Ellie Crisell – 4th December 2007
It takes more than just being a pretty face to bring BBC Newsround into its 35th year. Journalistic determinism and a passion for reporting are essential to make it work, and Ellie Crisell is a perfect example. As the face of the children’s news programme for over four years, Ellie’s strong journalism training meant Newsround could continue being successful. Growing up when Newsround came into its own, it made a lasting impression on Ellie as a child. “I grew up with Newsround, when it was presented by John Craven. I’d watch it as a kid and think that would be a great job. I’d then go off and practice news-reading in my bedroom,” she says.
Ellie’s infectious smile and bubbly personality has won her not only fans with her viewers, but also a large portion of the male population. With a degree in drama and then journalism, Ellie has a solid background to support her presenter role. After getting a feel for journalism at The Mail on Sunday offices, Ellie moved into broadcast journalism as a way to marry her love of performance and reporting. Confidently, she says: “It was an educated guess that I was going to be good at it and that I would enjoy it. Luckily, it kinda worked out.” Working her way through radio to regional news in Newcastle, Ellie stumbled across the Newsround job on the BBC website and applied for it. Four years on, she still enjoys it. “It appealed to me because I liked what it did; its philosophy” she says.
Ellie believes passionately in this philosophy; that children are just as inquisitive as adults and are interested in the world around them. Newsround doesn’t see children’s news as a product of watered-down journalism, and Ellie strongly adheres to this idea with the same determinism of a hard nose reporter on a national broadsheet. Animatedly she explains: “It’s a very good and difficult skill for a journalist to learn; to be able to condense things in this way for children, while keeping them accurate and interesting.” As a stubborn perfectionist, Ellie has a lot of input into what is used in the programme. “I’m in all day and we have meetings to discuss what’s to be included and I’m quite opinionated so I like to put in my 10 cents. So I like to feel I input a lot into the programme. I’m happier that way, I wouldn’t want to be just a presenter; I’m a journalist and I want to make my mark,” she says.
At 31, Ellie finds it a constant battle to keep up with what fascinates and interests children. She explains: “We go into schools very regularly and talk to children and sometimes the results are very surprising. Last week results came back saying they were really into The Spice Girls, which was really bizarre because The Spice Girls were in my day. But Kylie had completely passed them by; you just can’t underestimate how short their memories are. So you’ve got to keep rolling with it, and don’t ever assume that because they were into something six months ago they would be into it. That’s why we try and communicate with them as much as we do.”
This continuing battle to keep up with what’s cool is part of Ellie’s reason she is considering leaving Newsround behind. “I’m not stupid,” she says, “I can’t stay at Newsround indefinitely, when they are wheeling me out on my zimmer-frame. It’s a young programme, watched by young people and it has to be presented by young people.” At 31 Ellie is expecting her first child with partner Richard in March and has begun the slow move into ‘adult journalism’ with presenting slots on BBC News24. “At some point I’m going to run out of shelf life. But news is what I am about; it’s where I’m from and it’s what I’ll be going back to.” But four years as the recognisable face of children’s news is not a quick or easy transition to make. Ellie’s smile drops as she says “I’m not going to move entirely to adult news in the immediate future, but at some point, yes. But Newsround is a difficult place to leave.”
Darrell Whittaker -3rd November 2007
When he started selling his hand-made designs in London, Darrell Whittaker tried to break into the jewellery market by trading in Oxford Circus, “I remember trying to set up there, I got my table out and put the jewellery there. Then a regular trader came and said ‘what the f– are you doing here’, and tossed everything. About 200 rings went all over the road; buses ran over them, everybody was trying to help. We lost about 30 rings that time. That’s when you find out how street-wise you are and what to do and what not to do.” Thirty years on Whittaker, 62, has seen his designs in Harrods, Liberty’s of London and Cartier and is more street-wise about how to make a living from his passion.
After beginning with aspirations for a career in civil engineering, Whittaker realised that it wasn’t for him, and instead followed his parents by moving into art. He completed a foundation course at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design and went on to apply to a masters degree at the Royal College of Art despite not having an undergraduate qualification. Originally wanting to study furniture and industrial design, it was a friend of the family who convinced him to put jewellery design as a second choice. With his first choice unable to take him on, a rigorous five-day interview lead him to be accepted into the school of silversmithing and jewellery. He graduated with a silver medal in kinetic jewellery, the mark for work of special distinction and the highest award given to design. “It was through a very enlightened professor called Professor Gooden and we came out as probably the best year they ever had, because it was the chemistry of the group. He knew the people who would work and would make it work.”
After finishing the course, Whittaker was quick to be commissioned, designing pieces for a Royal Shakespeare Company production in Stratford-upon-Avon and for a science-fiction show on the BBC. Now, Whittaker runs his own company, Lullingstone Designs, where he trades in Covent Garden’s Apple Market with his partner Jean twice a week. He prefers to be independent and work for himself, “Every time I’ve been involved in things that rely on other people, it hasn’t worked out. Whereas this, I’m totally reliant and it’s totally reliant on me, so if I make mistakes then it’s my fault. So, I don’t make mistakes,” he chuckles.
It’s not easy making a successful living out of dying trade when fashion is fast and disposable, “The people of Covent Garden are arrogant and buy a lot of it in nowadays, because the Chinese are making stuff so cheaply now.” Whittaker has been trading in Covent Garden for 26 years, while also selling from his workshop at home in Eynsford, Kent, and enjoys the freedom and the regular income; “We started with some tremendous designs and it was terrific, then of course you get paid, and people took the work. So it was a very good way to make a living. I could choose what I made and lived, or died, by the success.” Whittaker struggles to appeal to everyone since many customers fail to appreciate the time and quality behind his hand-made pieces, and would prefer to buy a similar ring in a high-street store for a fraction of the cost. “I decided several years ago I wasn’t going to go down the route of making things as cheaply as possible. Instead I have ended up making things other people won’t make because it takes too long, or can’t make because it is technically too difficult.”
Whittaker’s loyal customer base, which he has built up over the years, ensures he keeps his business thriving; “I have one regular from home who I’ve been selling to for 21 years, and now I’m selling to the daughters of the mothers who bought christening presents.” But it is not the repetition of the same successful designs that keeps Whittaker in business, although he confesses himself; “all jewellery is very boring basically.” His passion for the techniques and skills of silver-smithing keeps his designs ever-changing; “I’ve kept going by changing and that’s how I survive when everybody else in Covent Garden survives by buying in.”
The industry is not only difficult to make a living from, but it is also becoming increasingly hard to find practical training in silver-smithing. Traditional apprenticeships are the most efficient training, but are increasingly difficult to come across. “It’s very difficult because the universities are not teaching enough technique, I mean I’m all for creativity, but technique gives you the power to pursue,” Whittaker explains. It is these traditional techniques that are in danger of being forgotten if they are not passed on; “There are so many techniques that go back thousands of years, and we’ve forgotten. We can’t do granulation like the Egyptians did. For all our chemicals and know-how, we can’t do it as they did. It’s wonderful really, it’s a lost art.”
Whittaker would rather suffer the difficulties of earning his living in a fiercely competitive industry rather than compromise his passion for design; “If I wanted to have made money I would have been a businessman,” he says.