Newsreader Moira Stuart has never been publicly linked to anyone romantically and she is intensely private. But, in February, 1999 - when she faced the same career crisis as today - she spoke frankly with editor of The-Latest and fellow broadcaster Marc Wadsworth.
Moira Stuart doesn't own a car, a mobile phone or even a satellite dish. Yet the Black female face of BBC television for almost two decades cannot deny a Tv buff's knowledge of programmes and personalities on the five channels she watches in the "Chiswick shoe-box" she calls home.
A lack of grandeur is captured by the simple silver watch from Next, with a black leather strap, she sports on her wrist. Only recently did she engage the services of an agent to sell her talent more effectively, something fellow anchors of television news sorted out years ago.
Even with her choice of agent she was careful to select someone who "isn't too pushy". The combative tactic used by Anna Ford, when she was dropped by the BBC allegedly for being too old, of hiring George Carman QC to threaten them with legal action is something you could not imagine Stuart ever doing. That's despite the bitterness she feels for being effectively snubbed by BBC bosses following the controversial dumbing down changes they have made to news bulletins.
Stuart says other newsreaders, even some who had only been with the corporation five minutes, received telephone calls or were lunched by news executives, told how valuable they are and promised future opportunities. "Yet, after 18 years doing this job, no one contacted me." Now she is keeping her options open, exploring offers both in this country and further afield in America. "I'm waiting to hear about a number of things so I'm not prepared to speculate about my career at the moment." Stuart adds wryly it is likely that she will stay in Britain because "it's here where I'm the most notorious".
Gamely she mocks the supposed facelift BBC news and current affairs have undergone to compete with Channel Five, whose audience figures are so low she guesses it is watched by no more than "a blind dog and a man". Presenters, she says, are expected to be so casual they are forever walking into shot. What will be expected of them next, she muses, perhaps arty shots of their thigh. "If you take the Newsnight studio as an example, it's all gone very retro."
More often now Stuart does the odd interview during her news bulletins. But this mainly consists of her quizzing BBC correspondents. She hasn't ruled out following the latter day path of her even older ITV opposite number Trevor McDonald who, in response to similar unpopular changes to his bulletin slots, is reporting more and even hosting his own chat show. Stuart has a great deal of respect for McDonald and talk show host Trisha Goddard. But she is dismissive of some of the others whom she says are "on a big ego trip".
Perhaps, surprisingly for someone who is perceived as an non-threatening Black British institution, Stuart is the first to point out that her big break came after the inner city British riots of 1981, which followed the police oppression of Black youths. She is proud of her African-Caribbean heritage. Indeed, when the self-confessed "jazz junkie" is not indulging her passion at a London venue like Ronnie Scott's, she can be seen, a solo virtuoso performance, unpretentiously supporting community events.
She avidly follows the Stephen Lawrence murder case in the news media which has led her to conclude that the British public are like the Germans during the war in regard to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. "Many don't know what's happening to Black people and the rest don't care." Almost innocently, she asks why White people like Nelson Mandela so much — a man, by the way, whom she greatly admires.
She relates how hardened journalists in the BBC newsrooms were transfixed by live coverage of Mandela's release from his apartheid jail. I aver that a collective guilt over his imprisonment for 27 years by White Afrikaner rednecks is at play. She is bubbly, almost camp, referring to me as "passion flower" and "baby doll". Stuart feigns excitement by running on the spot like a tap dancer and says she can't wait to attend my forthcoming book launch (which she really did).
She's a great flatterer who has time for less exalted folk; chatting with the BBC receptionist and a canteen worker who shares a laugh with her. But, despite her genuine friendliness, Stuart is a secretive public figure. She has never been romantically linked by the media to anyone and doesn't go in for magazine profiles, pretty much shunning publicity. "In the end, they're only really interested in your private life — who're you're dating. Gossip. I know I'm a mystery and I want to keep it that way."
Mischievously, I run the rumour past her that she once went out with the blue-eyed soul blonde pop star, Dusty Springfield, with eye make-up as heavy as her own. She dissolves with laughter. "She's old and I've never even met her. Broads (women) are great and men are a nightmare. But I most definitely prefer men." The subject of gayness leads us on to the intrinsic conservatism of African-Caribbeans. I talk about the Protestant fundamentalism of the evangelical Black churches which is anti-gay and influences the attitudes of even non-believers in our community.
Stuart agrees. "The attitudes are sometimes Victorian." Stuart herself has been criticised by viewers for looking stern. Her response is blunt: "I couldn't care if my post bag was full of letters telling me to smile. If a bomb's gone off and I'm reading a news item about it then I'll be as sombre as necessary." She's a firm believer in those old journalistic values of editorial independence and integrity. That is why, unlike other well-known anchors, she has refused lucrative offers to make corporate videos. One senses that the indomitable Moira Stuart is going to be around in television for a long while yet.
* Moira Stuart was born in Britain in 1952 to African-Caribbean parents, Marjorie Gordon and Harold Stuart who divorced when she was 10 months old. Talking about her ancestry, Stuart says she is from a "long line of outsiders" and that she considers herself "a true mongrel - and proud of it". She has roots in Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad and Scotland.
She began her career as an actress. In 1980, she played Darong in Series 1 of game show The Adventure Game; she also worked as a continuity announcer and newsreader for both Radio 4 and Radio 2 before moving to television in 1981.
She is a distant cousin of Ghanaian publisher Margaret Busby and has other Ghanaian family members by marriage. Political with a small 'p', she thinks Britain's first Black woman MP Diane Abbott, a left-wing firebrand, is "shrill".
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