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Talking to the world

Nuala McGovern is presenting a BBC radio show from county Wicklow during lockdown. She talks to Eimear Dodd about 'BBC Wicklow' and global conversations on Coronavirus

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Nuala McGovern broadcasting from home

Nuala McGovern broadcasting from home

BBC presenter Nuala McGovern and her husband Tristan Agates at her family’s house in Wicklow

BBC presenter Nuala McGovern and her husband Tristan Agates at her family’s house in Wicklow

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Nuala McGovern broadcasting from home

A major international radio show has been broadcast from the Garden County during the Covid-19 lockdown.

BBC presenter Nuala McGovern had travelled to Ireland with her husband, Tristan Agates, in March to visit family before Covid-19 restrictions were put in place. However, after developing a cough, the radio and TV presenter was advised to self-isolate, instead of returning to London. Since recovering, the Drumcondra native has been presenting her BBC World Service radio show 'Outside Source' from her family's house near Avoca.

Speaking to this paper, Nuala said presenting the show from Wicklow came about 'by accident' after she was advised to self-isolate.

'Since I was a kid, I would come down [to Wicklow] on holidays. We're lucky enough as a family to have a house down here now and we've been coming over whenever we can for holidays and weekends. I was coming as usual in mid-March but I'd been to Spain beforehand for work and for fun, then Ireland brought in that if you've been to Spain, you weren't meant to leave for two weeks because they wanted you to quarantine.'

Around St Patrick's Day, Nuala developed a cough.

'I called the doctor, who was lovely but the advice was to isolate for two weeks. That decided I wasn't going anywhere and by the time I'd recovered the country had gone into lockdown.

'It was an unexpected place to end up but I think incredibly fortunate it turned out that way.'

The BBC sent equipment to allow Nuala to get onto the radio airwaves and back to work once she was well.

'The internet is superfast down here which is also a blessing. It meant I could get on the air and it's basically the same as being in a studio. I do the show five days a week here from BBC Wicklow - as I call it.'

Nuala joined the BBC in 2009 and has covered many global stories including #bringbackourgirls in Nigeria and Brexit. In 2015, she was named the full-time presenter of the global radio news programme, 'Outside Source' (OS), on the BBC World Service. Nuala also presented the BBC's special coverage of the Easter 1916 commemorations and the results of the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment in 2018.

While some parts of Nuala's working day have changed because she is working remotely, other aspects remain the same. Many of her colleagues are also working from their homes. The pandemic is now the show's focus and it has been re-titled to 'Coronavirus Global Conversations on OS'.

'In a lot of ways, it continues in the same way. We have our meeting, decide our topics and we do the show in the evening, from 5 to 6.'

'The big difference is that I'm in the countryside that is absolutely beautiful with lots of space to walk. No one is close by apart from some neighbours. My experience is very different from what it would have been if I was in London where I live in a flat surrounded by people. From what I'm hearing, it's a more intense and difficult situation from the amount of cases that the UK has had. They are living through it in a very different way to how we are.'

'Coronavirus Global Conversations on OS' pairs guests from around the world who share their individual experiences of how Covid-19 has affected their lives. Recent shows have featured paramedics from Dublin and from New York, looked at the experiences of families grieving loved ones and the joy of mothers giving birth in this unprecedented scenario. The show's global perspective shines a light on how people in different parts of the world are experiencing similar scenarios due to Covid-19.

'People are amazing. I hope I can listen to them and bring their stories [out] so people realise  what some people are going through, even if in their world everything seems fine,' Nuala said, adding that she has been struck by the resilience and optimism of people during the pandemic.

'I think it's the first story that has been truly global. For the World Service, our audience spans the whole way across so... with all of them, you want to honour their experience.

'We've had relatives who have lost someone come on and speak with one another and not being able to have a funeral or memorial service.'

During our chat, Nuala is full of praise for the team who work on the show and her colleagues at the BBC. Later by email, she returns to the importance of the team's hard work to the show's success. 'I want to give a huge shout out to my team in London who are working really hard to make it possible for me to work here.

'They book (or fix as they say) these wonderful guests that I get to speak to for Coronavirus Global Conversations and work hard at keeping communication flowing so we can make it happen for our listeners.'

While in Ireland, Nuala has been focused on presenting a radio show on the BBC World Service.

'I think this story for me, lends itself so much to the intimacy of radio. A lot of people come to the radio for companionship and you want to be able to concentrate on those conversations that are taking place without too much background noise or clutter. You zone in. The way you use radio is very different to the way you watch television.

'I find when I'm speaking to [guests on the radio show], you can close  your eyes and listen to them and you're brought to the place where they are either geographically or emotionally. Also, in that way, a lot of the barriers are gone. People can connect with others. Some of the conversations were with young women who had just given birth and it was really difficult for them....these women shared these experiences and they were very supportive of one another.'

Nuala speaks with admiration for the work of her colleagues in BBC news.

'There is some amazing TV being done at the moment by my colleagues who are going into a hospital for a week, seeing what the doctors are going through.

'For me here, at my dining table, with my little box and the internet, it kind of blows me away what you are able to do.'

For now, Nuala will continue to broadcast for the BBC World Service from Wicklow. But, it hasn't all been plain sailing. One day, shortly before she was due on air, there was a problem with the cable used to connect her microphone to the broadcasting equipment.

'I went on Twitter and I asked does anybody know where I can get a cable? This guy called Julian Hayes, He threw it out on Twitter and within 20 minutes, new cable. The Chester Beatty Inn in Ashford had one.

'I drove up there and was back here within an hour, I took a mic off them too just in case and a couple of cables, and it worked. It was the mic.'

East Coast FM had also offered to drop equipment at the gate of Nuala's house.

'It was incredible. I felt so supported. If anything goes wrong, there's this community that will come together and help out.'

Nuala's neighbours have also left eggs on her doorstep and a bunch of flowers on May Day, following the tradition to ward evil away from the house.

'I will really remember this time. There are lots of difficulties but there has been a lot of positives as well,' Nuala said.

'Coronavirus Global Conversations on OS' is on the BBC World Service, Monday to Friday 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Wicklow People