Sian Williams’s TV Diary

Sian Williams’s TV Diary

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It’s the US Embassy Independence Day Garden Party at the Ambassador’s house, which is going ahead despite there being no ambassador in situ yet. 

I haven’t been before and I don’t know what to expect. Probably a small gathering of journalists clustering around the press team, asking questions about the latest Trump tweet.

When I arrive, the lawn is swarming with hundreds of people. It’s surreal. They’re playing Beyoncé from loudspeakers while US snipers cover the joint from the rooftops. There’s ITV News’s Robert Peston over by the Starbucks tent, Sky’s Adam Boulton by the Dunkin’ Donuts. The canapés are mini hot dogs with American flags in them.

One of my ITN colleagues sidles up to me. “Very different to last year. Much more of a nod to Britain, then. They even had Duran Duran playing live,” he says, wistfully.

When I get home, I’m greeted by a dirty, sweaty, exhausted boy. My 10-year-old son has returned from a scout survival camp. He was allowed to take 20 items crucial for existence in the wilds of Kent (well, the Weald.)

Top of most children’s lists: water bottle, trainers, waterproof trousers. Top of his: Beano, his comforter, Ted, and a fidget spinner. When he comes home, still wearing the same clothes, pants and socks he left in, I ask him how it went.

“We had to pluck, gut and roast a pheasant,” he said. “So I had an uncooked potato instead. Glad I took Ted, though, for moral support.” I guess that’s what you’d expect with a vegetarian psychologist for a mum.

ITV has recommissioned a health series with me and a lovely A&E doctor called Ranj Singh. Last year, it took seven months to do seven programmes. This time, the channel wants more episodes and two specials ready for the autumn schedule and I haven’t shot a single frame.

"When I started on BBC News 24, the Autocue would often freeze mid-sentence."

I have absolute faith in the production company, TwoFour, but, as we chat through logistics and editorials, they use a phrase guaranteed to drive fear into any presenter: “ITV focus-grouped the last series and....” Thankfully, it was OK.

I’m told that viewers really enjoyed the “immersive” items. “Immersive” means “humiliate yourself on camera because it’s fun to watch a journalist and doctor doing uncomfortable things in the name of science”.

Last series, that meant Dr Ranj having his semen tested for fertility, his hair follicles examined for premature baldness and seeing how much weight he could lose on low-cal ready meals.

I supplied samples of blood and urine to prove I was wasting money on vitamins, was filmed in my brushed-cotton pyjamas, tried snoring products and went through children’s hair for nits. I shudder to think what’s next.

It’s 20 years next month since I moved from radio production to TV presenting and more than 30 since I joined the BBC. The gig may be different – I’m 5 News’s anchor at ITN now – but many things remain the same.

When a big story breaks – and we’ve had a lot of them recently – everyone pulls together, works longer and survives on adrenaline.

This newsroom does not have the resources of the BBC, but it is fleet of foot, knows its viewers and uses their voices to illustrate stories relevant to them, which is why more and more of them are watching.

What they see doesn’t always go to plan, though, as is the case in all live broadcasting.

When I started on BBC News 24, the Autocue would often freeze mid-sentence. “Ad-lib! Ad-lib!” came the scream from the gallery.

This week, the Autocue went down before we’d even begun the 5:00pm bulletin. I’d forgotten my glasses, so couldn’t read the paper scripts I’d carefully crafted earlier.

Eight minutes into the news, after some frantic ad-libbing, the Autocue returned.

“I thought that’s what you always do,” a friend remarked afterwards, “just chat about the news. Do you actually write that stuff down?” The liberty.

Sian Williams is Presenter, 5 News.