A surprisingly chirpy Kay Burley greets me (via Zoom) from her hotel room in Washington DC, where she is primed and ready ahead of the US Election on 3rd November.
Is she excited for the culmination of the 2020 [Pandemic] Election? “Yeah of course, absolutely! I bloody love politics so when it comes to an election, there’s nothing better. It’s amazing.”
One thing it won’t be is dull. Cast your minds back just four years and if you were glued to Sky News on the big night you’ll remember Burley stood in Times Square, New York, telling her viewers it was likely to go Hillary Clinton’s way.
“Last time, I was in Times Square and it was in the middle of the night it became apparent the Rust Belt (Pennsylvania and the like) was important. I was dispatched to Youngstown [Ohio], and then Washington, so it was a 700 mile journey through the night.”
With the polls indicating Joe Biden could emerge the victor this time round, will we be in for a quiet night with a predictable outcome? “Who knows?!” Burley laughs. She’ll be a key part of Sky News’ coverage of the big night in the States, broadcasting live from, well, wherever she needs to be, from 7am our time after being handed the baton by colleague Dermot Murnaghan.
What becomes apparent when talking to Burley is her love for her job – travelling 700 miles overnight at the drop of a hat might sound daunting to some, but not her. She even tells me how she calls herself a “news bunny” and it isn’t too difficult for her to get out of bed at 3am for her Breakfast show on Sky News, which she has been leading since October last year.
She has plenty of inspiration to get her out of bed while it’s still dark outside. “I have a fantastic team. My team are sensational – they organise the guests for the programme, we’ve got a fantastic new studio and I’ve got a great gallery team of producers and editors. Of course it’s hard when the alarm goes off at 3am, but I bloody love my job so it’s not that hard! I don’t know how many people can say they love their job as much as I do. The side effect of having to get up early in the morning is countered by the fact it’s amazing.”
“Amazing” is certainly one word to sum up Burley’s career, which remarkably spans over 40 years. After starting on local newspapers at the tender age of 17, she moved over to Granada Reports where she was a researcher for Richard and Judy before going on to work for Tyne Tees Television. In 1987, Burley became a reporter – and occasional newsreader – on TV-am. She moved on to Sky News when the channel launched in the UK in 1988. She’s now the face of Sky News, a household name and feared by many a politician who faces a grilling from her.
With such an illustrious career, did she ever struggle with gender inequality as she strived to meet her goals? “Not in newspapers – there were other women who worked with me in newspapers which was fantastic. I have never encountered it [gender inequality] if I’m honest. There has been sexism along the way and I’ve worked in sexist newsrooms, but I have found that generally my bosses – whoever they have been – have been very supportive.”
In terms of batting away any instances of sexism, resolute Burley has an effective response: “I’m Northern. I’m determined. I’m confident. I’m not going to allow people who feel that I am not as capable as them get in my way. If it means I need to use my stiletto to smash that glass ceiling, I’m very happy to do that.
“I don’t see myself as being a woman at the forefront of my industry. I see myself as being a very successful, hardworking, female journalist who is happy to offer support to young men and young women coming up in the industry. I hope when people see me on TV they don’t think, ‘Oh she’s a woman who’s started off in local papers and has done very well for herself’, I hope they see me as a journalist who has worked her way through the industry. I think I’m equally as good – but no better – than the men who I work with.”
Since its inception, Burley has been at the forefront of Sky News’ operation, which has come a long way since the station formed in the late ’80s. She tells me that when Princess Diana died, the team were relying on the wires, but just four years later during the 9/11 attacks, they had the internet at their “fingertips”. The industry has come a long way already, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Burley, who calls the progression of TV journalism like “trying to hold back a tiger” insists she has no issue adapting to the newsscape around her, anchored by the fact she has just signed a new five-year deal with Sky News.
On her new contract, Burley laughs: “It looks as though I’ll be getting up early for a bit! When the alarm goes off at 3am, it’s never easy. But this is my third incarnation of breakfast telly. I have to say it’s a bit easier this time as I’m older and don’t need as much sleep. The last time I did it, I had a little boy, I think my son was two/three at the time – he’s now 27. The time before that I’d just come down to London and I used to burn the candle at both ends. I would work in the morning and then be out on the town with Chris Evans during the day. I’m a bit calmer, a bit older and a bit more wise this time around.”
Burley reassures me she has no problem switching off after a hard day’s work – quite the opposite, in fact. Aside from her family, friends and dogs, Burley finds joy in the little things in life: correcting Twitter trolls. “If I’m unwinding after a show before I go to sleep, I’ll sit on Twitter and swat away some trolls. I’m not at all troubled by trolls on Twitter and social media. I quite enjoy it, really.”
As she approaches 60 later this year, it’s evident that Burley – that steadfast, Northern journalist with a passion for her job – is showing no signs of stopping now; with a successful first year on the breakfast show under her belt, she’s only just getting started.
Sky News’ election coverage starts on the Sky News channel (Sky channel 501, Freeview channel 132) on 3rd November. Check out our TV Guide, if you’re looking for more to watch.