By Simon O'Hagan


This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.

As the daughter of a vicar, and as a member of a church choir, Eleanor Oldroyd knows her way round hymns and prayers, naves and transepts. But even so — to be the voice of BBC radio inside Westminster Abbey as the coronation takes place will be a test of both her ecclesiastical and her broadcasting credentials.

“It’s obviously going to be a massive thing to do,” Oldroyd says. “An incredible privilege and honour.” Best known as a sports reporter and presenter, she has a ready analogy to hand. “I guess it’s a bit like if you’re an England cricketer and you’re going out to bat at Lord’s in the most important Test match of your life.

"You can’t allow yourself to be overawed by the venue or by the occasion. You can’t lose your nerve. Hopefully you’ll feel you’ve done the preparation and got the tools at your disposal for that not to happen.”

Eleanor Oldroyd
Eleanor Oldroyd. Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Experience will count for a lot. Oldroyd has four royal funerals and three royal weddings on her broadcasting CV. Her appointment to the top radio job at the coronation comes on the back of her flawless commentary last September from St George’s Chapel, Windsor, as the Queen’s funeral reached its final stage.

“That was pretty weighty,” she says. “I felt wrung out afterwards. But it makes a big difference to have done it.”

Oldroyd’s preparations for the coronation have included reading a number of books — notably historian Roy Strong’s Coronation — and a two-hour tour of Westminster Abbey she did with a friend who is training to be a guide there. “There’s so much to know not just about the ceremony but about the building itself. It’s about knowing the tombs of kings and queens going back a thousand years, about knowing your Purbeck marble from your Portland stone.”

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Her commentary position will be in the triforium — a galleried area 52 feet above the abbey floor which she expects to occupy from 7 in the morning, taking up her position four hours ahead of the two-hour ceremony. Dare one ask about accessing a loo? “Yes I need to find out the answer to that myself!”

Oldroyd says it’s amazing to think that she’ll be the first person to provide the radio commentary on a coronation since John Snagge back in 1953. Like Oldroyd, Snagge was best known as a sports commentator, indelibly associated with the Boat Race.

“There’s quite a tradition of this,” Oldroyd says. “Sports commentating is all about being able to convey what’s happening as it’s happening, to operate in the moment, without a script, to paint an immediate picture. But with the coronation it will also be about knowing when to shut up — about not talking over the Archbishop of Canterbury or over the music.”

For all that she shares a common background with Snagge, there’s one obvious difference. “I think it’s inconceivable that even 20 years ago this role would have gone to a woman,” Oldroyd says. “The assumption always was that no female commentator could have the gravitas or the authority of a man. If this moment proves how wrong that is, then I’ll be glad.”

Eleanor Oldroyd interviewing England bowler Mark Wood at ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.
Eleanor Oldroyd interviewing England bowler Mark Wood at ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. Photo by Stu Forster-ICC/ICC via Getty Images

Back in 2020 I talked to Oldroyd in an interview for Radio Times magazine in which she recalled the prejudice she’d had to overcome when she started out as a lone female cricket reporter in a press box full of men. The box would fall silent as she sent in her reports, waiting for her to make a mistake. Then after a couple of days, one of the men turned to her and said, "You DO know what you’re doing, don’t you?"

Male condescension was something she had to live with, and thanks to the trail Oldroyd blazed, other female sports broadcasters came along and flourished. Clare Balding, Jacqui Oatley, Isa Guha and Alison Mitchell are among the many who owe her a debt.

In 1995 Oldroyd became the first female presenter of the flagship show Sports Report on 5 Live (the 2020 interview she gave marked the 25th anniversary of that landmark). She’s covered 12 Olympic Games and has been a longtime presenter of the 5 Live weekend breakfast show.

Cricket is Oldroyd’s first love but choral singing is right up there too. She’s a second soprano in the choir at a church in Barnes in south west London, near where she lives. “I love it. It can be difficult to get along to the services because of work, but if I do the Sunday breakfast show from home, I can dash round the corner and get there in time.”

Last year she presented a Radio 4 documentary that explored the links between cricket and choral singing, her knowledge and understanding of the works that will be sung at the coronation another reason why she is a natural fit for the role of commentator.

She’ll enjoy an even more personal connection on the big day. Her friend Roxanna Panufnik is one of the composers commissioned to write a piece for the occasion. “When it was announced I’d be doing the commentary, Roxanna and I texted each other and agreed how proud of us our fathers would have been.” Panufnik’s composer father Andrzej died in 1991. Oldroyd’s father Colin died in 2015.

Oldroyd’s mother Anne is still with us, and she’ll be tuning in to her daughter. At 92 she is one of those with clear memories of the last coronation — the Queen’s in 1953.

The Queen had acceded to the throne the year before, in 1952, and it so happens that 1962 was when Oldroyd was born. The Queen’s jubilees always happened around the time of Oldroyd’s birthday on 2nd June, and her job always came first.

Last 2nd June — in 2022 — was when Oldroyd turned 60, and she spent much of it at a rehearsal for the Queen’s platinum jubilee service the next day. “I’ve worked on so many of my big birthdays!”

Now she’ll be free to do what she wants every 2nd June, and it’s 6th May that will become a significant day for her. It will always be the anniversary of when she reached what she calls the pinnacle of her career. And high up in Westminster Abbey, the newly crowned King far down below, could not be a more appropriate place for it.

The King's coronation will take place on Saturday 6th May. Check out more of our Entertainment coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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