Beth Rigby on reporting from Westminster: "It definitely felt like a boys’ club and I was an outsider"
Sky's political editor sat down for the Radio Times Podcast to chat about binge-watching box sets, being a woman in journalism and being in the "eye of the storm" of the news cycle.
This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.
This week's guest on the Radio Times Podcast is Sky's political editor, Beth Rigby. Known for her robust interviews with politicians – from Boris Johnson to Nicola Sturgeon – she has also welcomed the likes of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska and Dame Emma Thompson onto her show Beth Rigby Interviews.
In the podcast episode, Beth talks about how Westminster felt like a boy’s club when she first joined and how female broadcasters face more scrutiny than their male counterparts.
She chats about understandably watching a lot of news but making time for a good old fashioned box set binge-watch, as well as how having been in the "eye of the storm" of the news cycle helped her gain perspective on being part of the story.
You can read what she had to say below, or listen to the full episode on your chosen podcast provider by clicking here.
What’s the view from your sofa?
It’s my much-beloved mid-century modern sideboard, which is full of rubbish. On the wall is my mum’s old school sign – she was a headteacher. She died a few years ago and I found it in my dad’s garage. It’s my favourite possession and it hangs just above my second favourite possession, my TV.
So what’s usually on your TV?
I watch a lot of news – obviously! I also love watching cookery programmes at the weekend. I use television as a way to switch off, so I binge-watch a lot of box sets. It can be dangerous – Slow Horses ruined me for a week because I would stay up watching it until 3am.
Who controls the remote in your home?
Not me. It goes child one, child two, [my husband] Angelo and then me.
What was it like seeing yourself on screen for the first time?
I hated it – and I still do. It’s difficult because you should watch yourself back for your craft. I’m really critical and I always think that I could have done an interview better.
Do you think female broadcasters face more scrutiny — and backlash — than their male counterparts?
Sometimes if I’m robust in an interview, I might get criticised. I’ll watch a male contemporary do pretty much the same thing and it’s seen as completely OK.
When it first happened, I was trending on Twitter because I’d asked Boris Johnson a question at a press conference, and it had been very robust. I’m sitting there thinking, “The guy wants to be prime minister. My job is to ask him difficult questions because he wants to lead the country. He’s going to have to handle world leaders, to deal with President Xi and Vladimir Putin. Come on!” It upset me, but as time went on, I realised it just comes with the territory.
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What about Westminster? Is that still a man’s world?
When I joined Westminster, it definitely felt like a boys’ club and I was an outsider. It reminded me of how it felt when I first went to Cambridge because I hadn’t come from a private school.
There are male networks – but it’s also true that there are many more female politicians than when I started. We have female networks, a women’s lobby group and women-in-Westminster drinks – the great thing is when Laura Kuenssberg, Pippa Crerar and other senior female journalists turn up to those things.
Having been part of the story yourself — after attending Kay Burley’s party while there were lockdown restrictions — has that changed the way you approach interviews?
Beth Rigby Interviews… is a longform interview – the idea isn’t to try to pull out a clip to put on social media which goes viral and gets six million hits. The point is to have a wider conversation. Sometimes it happens – not from you – but a section gets picked up by someone else and it gets cascaded in a way that the interviewee doesn’t want. Of course, I feel bad about that.
In terms of being part of the story, it did give me a perspective about what it’s like to be in the eye of a storm and how that might feel. I think it probably made me a better interviewer when I got back to work.
Have any recent conversations left a mark on you?
In the age of 24/7 news and social media, no one can sit and watch anything for more than 30 seconds. The art of conversation has been truncated. There is space for longform interviews on television.
I interviewed the former British soldier Shaun Pinner who joined the Ukrainian armed forces – he was a prisoner of war, taken by the Russians. He talked about the siege of Mariupol, how he was trying to escape, how he was captured, tortured and then released. The story was incredible – I am so privileged to be the person who gets to hear that.