Steph McGovern talks about the privilege of presenting Tokyo Paralympics from Leeds

Channel 4’s Paralympics Breakfast showcases some amazing stars. Catherine Scott caught up with presenters Steph McGovern and 
Arthur Williams.

Steph McGovern’s Channel 4 studio in Leeds is normally associated with her daytime chat show.

But for the last two weeks the studio has been transformed into the hub of Channel 4’s coverage of the delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

For co-presenter of Paralympics Breakfast McGovern, it has meant a return to early morning television.

Steoh McGovern says it has been a privilege to present the CHannel 4 covergae of the Pralympics Picture:Channel 4/Nick Eagle

In 2019 the lead BBC Breakfast business correspondent swapped eight years of dawn alarms for the comfort of a sofa as she was given her own chat show on Channel 4.

Steph’s Packed Lunch, which also features guest presenter Yorkshire’s Chris Kamara, proved such a hit, it was commissioned for a second series.

But earlier this year McGovern announced that the show would be taking a break for the summer and the studio was transformed into the hub for the Paralympics coverage.

For mum-of-one McGovern, who lives in Harrogate, it meant once again setting her alarm for 3.30am.

Hannah Cockroft celebrates her World Record time of 16.39 seconds which won her the Gold Medal in the Women's 100m T34 final in the Olympic Stadium during day five of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan. Picture: Thomas Lovelock for OIS

“It would have been nice to be able to do the show from Tokyo, but it is fantastic that it comes from Leeds,” says Middlesbrough-born McGovern.

“We all know that if Yorkshire had been a country it would have been up there on the medal table. It’s been great to see Hannah Cockroft come away with gold and all the other Yorkshire athletes.”

Sports presenting has been something of a departure for McGovern who has spent the majority of her career working in financial journalism for BBC television channels and radio stations.

And presenting parasports is an even bigger challenge, but one McGovern rose to.

“It’s been like going back to sitting my GCSEs. All the categories are very complicated and it is so important to get it right.

“I’ve been sitting there with all my coloured cards and highlighter pens – I’m treating it like an exam. But I couldn’t have done it without all the support from the team.”

Fellow presenter Arthur Williams, says she has done an incredible job.

“You explain something to Steph once and she just gets it,” says Williams, who was paralysed from the waist down in a car crash when he was 21 while he was in the Royal Marines.

Having regained his strength, he set about training to be a pilot.

Seeking money to pay for his flying lessons, he undertook screen tests with Channel 4, who were looking for disabled presenters to join their London 2012 Paralympics team.

He has been involved in every summer and winter Paralympics since 2012.

“It is such a privilege to be able to be involved in the Paralympics – especially London 2012 – I think Channel 4’s commitment to the coverage was a real game changer when it comes to how the public view parasport.”

And it is something the broadcaster, which recently moved its headquarters to Leeds, is committed to do.

More than 70 per cent of its broadcasting team for his year’s games have a disability.

Channel 4’s Chief Content Officer Ian Katz said: “Channel 4 has long played a fundamental role in bringing a global audience to the Paralympic Games and for shifting perceptions of disabled people through our significant investment in coverage and award-winning marketing campaigns for London 2012 and Rio 2016.”

“It’s not just the presenters,” says McGovern. “A lot of the camera operators and other members of the crew have disabilities, but you would never know.

“It is so inclusive which is brilliant and the way it should be. On other programmes I have worked on when someone with a disability is coming on we have to make special arrangements, but not here. In fact you don’t know until they arrive.”

Both Williams and McGovern believe the legacy of London 2012 continues.

Williams says: “There are children who now have access to running blades thanks to Jonnie Peacock’s Blade Camp and even just the way people treat me in the street because I am in a wheelchair has changed.”

“I believe without the commitment Channel 4 gave to the Paralympics its legacy would not have been as great. They did take a risk but it paid off big time.”

McGovern agrees: “The fact that para athletes like Jonnie Peacock and Lauren Steadman are appearing on shows like Strictly Come Dancing shows how far we have come. They are now household names which is as it should be.

McGovern says she feels that presenting the Paralympics is as much about telling the stories of courage and bravery as it is the results of the individual sports.

“There was no medal target this year due to everything the athletes have been through with the pandemic. But when you hear some of their back stories about what a lot of these athletes have gone through just to get to the Paralympics it is extremely moving,” says McGovern.

“Ellie Robinson may not have won a medal in the pool but it didn’t matter. Just to hear what she has gone through to get to Tokyo is truly inspirational and is a story of triumph.

“Our job is to paint the picture, to tell the backstories and that is a privilege, but also a responsibility.”

The Paralympics 2020 coverage may be winding up this weekend but there is no rest for McGovern who will have worked 18 days straight.

“The studio coverage of the closing ceremony finishes around lunchtime and then the crew really get to work turning it back into the Packed Lunch studio for us to go live on Monday morning,” says McGovern who got the chance to try out some of the para sports during the last two weeks.

“I got an email from my boss saying he hoped I was okay with heights and I needed to get a helicopter from Leeds Bradford airport. He said there’s nothing to worry about and so I instantly started worrying. I have no idea what’s happening.”

McGovern’s love of Yorkshire is clear, She said the county really supported her when news of her baby with her girlfriend was revealed in a national newspaper in 2019.

“I’d go up to Wensleydale and it really helped.” She even turned their Harrogate home into a studio during lockdown to present her eponymous Channel 4 show.

During the break from Steph’s Packed Lunch she’s been seen filming around Yorkshire for a BBC programme Walking With... Steph McGovern.

“I was so pleased when Channel 4 said they were moving to Leeds and employing so many local people. It is so good that something has come north out of London and even Manchester,” she says.

“Yorkshire has been a really good home for me and my little family. My daughter has started nursery here and we are really happy,” says McGovern, who likes to keep her private life exactly that.