Beccy Barr - my heart has always been in Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 09:28 14 September 2017 | UPDATED: 09:28 14 September 2017
Presenter and journalist Beccy Barr tells Roger Borrell about her love of Lancashire, life as a single mum and dealing with trolls
On the home page of Beccy Barr’s Twitter feed, the BBC journalist sums herself up in eight words: Tall. Girl Guide Leader. Single Mum. Sporty. Trouble.
We’ll come to the trouble a little later. In the meantime, there’s no denying she’s tall. Very tall. This might not come across when she reads the news from BBC North West Tonight couch but she is 6ft 2ins. Think statuesque rather than beanpole.
As we now know, there are better paid female newsreaders, but is there one who’s taller? At 5ft 11ins, Fiona Bruce would come a poor second and even Huw Edwards would have to concede an inch or two.
‘I love being tall,’ beams Beccy. But doesn’t it make it hard to find dancing partners? ‘They can always reach up, can’t they?’ She has a point.
‘Most women are taller than their mum but I’m taller than my dad and he’s 6ft. That’s pretty unusual.’ Beccy has a seven-year-old daughter, Hannah, and she is also tall for her age. She’s also following in mum’s footsteps when it comes to the Girl Guides. She’s currently a ‘Rainbow.’
‘I’ve been a Guide leader for ten years,’ says Beccy, chatting at the dining table of her Lancaster home. ‘I started as a kid and became a leader when I was in London. When I returned to Lancaster I went back to my old Guide unit at St Paul’s not far from where I live.
‘I think it can broaden horizons. I gained a lot and wanted to give something back and now I’m an ambassador for Girl Guides in the north west. That means being a positive voice.’
Like most things Beccy does, she was no slouch as a Guide. ‘I had absolutely tons of badges – a double row of them down one arm and a single row down the other.’
Unlike the Scouts, the Guides are steadfastly single sex. ‘And I think that is wonderful for some children. I love it when we see really shy girls joining us, developing confidence and then finding their voices.’
Beccy went to Lancaster Girls’ Grammar before gaining a degree at the London School of Economics. ‘As a kid, I lived just down the road and walked past this house every day on my way to school. Back then, it was a B&B but the people we bought it from four years ago had converted it back to a family house. They managed to retain some original features – we even have the servants’ bell although no one comes when you ring it!’
Before joining the BBC in Salford, Beccy spent five years presenting financial news at CNBC in London, reporting from locations ranging from Moscow to Madrid. Previously, she was in New York as a reporter with the Bloomberg financial news organisation.
She says she has no regrets about moving back home. In fact, she seems immensely proud to be working at the BBC’s Salford Quays complex.
Its creation wasn’t universally welcomed by some in the corporation who apparently required smelling salts when it was suggested they might move to the grim north.
‘I think the move has changed the voice of the BBC in a big way,’ says Beccy. ‘It has created a huge, virtuous circle proving there is no reason why all of the British media should be based in London. Not everyone is going to up sticks and head north but I know several who did and have discovered there’s a wonderful lifestyle here.
‘I love Lancashire and I love Lancaster. My heart has always been here and I was thrilled to come back. The countryside is great and I like to be outdoors a lot.’
She still has many friends in the city and her parents are not far away. ‘I like the quirky bohemian character of Lancaster. I’m biased but it’s a perfect little city. Of course, it was different when I was 18 – I couldn’t wait to get away! But most young people are like that.’
Beccy travels to Salford for her BBC shifts on TV and radio and living on the south side of the city does make the commute bearable. But, as a divorcee, it does mean she has to be conscious of childcare issues.
‘While I’m a single mum, Hannah has a fantastic dad and we share child care. He’s not far away. It’s not so much a problem of juggling being a mum and having a job as sorting out the logistics. That can be tricky. But I have loads of people around – my parents aren’t far away.’
Having a child and reporting on some of the horrific events of recent times does prey on her mind. ‘There is a lot of grim stuff in the news and Hannah asks lots of questions about what I do and the people I interview.
‘I think it’s important that we don’t patronise children when they ask difficult questions and we are as frank as we can be. Hannah said they had been talking about Islamic extremists believing they went to heaven after suicide bombings. You have to be honest and discuss these things with them.
‘There have been some really difficult stories recently and the BBC does provide emotional support for journalists. It has been relentless but it’s not always the biggest stories that affect you. Smaller, equally tragic events have an impact on you, particularly horrible things involving children.
‘It’s not always the big stories I think about when I go to sleep at night. It’s the small things that are hard to get out of your mind, but I’ve only ever cried three times at work – which isn’t bad is it?’
One story that left a mark was the 2012 murder of two female police officers by Manchester drug dealer Dale Cregan. ‘One of my closest friends is a cop in Manchester and I spent a long time trying to get hold of her on the day it happened. I knew there was every chance it wasn’t her but you can’t help thinking the worst, can you?’
When she’s not at work, sport plays a part is clearing her head of the more challenging events covered by the BBC TV news team. ‘To be honest, I’m not big on relaxing,’ she says, ‘but after all, the job I do isn’t like being down the pit is it?
‘I like using my body and being fit. It’s a blend of swimming, biking and running. I aim to do one or two events a year and I’m planning on doing Ironman UK again depending on the state of a problem knee.’ As well as competing in that gruelling event, she has also cycled all the way around Ireland and from John O’Groats to Land’s End as well as taking part in a charity appeal which involved playing the highest ever game of rugby league on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Her passion for exercise isn’t restricted to the Trough of Bowland cycleways. ‘I have been known to go for an open water swim in the Salford Quays before work. I arrived for work with a wet suit under one harm, dressed in a robe, dripping in reception. I think I looked pretty weird and people thought I was mad, but the water in the dock is completely fine.’
Which brings us to trouble. ‘I suppose you could say I’m a bit gobby. I get into heated debates, usually on social media. In a public-facing job people expect you to be a certain way, look a certain way.
‘So yes, I’ve been trolled a bit but I call people out and I find that works. I don’t sit back and just take it. If you make fun of people who are being ridiculous I find others tend to pile in to support you.
‘Despite what we think, most trolling comes from other women on social media. They’ll find something unpleasant to say – you’re showing too much leg, you look like a tart, you’re blonde and wear make-up so you must be stupid. Well, I’m not actually!’
Becky wasn’t always ‘gobby.’ Her early desire to become a journalist took her to the free newspaper, the Blackpool Citizen, for work experience.
‘I’d just graduated and I went there for a week. I had a really sore throat so I could hardly speak. I didn’t let on and they thought I was this nice quiet girl.
‘I was really pleased when they ask me to fill in for a few weeks while someone was off. My sore throat had gone by then – and that’s when they realised I wasn’t quiet at all!’