"I have 3 alarm clocks and they all go off in different parts of my bedroom at 3am": Sarah-Jane Mee on the life and times of a Breakfast Presenter
Sarah-Jane Mee is a Sky Sunrise presenter. Fronting their main show, she is no stranger to breaking the biggest news stories to the nation. We spoke to her about the highs and lows of her job, including the 3 AM alarm clock and what it is like guiding an audience through a story which has been announced a minute before. She shared with us her greatest influences and what she thinks about glass ceilings for women in the workplace.
You are Sky's Sunrise presenter - what time do you set your alarm and, with such an early start, how do you manage the rest of your day?
I actually have 3 alarm clocks, and they all go off in different parts of my bedroom at 3 AM. Then, just to be sure, backup alarms are set for 3.10 and 3.15, although the first 3 alarms have been enough to get me out of bed so far! I get to the studios just after 4 AM and read through the papers and check the running order. We have a production meeting at 4:30, then it is into hair and makeup at 5 AM, where I also do all my reading for the interviews we have coming up on the show. I'm in the studio by 5:45, and then live on air from 6 to 10 AM.
Sarah-Jane has a very strict morning routine
I tend to get home by 11 AM and nap until 1 PM - naps are CRUCIAL - and then I get on with the rest of my day. My bedtime is usually between 9:30 and 10 PM.
How did you get into TV? What obstacles have you faced on your path to reaching your dream job as a breakfast TV presenter?
I got in the old-fashioned way, by applying for unpaid work experience. I had a whole folder full of rejection letters until I got my first 'yes', and I've not looked back. I climbed every rung of the TV ladder, from runner to junior producer, then on to reporting, and eventually to on-screen as a reporter/presenter. By the time I became a full-time presenter, I understood every step it takes to get a show on air.
With any career you face setbacks - I was once told I wouldn't make it as a presenter, but I just went away and worked hard. I've also been overlooked for on-screen jobs before, but again, I just went away and worked even harder. Breakfast TV was always the goal, and the setbacks along the way have definitely made me appreciate the job a lot more.
Sarah-Jane started out at the bottom but worked her way up the career ladder to her dream job
Can you tell us both the most difficult and the most rewarding part of your job?
Alarm clock aside, the most difficult part of live news is adapting quickly to breaking news. Often, news can break unexpectedly and gather pace quickly, which means I’m often in front of a camera finding out about the story at the same time as the audience. You have to take in the facts and explain the situation to everyone watching at home.
But, that is also the most rewarding part. People at home are looking to YOU to guide them through sometimes difficult and upsetting stories. The recent Brussels Terror Attacks spring to mind. The attacks happened just after we came on air at 6 AM, and we were rolling on it until well after 10 AM. It was horrifying and upsetting with lots of developments, twists and turns. I came off air that day shaken by what had happened, but also satisfied that we had done the best job possible in keeping everyone up to date and informed in a way that was sensitive to such an awful situation.
What or who has been the greatest influence in your life?
My mum and dad, without hesitation. My dad isn't from a generation where men would necessarily call themselves feminists but, from an early age, he taught my sister and I that we could achieve WHATEVER we wanted to do, gender, class, circumstance were no obstacle. Both my parents taught me to work hard and be nice to people. Such simple life lessons, but, nonetheless, so rewarding.
You are a strong female role-model, having broken through the typically male-dominated areas of sports presenting. How do you find working in this environment?
I was fortunate enough to start in sports broadcasting when a lot of great female journalists had already paved the way, and I reaped the benefits. It doesn't matter if you are male or female - if you are good enough to do the job and work hard, you should have no problem. If you do find discrimination, you should speak out and ask the hard questions. It's unacceptable for any working environment to be dominated by one gender.
Sheryl Sandberg - one of Sarah-Jane's role models
Who are your female role models?
There are so many, and I find new ones all the time. Here are just a small selection:
Sheryl Sandberg - the COO of Facebook and also the author of 'Lean In', a must read for men and women who want to be successful.
Alex Crawford - Sky News Special Correspondent. Alex became a correspondent late on in her TV career. Becoming an award-winning foreign correspondent in her 40s, she blazed a trail for, not just women and working mums, but for journalists everywhere. She has set the standard.
Dame Stephanie Shirley - who came to the UK as a child refugee and became a successful technology pioneer and businesswoman who employed working mothers in the 1950's - extraordinary!
Malala Yousafzai - the Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school. She is leading the fight to allow all girls an education.
Malala Yousafzai fought for her education - a role-model to many, including Sarah-Jane
What more do you think can be done to help women break through the glass ceilings they face?
There is always so much emphasis on what male-dominated industries can do to help women break through. I believe that women helping other women is the key. How can men help us if we don't help ourselves? I am a big believer that if you don't shine, I don't shine. It's only by lifting each other up that we can reach that glass ceiling and break through it.
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