When looking to key figures within Northern Ireland’s media industry, no list would be complete without mention of Sarah Travers. Sarah has 17 years of experience under her belt as a BBC News journalist, holds position as Media Training Director at her business, Bespoke Communications alongside Camilla Long and earlier this year became a Young Enterprise NI ambassador allowing her to pass on the advice and skills she’s learned over the course of her career.
Here Sarah talks to The Style Edit about trusting your gut, the importance of mentors and the biggest lessons she learned during her time at the BBC – all from the comfort of Northern Ireland’s picturesque North Coast.
“Trust your gut – be kind to others but also be kind to yourself.”
Tell us about your career aspirations. Did you always want to go into journalism?
I knew from about my mid teens that a career in the media was definitely where I saw myself wanting to be I just didn’t really know in what specific area. I loved English and drama at school and I thought it would be amazing to be able to interview interesting people and tell their stories. A week’s work experience with BBC Radio Foyle in my Lower Sixth year completely sealed the deal on that one. I absolutely loved the buzz of live broadcasting and the adrenalin that a daily or hourly deadline gave you. I honestly couldn’t believe that you could be paid for doing something that I simply loved from day one! The course I studied was one of the first broadcast journalism degree courses ever and it was fantastic – I developed skills to write, film and edit 25 years ago which stood me in great stead.
Tell us about your experience at university. If you were making the choice now, would you still choose to study in England or closer to home?
If the truth be told my university experience was bitter/sweet. I initially felt very lost once I’d left my little town of Portstewart and moved to a hip happening city – Nottingham. Even though my late dad was from Lancashire, being the only non English person on my course was quite hard for me – the first time I’ve ever felt different. But it was a good challenge and helped me to become much more independent. Everyone was really friendly and Nottingham is a really cool place to study, but I think I struggled being away from home and missed the sea and my family sooooo much. I did make friends for life while I was there so it wasn’t all bad and we did have some amazing times so no, I wouldn’t change going away for that reason alone.
As a Young Enterprise NI Ambassador and director at Bespoke Communications, how important is it to you to share your own career experience and mentor others? How do you think your own experiences have prepared you for these roles?
I feel having career mentors and advice from a trusted, more experienced critical friend both within your industry and from outside is absolutely crucial. I know the BBC is doing this more now than they did in my time but I suppose back in the day you cut your teeth as a journalist by learning and watching the pros on the job. Now having my own training company, Bespoke Communications, I love that I can give back and share some of the tools and skills that I have picked up over 25 years to help people overcome that awful imposter syndrome that holds so many people back. We offer courses in public speaking and media training and sales training. It’s extremely rewarding for both myself and my business partner Camilla Long.
Just this year I became a Young Enterprise NI Ambassador and really there’s very little I can teach these incredible young business people! In fact I learn from them every day. Teenagers often get such a bad press but I can tell you these young people could run the country. Maybe we should let them!
“Teenagers often get such a bad press but I can tell you these young people could run the country. Maybe we should let them!”
What qualities do you think attributed to your success at the BBC? Initially, how did you get your start at BBC and get your foot in the door?
That’s a difficult question to answer – I think working for the BBC is the best training in journalism that you could have if you want to be a broadcaster. Working with the best people and with access to such a wealth of resources makes it very easy to achieve. My time at BBC Radio Foyle was definitely where it all started and the opportunities to push myself out of my comfort zone all began there. I got a job back at Foyle before I’d even graduated and was so delighted. Even though I’d applied for a job in the newsroom, I was offered my own two hour Sunday show during my first summer there in 1995. It was such a fabulous opportunity for me at just 21! After two years I moved to the Belfast newsroom, a much bigger and more daunting place and soon after began reading the morning television news bulletins. Very scary.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned during your 17 years at the BBC?
Be kind to those coming behind you. I always remember those who helped me when I first came in the door and how that helped me overcome those dreadful nerves and self doubt – I try to do the same now to help people get that foot in the door or to progress their careers and push themselves out of their comfort zone.
“I think working for the BBC is the best training in journalism that you could have if you want to be a broadcaster. Working with the best people and with access to such a wealth of resources makes it very easy to achieve.”
How do you balance your time between home life and your career?
Well if you’d asked me this 21 years ago I’d have said it’s a constant struggle but now my eldest has left home and is studying broadcast engineering in London and my youngest is about to sit her GCSEs – so it’s much, much easier. I worked shifts all the way through having young kids, driving from Portstewart to Belfast four days a week either at 4 in the morning or coming home at midnight – it was tough but I couldn’t have managed without my mum to run around after us all with a safety blanket. She’s a star.
What’s your favourite thing about living on the north coast?
Everything! I just love it. Being near the sea is so important for me – I just couldn’t leave ever.
What’s your favourite meal?
I adore all food but seafood is my favourite.
Where is your favorite place to eat?
Favourite place to eat – ooohhhh tough one – any of the fantastic eateries on the north coast, I adore eating locally sourced, seasonal food. I always support Harry’s Shack and Amicis in Portstewart, and I love Ochos Tapas in Portrush
Who is your style icon?
I’ve always loved the sexy, simplicity of Jennifer Aniston. Classic lines, minimum fuss, sunkissed skin and beachy hair. Gorgeous.
How important is sleep to you?
Massively – and I think I need it more than ever. After 13 years of early shifts getting up with a 4am alarm – I vowed I would never set my work alarm for anything before 6am again. Mind you I’m still early to bed and early to rise just not that early!
How do you like to unwind?
Sofa, PJs, fire, a movie and a nice glass or two of red wine.
Tell us about your favourite holiday memory
We’ve spent many happy family holidays in the South of France – memories of being there with my parents, sister’s family and mine were all special times.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Pet peeve. People being early! I’m always just about on time or late so just can’t cope when people arrive early as I’m never ready. (That’s my problem really lol – not theirs!)
What’s the most interesting book you’ve read?
I love fiction set in a period of history I know little about. One of my favourite books was Victoria Hislop’s The Island, about the Greek Island Spinalonga – a leper colony until 1957.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust your gut – be kind to others but also be kind to yourself. I used to make choices based on what others would expect of me rather than what I really wanted. So I would tell my younger self to consider others – yes – but ultimately go with what your gut tells you is the right thing to do.
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Having had kids young travel is definitely something I want to do more of. I’d like to do The Great North Run. I’d like to make a tv documentary.
Who is your hero?
My hero is my beautiful mum who doesn’t wear a superhero cape but who flies to my rescue at all times even at my age! She’s totally selfless and full of love for her family and she’s just amazing.