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Kay Burley - How I lost my Wigan accent

PUBLISHED: 13:38 22 June 2011 | UPDATED: 23:49 23 October 2015

Kay at work with Sky News

Kay at work with Sky News

Sky's Kay Burley has covered some of the world's biggest news stories. But it was her happy childhood in Wigan that set her on the path to success. Emma Mayoh reports

Kay at the launch of Sky Atlantic Kay at the launch of Sky Atlantic

‘I don’t think people like me,’ said Sky News presenter Kay Burley. ‘It must seem I am totally incapable of emotion when I’m on television because I’m very serious and hard. People think I’m a bitch, but showing emotion is not my job.

‘I think it’s something people find difficult and I don’t think they get the right impression of me. I’m not that person in life. Hearing about Diana’s death left me distraught. I really felt it. But it was only my time to be upset when I got home.’

Kay, whose career in news has spanned 30 years, is now the UK’s longest serving female journalist on television. She has broken and covered some of the world’s biggest news stories. She has reported on everything from the Gulf War and the crisis in Afghanistan to the fall of the Berlin Wall. She was also live on air when the second plane hit the Twin Towers in New York - the coverage of that event earned Sky News a BAFTA.

Sitting in the back of a taxi, travelling to an event, she is not a bit like her serious television persona. She chats, giggles and reminisces about
her Wigan childhood, spent with parents Kath and Frank, now deceased, and sister, Jacqueline.

Kay has interviewed everyone from politicians to former footballers including the troubled Paul Gascoigne Kay has interviewed everyone from politicians to former footballers including the troubled Paul Gascoigne

‘I had a fantastic childhood,’ said the 50-year-old. ‘My parents were amazing. They never had any money but they were warm. If there was anyone who didn’t have anywhere to go on a Sunday, they would be around our dinner table.

‘My parents loved each other with a passion. My upbringing was full of
love. My sister and I did a lot of running for Wigan Harriers and dad would always be there to support us and encourage us.’

It was during her early years that Kay’s passion for writing started. After sending dozens of letters to newspapers pleading for a job she landed one at the Wigan Evening Post and Chronicle. The big stories came quickly.

She remembered: ‘My first job was reporting on a vegetable competition. But then I was asked to go to a house because someone had left their washing out too long. The neighbours had reported it to the police. It turned out to be a double murder case. That was a pretty good story for a trainee reporter.’

Kay (third from right) with the TV-AM crew Trish Williamson, Gordon Honeycombe, Caroline Righton, Richard Keys and Lizzie Webb. Picture by Rex Features. Kay (third from right) with the TV-AM crew Trish Williamson, Gordon Honeycombe, Caroline Righton, Richard Keys and Lizzie Webb. Picture by Rex Features.

Kay went on to work on newspapers across the north of England before moving to London. It took a lot of hard work, and sometimes upset, to achieve her ambitions. This included having to abandon her Lancashire identity.

‘I was working at Red Rose Radio doing a 90 second slot about the day’s papers. I heard two of the presenters afterwards mimicking my accent. I was absolutely mortified.

‘I spent a long time practising by reading out Ceefax and I learned to get rid of my accent. I couldn’t afford elocution lessons so it was my way of doing it.’

Kay has enjoyed a lot of success. She has covered some of the world’s biggest stories and interviewed some of the world’s most prominent people. She has worked on programmes from TV-AM to her current role at Sky News which she considered a leap of faith - when she first joined there were just six people in the office and worked on wallpaper pasting tables. Now, there are more than 600 employees.

Kay interviews Hilary Clinton about the uprising in Libya Kay interviews Hilary Clinton about the uprising in Libya

She has come in for a lot of criticism. An interview she did with Peter Andre about his children sparked hundreds of complaints and an official investigation was launched by OFCOM. It found in her favour. But the twice divorced single mum, who has an 18-year-old son called Alexander, takes it on the chin.

She said: ‘It’s just part of it. If people don’t like me it doesn’t upset me. A lot of people vent their spleen about me, but I honestly can’t take it seriously. There is only my family who know me properly.

‘I have been very lucky to do the interviews I have. There have been a lot of unexpected things happen to me though. I interviewed Gordon Brown about the budget. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but then he broke down in tears over the death of his baby girl. It was heart-breaking.

‘It’s so different all the time. I did an interview with Oliver Reed when I was eight months pregnant. He was very drunk and asked me to “shake your funky stuff to me, hot thing”. I let security deal with that.’

Kay conducts an exclusive interview with Gordon Brown Kay conducts an exclusive interview with Gordon Brown

There is no questioning Kay’s success. But the price for it has been high. She has missed out on some of the most important moments of her son’s childhood including being called away from his 10th birthday party to carry out an interview with Rebecca Loos. It is something, she said, he still reminds her of it when he wants something.

Despite living in London for several years she still longs for the attitudes and straight-forward approach of Lancastrians.

She said: ‘What I love about Lancashire are the people. I love being around people who are grounded, honest, straight-forward and no nonsense. When I moved down here it took a lot of getting used to not being around people like that. It’s just not the same down here.

‘In London or the south, people aren’t necessarily being straight forward with you. In Lancashire they are straight to the point and I love that. I do miss it.’

Kay conducts an exclusive interview with David Cameron Kay conducts an exclusive interview with David Cameron

First things first

Kay has just released her first novel, First Ladies. The story, which follows a newly re-elected Prime Minister Julian Jenson, was written using her own experiences interviewing politicians and visiting places like Downing Street and Chequers.

Kay said: ‘I was asked to write my autobiography but I thought that would be really dull. I thought if I wrote a novel I could draw on things that have happened in my life.
‘It’s a lot better written this way and it’s a lot more fun for me to write too.’

Kay has also just completed her second novel, Love Hurts, about a young girl who has everything to live for until she discovers her father has a deadly secret. It is scheduled for release in May next year.

Kay at the launch of her first book, First Ladies, with footballer Frank Lampard and Christine Bleakley Kay at the launch of her first book, First Ladies, with footballer Frank Lampard and Christine Bleakley

A print version of this article appeared in the July 2011 issue of Lancashire Life 

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