time on live radio, and national radio at that. No, it’s not how I wanted it go. But did I screw it up? I don’t think so. I didn’t particularly stumble (even though some unnecessary repetitions of certain words really annoyed me), and we managed to tell people at least a tiny bit about why the project exists.
Next time, I’ll know better. I’ll know that instead of being worried and excited, I need to get into that state of mind that makes me responsive and that makes me think on the spot better, and that state is usually a kind of “going into battle” attitude, a kind of “let’s do this” mentality. Not aggressively, but in a way that makes me feel like I’m up for the challenge and ready to say my bit. In a way, I need to find my inner She-Hulk again, who, I realise now, has been very dormant over the past year, and needs reviving in 2017.
Better next time. But also …
I WENT ON WOMAN’S HOUR!