I have a T-shirt at home which was a present from a friend. On the front it says “I don’t mind getting up at 3am”. And on the back “Thank you for asking”. A great joke as that’s what every Today presenter gets asked all the time. It used to be “what’s John Humphrys really like?”


There are many intense discussions in the office about the best sleep aids. I now have an elaborate ritual of lavender pillow spray, an eye mask, magnesium glycinate and audiobooks as I try to drop off at 8pm. I shall always remember interviewing an expert who told us that that true sleep hygiene depended on getting up every day at the same time.

“But that would mean 3am every day,” Mishal exclaimed from her seat in the studio next to me. Nicky Campbell who presented Breakfast on 5 Live for many years told me that “when the alarm first goes off, you feel like you’re going to die but after five minutes you know you’re going to survive”. I repeat that mantra most mornings.

Despite that pre-dawn trauma, there’s no radio programme quite like Today. The reach is extraordinary and after I’ve been presenting, most people I meet in the course of the day will have heard some of the programme which is not that surprising given we reach six million across the week.

In a broadcasting landscape with far more competition from other broadcasters and podcasts, it’s so heartening to know that millions of listeners tune in for our wide range of subjects. That’s what I will miss the most because in all my years of broadcasting, I’ve never found a programme like Today where I can turn from interviewing Cabinet ministers to the latest scientific research, Matt Smith’s latest play or a celebration of snowdrops in spring.

Interviews on Today set the news agenda in so many different worlds. The very moving interview by Merope Mills with Mishal led to a change in NHS policy. Her passion and determination made a huge impact on me when Merope returned to our studio on the day the government announced that the introduction of Martha’s Rule, named for her daughter who died from undiagnosed sepsis.

Thanks to our hardworking team of producers, we are very well briefed which I think means a Today interview has a high quality of depth and information whatever the subject. I spent a long time preparing for our interview with Sir Paul McCartney which made news around the world when he revealed that he was working on the last Beatles record using recordings of John Lennon’s voice.

The speed and flexibility of radio means that we can present live from breaking news stories. Just after the October 7th attacks, Today was broadcasting from the BBC studio in Jerusalem where I was able to report on the immediate and devastating impact in Israel. I heard from grieving parents who lost their son at the music festival. Although we weren’t allowed to report from Gaza, my producer Sam Haque found a British doctor who’d gone to work in a hospital there and was able to talk to us by phone.

We have also broadcast live from other challenging locations around the world. I shall never forget a week of programmes from Antarctica where we went to report on the work of scientists at a remote British research station. The view from our temporary studio was stunning – a giant iceberg which was aquamarine at its roots, bright pink and orange in the early morning light. There were unusual broadcasting hazards – one morning our programme was interrupted by very loud roaring noises. I had to explain to our listeners that our audience in Antarctica included several elephant seals.

Closer to home, I’ve had to battle with other forms of wildlife on air. During lockdown, I broadcast from our cottage in Suffolk where rutting deer made nearly as much sound as elephant seals. Birdsong was a regular feature on air except of course on the one morning when we wanted to do a feature on the dawn chorus. The most bizarre moment came after I had pre-recorded an interview from the United States around 4am. Afterwards one of our studio engineers asked “Martha, do you have a cuckoo clock in your living room?” “ No”, I had to confess, “That’s a real cuckoo!”

At least in my new role presenting nature programmes on BBC Radio Four, these noises off will be a welcome part of the sound effects rather than a weird interruption.

Today airs from 6am on BBC Radio 4. Previous broadcasts are available on BBC Sounds.


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