She has helped to guide the nation through these unfathomable times in soothing fashion, yet Colette Fitzpatrick has had to get used to a new normal as she presents Virgin Media News every evening.
The grim task of tuning in for coronavirus updates has become a part of our daily routine, with the bearer of that bad news admitting her day is unrecognisable from what it was at the start of this year.
If anyone had told Colette back in January that she would be cutting her own hair before heading into the studio to for her latest broadcast, the 45-year-old mother of two would never have believed you.
Yet priorities have been shifted for all of us in our rebranded world.
“So much has changed for all of us in the last few weeks and it is no different for us at Virgin Media,” begins Colette.
“Our reporters are editing their stories on the road and sending in clips while our newsroom has a lot fewer people around now. People are working from home, phone calls have replaced meetings and we are all adapting to these new times.
“From my perspective, I have reduced the number of hours I am in the office. I do two bulletins in the day and I leave it as late as possible to go in.
“After the lunchtime bulletin at 12.30, I come back to my house and travel back in again for the 5.30 report. It means going back and forward to work twice a day, but we are aiming to keep as few people as possible in the office at the time.
“The other big change for me has been that we have no hair and make-up available in the studios at the moment, so I do all that myself at home before I go in.
“Also, one of the unexpected consequences of the Covid crisis has been learning to cut my own hair. I’ve cut it twice so far and it has not been too bad. I was due a haircut just before everything was shut down and I never go it done and it was starting to look very scraggily.
“So one of my colleagues at Virgin, Zara King, gave me a technique that would work and it has proved to be successful. You put your hair into two ponytails and you cut across the bottom. “Now, it took about three days to get it right. After I cut it, I was finding bits that were sticking up and I was cutting away at it.
“You can tell I have done it myself when you get up close, but when it is all sprayed into place in the studio, galloping horses would not be able to see the imperfections!”
Many of us have tried to avoid the grim details of the Covid-19 tragedy, yet that option is not available to those giving us the news on a daily basis and Colette admits she needs to distance herself from any emotions.
“It is a question of removing yourself from the story,” she continues. “When a big breaking news event is happening live on air, you go into a certain mode to deal with it. We do something similar in our everyday life when we are dealing with a serious situation.
“My task at Virgin is to deliver the news correctly, very objectively. At the end of the day, the news nothing to do with you and your job is just to replay it. Nothing else.
“We see presenters on Fox News in America giving their opinions and getting very involved, but we are the polar opposite of that. Hopefully, that is what we have done.”
The viewing figures for Virgin Media News suggest Colette and her team are ticking all the right boxes, with their flagship 5.30 bulletin a 70 pc increase in viewers in recent weeks, with that number up 87 pc for young adults aged 15-34.
“Young people who don’t traditionally watch television news are tuning in now,” says Mick McCaffrey, Virgin Media’s Head of News and Sport.
“That is a huge change in the demographic of people who are watching what we do and we have tried to reflect that in our output.
“What we have tried to do is get that light and shade in our reports and we’ve had some wonderful human interest stories in our daily bulletins.”
Presenting news that is palatable for viewers of all ages has been a balancing act for all broadcasters, with Colette admitting the daily Covid-19 updates are a constant theme in the home she shares with husband Niall McDermot and their two children, Milo (9) and Olivia (7).
“We have the news on in the house all the time at home and my kids know who Tony Holohan is, they know who Simon Harris is, who Leo Varadkar is,” she adds with a smile.
“My two kids have been fine about all of this, but I worry about them missing their friends, especially for my little lady Olivia.
“Boys tend to kick a ball together, but girls are very close to each other when they play and it is going to be very tough for them to socially distance.
“The thing I miss most about the old way of life is neighbours being able to drop into the house and the kids being able to play with their friends like they used to.
“I’m not missing out on too much. Let’s be honest, I’m 45, I have two kids, I don’t go out anywhere normally! That story is very different for the over 70s and you have to feel sorry for them.
“We have to believe that normality will resume at some point. The black plague was here, the Spanish flu was here and the world found a way to get back to normal life after that, but I do think we will live differently after this.”
All of us can look forward to the day when Covid-19 is no longer the top news story and until then, Colette and the Virgin Media team can be relied upon to guide us through a summer we will not forget in a hurry.
via Sunday World