Sunday 20 May 2018

BBC boss told me I had to do Strictly to further my career, says Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis

BBC newsreader Emily Maitlis. Photo: Getty Images
BBC newsreader Emily Maitlis. Photo: Getty Images

Sarah Knapton

Emily Maitlis, the Newsnight presenter, has disclosed how a BBC manager once told her that she would need to appear on Strictly Come Dancing if she wanted her career to progress.

The 45-year-old British journalist, who also presents bulletins for BBC One and the BBC News Channel, said she thought the unnamed executive was joking, but soon realised he was deadly serious.

Maitlis has spoken openly about experiencing sexism and ageism in journalism and said she often struggled to be taken seriously.

When she joined Newsnight in 2006, the Cambridge-gradate was criticised by viewers for “flashing her legs” and “giving out all the wrong messages" while veteran broadcasters complained that it as one more example of the rise of the “autocutie.’

Emily Maitlis at the 2013 Arqiva British Academy Television Awards at the Royal Festival Hall, London.
Emily Maitlis at the 2013 Arqiva British Academy Television Awards at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

The former BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson, was accused of sexism after using her as an example of the corporation providing political reporting opportunities for ‘older’ women, when Maitlis was just 40.

But when asked by the Mail on Sunday what the worst thing anyone had ever said to her, she replied: “A BBC manager once said that – as a woman – if I wanted my career to go to the next step I would have to do Strictly Come Dancing. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.”

In 2006, Maitlis said she would never appear on reality television but in 2011 was persuaded to take part in a charity pastiche of Strictly to raise money for Children In Need. By that time, Fiona Bruce and Natasha Kaplinsky had already taken to the floor and Maitlis said she had nothing to prove.

#But she says women still have to fight to be taken as seriously as men.

Speaking to the National Union of Students last year she said: “A woman can ask the same question and a man will be called robust and a woman will be called shrill.

“There is still a perception as an interviewer that you have to be politer, you have to know when to stop and I think quite often a man’s good work is recognised much more easily than a woman’s.

“Men are much better at saying ‘look at this, look at this, I did this’ and women wait for other people to notice it.”

But she has admitted that her good looks are an advantage.

"If two people go for the same TV job and they're both journalists but one looks better, of course you're going to give the job to the better-looking one,” she added.

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