Steph McGovern - "I'd like to bring a bit of positivity and hope"

Steph McGovern's new Channel 4 show started this week. (Picture credit: Tom Martin/Channel 4).Steph McGovern's new Channel 4 show started this week. (Picture credit: Tom Martin/Channel 4).
Steph McGovern's new Channel 4 show started this week. (Picture credit: Tom Martin/Channel 4).
The original plan for Steph McGovern’s new TV show, which went on air earlier this week, was that it would be filmed in front of a live audience in a smart new studio at trendy Leeds Dock, as part of Channel Four’s much vaunted relocation to the city.

That was before coronavirus cast a shadow over our lives and threw well-made plans into turmoil.

However, just as people across the length and breadth of the land have come together in a display of community spirit not seen on these shores since the days of the Blitz, so McGovern felt compelled to do her bit. And rather than a big glitzy debut, The Steph Show was launched on Monday lunchtime from her living room, with the TV presenter likening it jokingly to “the Yorkshire Big Brother with just one contestant.”

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Steph McGovern hosting the Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards in 2016. (Bruce Rollinson)Steph McGovern hosting the Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards in 2016. (Bruce Rollinson)
Steph McGovern hosting the Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards in 2016. (Bruce Rollinson)

“I was itching to get on air so I said, ‘why don’t we do it from my front room?’ I said that quite naively, I’ll be honest with you, and when I suggested it a few weeks ago I was half joking because we didn’t expect to be in this situation, but then I thought ‘why not?’ We’re all in this together, we are all at home and it’s quite nice having a little nosey at people’s homes.”

The TV show, which McGovern calls a “power hour of positivity”, runs weekdays on Channel 4 and is a loose mix of entertainment and inspiring community stories from around the country. “It’s just me on my own in my front room, all the cameras are controlled remotely,” she says.

“I will be talking to lots of different people, we’ll be having celebrity guests and people doing things to help others – the heroes and heartwarmers out there – and people doing funny stuff. It’s about ordinary folk and how they are coping in these extraordinary times, that’s the premise.

“My aim is to have a bit of a laugh and maybe inspire people, so if they hear about someone doing something nice they might think ‘I could do that, too.’ Basically it’s an experiment to see what we can do in an hour with me, alone, in my front room talking to people via Skype.”

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The 37-year-old TV presenter left BBC Breakfast back in January after eight years on the show, during which time she became a popular face with viewers.

Now she’s gone from being a co-presenter to taking centre stage. “It is really scary but equally it just felt right. I’ve done live telly for a long time and I’ve done lots of different types of telly, from serious stuff to light entertainment, so it kind of married all this together really quite well.

“When I first got approached about it I thought ‘nah, it’ll never happen,’ and then suddenly I was being offered a show with my name and I thought, ‘God, I can’t turn that down.’ So I’m nervous and excited.”

With the country in the grip of a national emergency over coronavirus it’s hardly the start she’d anticipated, though she believes TV has an important role in helping the nation get through these testing times.

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“You only have to look at viewing figures to see how many people are turning to TV. Twenty five million people watched the Prime Minister when he announced we were essentially locking things down, so it’s really important. We forget that there are a lot of people for whom TV is the only other voice they hear in a day and who don’t necessarily have the technology to FaceTime.”

McGovern’s journey is as unlikely as it is inspiring. She grew up in Middlesbrough and at school developed a passion for science and engineering. “I loved science subjects and I was really lucky to go to a school that was very much about promoting industry.

“In my teenage years we visited all the local industrial businesses, so we went to places like British Steel and firms that worked in the supply chain with them, and there was a tangible sense of if you did well at sciences and maths at school you could be a good engineer.”

Her teenage years happened to coincide with a growing impetus to encourage more girls into so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. “At the time there was a real push to get more women into engineering, and as a young teenager in ‘Boro I was aware I needed to earn money and there were lots of schemes where you could win money so I was forever entering these.”

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Her aptitude and determination paid off. She earned an Arkwright Engineering Scholarship, regarded by many as the most distinguished scheme of its kind in the country, and at the age of 15 she entered a scheme where she visited a university in Spain.

“I was really lucky to be at a school that was geared towards the world of work and not just exams, because I went to a school where a lot of the kids didn’t have the stability in their life to be able to do exams well, which is why I bang on all the time now about the importance of vocational training and celebrating skills equally. It isn’t all about academic ability, we need people’s skills in other ways and that’s all come from my background in Middlesbrough.”

It’s why she tries now to inspire other girls, and boys, from working class backgrounds to fulfil their potential.

“I see it as really important that I give back what I got from my education. I do a lot of school visits, particularly schools where they wouldn’t normally have exposure to people with my kind of career.

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“I was in a school in Middlesbrough before everything went mad, talking to some girls and they couldn’t believe that I was on telly because I came from the same place as they did, and I said that shouldn’t stop them. That’s society’s fault because we’re not telling young people, actually they can achieve whatever they want if they work hard and are nice to people,” she says.

“I get more out of doing these visits than I do from any live TV show with however many viewers. If one kid there then says to me ‘I want to be a journalist’, or ‘I want to be a doctor’ and they haven’t thought that before, I know it sounds proper cheesy, that means more to me.”

That said, she is excited by her new show and the opportunity to shine a light on the good deeds being done by ordinary people, and to bring a little bit of light relief.

“There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s very heartwarming and I want to feel that we’re not going down the swanny, and I want the viewers to feel that as well. I want everyone to watch it and think ‘eeh, that was funny,’ or ‘that was an enjoyable hour.’

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“I’m not expecting to change the world or anything, I’d just like to bring a bit of positivity and hope in all of this.”

The Steph Show is on Channel 4, Monday to Friday, from 12pm.

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