Konnie Huq talks to Catherine Watts about her student days at Cambridge, Blue Peter and moving on.
Why did you decide to do an Economics degree before becoming a Blue Peter presenter?
I did science A-levels – Chemistry, Maths and Physics – but I wasn’t that interested in being a doctor or an engineer. Economics was possible with my A-levels, and I hadn’t studied it before. It was more sort of to get a degree.
How did you go from Economics to kids’ TV?
I started TV presenting even before Cambridge because I’d read an advert in Timeout magazine for auditions for a programme on cable and satellite and I managed to get the job. I did that while I was in sixth-form at school because I actually lied about my age.
I said I was 18 and unemployed. Basically, that was how I got into it, and doing Maths A level a year earlier meant I could fit it around my school work.
What did you get up to in your student days at Robinson?
Actually in my first year of Robinson I did some presenting as well, a programme on GMTV that was really early on a Saturday morning – a kids’ show. I was also on the May Ball committee as well. It was called Temptation that year.
It was good fun organising the ball. Robinson’s a good ball – it was renowned for being quite a cool one and it was nicely priced as well.
What are your memories of Cambridge?
Formal halls, gowns, staircases, bops, being tired in the morning in lectures. I loved it, it was really good.
Would you say you got a lot out of your time here?
Yeah. I really had a good old time when I was at Cambridge.
If you could relive your student days, is there anything you’d do differently?
No, I really, really enjoyed it, and I really enjoyed being at Robinson. It was my first-choice college. Because it’s a modern college, you kind of get the benefits of going to a normal uni.
It’s got the grandeur and the title of being at Cambridge but without the pomp and circumstance. It still has traditions like formal halls and the layout’s so sociable and funky, with the walkways and staircases. I really think it’s a brilliant layout. It’s an architectural phenomenon.
Robert Webb went to Robinson too. I bump into him sometimes at the BBC.
Did you know each other at uni?
Yeah we did. It’s funny. We both lived on the same road at one point. College life was fun. You do miss being at uni…everyone’s on tap, you go into Sainsbury’s and bump into everyone you know, and on the way to lectures. It’s so sociable – it’s just brilliant. London’s big and sprawling, and it’s not as intimate and sociable.
Have you got any words of advice for budding TV presenters here?
Most people there are probably more than capable – it’s not exactly rocket science. But if you’re really keen then the best way to do it is to make a show reel by getting a video camera and recording yourself presenting something. Mock something up and then send it off to a producer or an agent of a show you’d like to do.
What attracted you to kids’ TV?
I think Blue Peter is just a really cushy job. You get to travel everywhere, you get amazing experiences – it’s probably the best job in presenting. Aim high.
What’s the strangest thing that Blue Peter ever made you do?
I really did do some strange things. Racing lawnmowers was quite bizarre.
Did you ever refuse to do anything?
No not really. I wanted to many times, but I didn’t. Stuff where it’s energetic or sporty, heights or walking on hot coals. I was scared when I did that – but it’s a good experience. That show is a training-ground.
Do you ever get sick of jokes about sticky-back plastic?
I’m kind of used to it. It just washes over me. I just laugh politely. Everybody’s got something – I suppose a Blue-Peter presenter more than others.
Was it ever hard being that enthusiastic all the time?
I think I’m quite an enthusiastic person, actually. But I also quite like doing things on two levels. I can still be enthusiastic but have my own humour sort of put in. You can send something up but embrace it at the same time.
Did you ever feel that being a kids’ presenter put pressure on you to behave a certain way?Well I wouldn’t really say that I’m some sort of coke-snorting exhibitionist – so not really.
So you’re just squeaky-clean?
I’m just normal. I don’t think most people are axe-murderers. And I don’t really have any skeletons in my closet. I’m quite boring.
But what about some of the costumes you’ve had to put on for the show?
If you’re going to be an actress or somebody of a performing nature, you have to go with it. If you look at Sweeney Todd, or Spiderman, some of the wacky and wonderful things in the world today, it’s no biggy.
How was it leaving the show after ten years?
I was sad, but I was ready to go, and I’m still in touch with everyone. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I’m one of these people who’s not that into change, and I’m not a big risk taker so I was worried about what it would be like, but actually it’s fine. It’s actually quite liberating in many ways.
What does the future hold for you?
Lots and lots of fun and exciting things. I’m hoping to do stuff with commercial channels as well as the BBC, so you might see me crop up on Channel 4. I’ve just done a pilot for ITV. Bits and pieces, and hopefully I’ll still do stuff for the Beeb as well.