For the last 20 years, Christine Talbot has been the face of ITV News Calendar’s 6pm early evening programme. But Wednesday will see her appear with her “on-screen husband” of the last 18 years, Duncan Wood, for the last time. “It does feel like a bit of divorce,” says Talbot as we sit in the garden of her home near Wetherby. “We are the longest ITV regional partnership and I feel very lucky to have found someone like Duncan – we just seem to know what the other one is thinking which is so important on live television. We have been through a lot together. I am now feeling like a jealous ex-girlfriend thinking who will replace me.”
Talbot announced her decision to leave Calendar last month. She says it was entirely her decision and her bosses at ITV didn’t want her to move on.
“It was a gradual decision,” she says. “It would have been so easy to stay. I love my job and all the people I work with. ITV Yorkshire is like one big family. I feel very privileged that people allow me into their homes at 6pm every night and also tell me their stories.
“But I felt that there was still more that I wanted to do. Also I wanted more flexibility. My mum isn’t all that well and doesn’t live in Yorkshire and my husband works in London and spends a lot of time there. I also wanted to leave while I still had time to do other things.”
But when pressed further it seems that Talbot’s decision to quit her job came from an even more personal source. In 2019 her friend – the Yorkshire businesswoman Deborah Holmes – lost her battle with cancer at the age of 56. Talbot herself had suffered breast cancer in 2012 and took a year off work to recover.
“When I had breast cancer I was just desperate to get back to work, I actually covered some of my biggest stories, I went to Calais to cover the migrant situation and won an award the year after I returned,” she says.
“But when Deborah died, for the first time I started thinking maybe I should free up more time for my family and to do other things. She always said to me that I should do lots of different things and now the time just feels right to do that. It is scary but it is also exciting.”
She hopes that “different things” will mean more television work, but also more journalism which she says remains her number one passion. Although she has had a number of offers, she wants to take a bit of time before jumping into anything else.
Talbot may be the face of regional commercial television in Yorkshire, but she actually comes from the other side of the Pennines. She was born in Lancashire and attended Lancashire Polytechnic School of Journalism before starting work on her local newspaper.
She moved into television first with the BBC’s regional programme North West Tonight and then when she moved to Yorkshire “for love” she started working for ITV including hosting the magazine programme Tonight between 1996 and 2000.
“It was an incredible time,” says Talbot. “I got to travel the world following expats from Yorkshire who had relocated. I spent time in an aboriginal village for a few days and stayed in a hotel in Beverly Hills. It was incredible and I feel very fortunate.”
She was one of the last journalists to interview Batley-born musician Robert Palmer. “He was such a gentleman and then two days after I interviewed him he died.”
Talbot, 51, says she really wants people to remember her time on Calendar as more than just a television presenter. “Above all I am a journalist and I hope people think that I have done my job asking the difficult questions and holding people in power to account.”
Talbot takes her job seriously and puts her heart and soul into it. Some of the people, whose stories she has covered, have become friends.
“I reported on the disappearance of York chef Claudia Lawrence from the beginning and everyone at ITV viewed it as my story. But no one had ever managed to get Claudia’s mum Joan to do an interview – it was her dad Peter who was the public face of the campaign.”
But when Joan contacted her to ask where a particular piece of footage Calendar had used of her missing daughter came from, she took her opportunity.
“It took me six months to win her trust and eventually she agreed to do an interview. She was so incredibly brave and I now view her as a great friend,” adds Talbot.
Another friend she has made through interviewing her is Jackie Roberts, whose daughter Megan drowned in the River Ouse in York. “I interviewed Jackie a few years ago and she was campaigning for better awareness of water safety and since then she has become one of my closest friends.”
But Talbot says that she never loses sight of her journalistic perspective. “You do have to be careful but all the friends I have made through work do understand that if I have to revisit the story if there is a new development then I will do so. Making contacts and developing relationships is an essential part of being a journalist.”
Talbot is also mum to 23-year-old Beth, of whom she is immensely proud. Beth, who is working as a teacher and also writes, has a blog, www.girlonpause.com, where she talks openly about her battle with anxiety and panic attacks when she was younger.
“I am so proud of Beth and what she is doing. I have never had a panic attack and so it was hard for me to understand.”
All of Talbot’s career so far has been in regional journalism and she says she doesn’t regret not going into national broadcasting. “I did get approached by an agent but to be a presenter of a national programme in those days it would have meant moving to London. Beth had just been born and it was just too much of a risk. I don’t regret that decision at all.”
While the pandemic and lockdown has made little difference to Talbot’s working life – Calendar presenters still had to go into the studio, all be it one at a time – she says Covid has made people realise just how important regional journalism and programmes like Calendar are.
“When there was so much uncertainty I think people found a lot of comfort that we were there at 6pm every night, telling them the things they needed to know but also being a friend to them when they couldn’t see anyone else.
“I think in all my years of regional news the last one has been the most challenging and the most important in terms of public service broadcasting. I have interviewed a lot of people over the years, but I think I am most proud of the work we have done over the last year.”