Victoria Derbyshire: the reluctant interviewee

Victoria Derbyshire: the reluctant interviewee

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Tuesday, 28th February 2017
Victoria Derbyshire (Credit: BBC)

In July 2015, Victoria Derbyshire was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

That was fewer than five months after her show, BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire first took to the air.

Throughout her illness Derbyshire made the decision to document her treatment on camera. “I didn’t know what chemo[therapy] was. I didn’t know what radiotherapy was. I didn’t know what a mastectomy was. It seemed like a good opportunity to document it in a sensible, moderate way.”

The response has been exceptional. “Thousands of people got in touch to tell me that it affected them in really good ways. They said it gave them courage.”

No matter how happy the outcome, to live through a traumatic experience like cancer on camera is a difficult thing, but for Derbyshire it was the obvious choice.

“For decades I have reported on other people’s challenges. It felt completely natural to report on my own,” she explains.

There was only one restriction: “Keep the children out of it.”

It was only after Derbyshire returned home having finished chemotherapy that viewers got a glimpse of her children as they celebrate the news. “It was such an amazing moment for the family, they come in with a bunch of flowers and they’re shouting ‘End of chemo! No more chemo!” she recalls.


It is less than a year since she received that all-clear, but it is already becoming a blip that she wanted it to be. With under two years on air, the Victoria Derbyshire programme has already scooped two consecutive RTS Network Presenter of the Year nominations (in 2016 and 2017). “I’ve been very very honoured,” she exclaims. “Blimey!”

Although curious and reflective, Derbyshire is not a comfortable interviewee. Her answers, kind and courteous as they are, are brief, and she has an unnerving habit of throwing the question back at you. It’s a trait that serves her very well as a presenter, but makes her tricky to pin down in an interview.

Her trademark no-nonsense interview style seems to be news to her. “I like having conversations with people,” she laughs. “I like meeting people. I like asking them questions.” Beyond that, she seems bemused by the suggestion.

Nor does she have a preference between feisty encounters like her infamous taking-to-task of her Radio 5 Live boss Adrian Van Klaveren, and the more powerful, emotional moments that her BBC Two show is known for.

“The thing that gives me the most satisfaction is listening so carefully to what somebody is saying, or not saying, and picking up on something that you are not necessarily expecting to come out of an interview,” she says.

Her driving force, she says, is injustice. “Politicians speak in generalised terms, and when you present them with an example of how something is hurting someone and their daily life, they don’t want to go down that individual route… I can get impatient then, if they’re talking in broad generalisation.”

That is the key to Derbyshire’s show. “It’s important stuff. It’s issues” she explains.

Daniel Radcliffe, Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters and David Baddiel have all found themselves pinned under Derbyshire’s steely gaze, however she refuses to get caught in the trap of celebrity interviews. “These are really intelligent people” she insists. “They’ve got stuff to say but they don’t get asked about it.”

Radcliffe spoke about the Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. “He had expressed support in the recent past,” she explained. “So when you are doing research you think ‘OK, he might be interesting on that. Let’s see.’”

She is nominated alongside ITV’s News at Ten anchor Tom Bradby and Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis for RTS Network Presenter of the Year in the Television Journalism Awards 2017. “It’s amazing to be in a category with those two,” she says.

“I remember stopping [Emily Maitlis] in the piazza outside [the BBC in London], saying what a great interview she did with Ed Balls [when he attempted to name business leaders who supported Labour]. He said ‘Bill… Bill….’ She said, ‘Apart from Bill someone…?’”

Victoria Derbyshire was nominated for the RTS Network Presenter of the Year award at the RTS Television Journalism Awards 2017. 

Read interviews with her fellow nominees Emily Maitlis and Tom Bradby. See the full list of winners here.

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In July 2015, Victoria Derbyshire was diagnosed with breast cancer.