News, Culture & Society

DAISY GOODWIN: Why does Laura have to glam up in heels when no one cared what Andrew Marr wore? 

Did you get up to watch Laura Kuenssberg? We all did: the BBC’s Sunday morning politics show is something of a ritual in our house, the perfect accompaniment to a bacon sandwich and a strong mug of tea as the talking points of the week are chewed over.

This weekend, there was added excitement as it was Laura’s debut in the seat vacated by Andrew Marr last year.

We’re fans in our household. We consider Laura K one of the brighter — literally and figuratively — personalities in current affairs, delivering incisive analysis with a splash of colour that marks her out in the grey, besuited world of TV news.

On Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, there was a glamazon in situ. The new studio version of Laura had gone all cocktail party, in a black sparkly Whistles jumper and pencil skirt combo that I would have saved for the Christmas do

But on Sunday, the audience gathered on my sofa was distracted by the new-look Laura. I mean, was that even her? Surely I wasn’t the only one who did a double take.

Gone were the no-nonsense, primary-colour dresses and sensible shoes (as a political reporter they meant she could easily sprint after a minister trying to duck her questions).

Gone too was that windswept bob, the consequence of a thousand ‘pieces to camera’ whatever the weather, shivering outside No 10, soaked through on College Green or buffeted on a BBC HQ rooftop. It was a reflection of her lack of vanity and her intractable ‘let’s just get on with this’ attitude.

Instead, on Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, there was a glamazon in situ. The new studio version of Laura had gone all cocktail party, in a black sparkly Whistles jumper and pencil skirt combo that I would have saved for the Christmas do.

The trademark bob had been grown out to her shoulders and teased into a glossy, flicky, wavy style that my hairdresser would call a ‘downtown blow dry’.

This weekend, there was added excitement as it was Laura Kuenssberg's debut in the seat vacated by Andrew Marr last year

This weekend, there was added excitement as it was Laura Kuenssberg’s debut in the seat vacated by Andrew Marr last year

And the make-up! Forget fresh-faced and foxy, the BBC make-up artists had gone to town, with lashings of dark eye shadow and assertive lip colour.

She looked great, I hasten to add. She was, after all, making the seismic transition from reporter to presenter and a certain aesthetic is required under harsh studio lights.

But as Laura tried to get Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to part with something more than a soundbite, I found myself distracted from what was being said by her shoes. A pair of vertiginous heels — five inches, I’d guess — that would leave her trailing behind even the stoutest of fleeing interviewees.

This made me more than a little angry and sad. Why is it that one of the most respected journalists in the country is dressed for her first solo show as if she was heading to a party? Definitely more Saturday night than Sunday morning.

What is it about a TV studio that makes women, in particular, feel that they have to dress up?

What was wrong with Laura’s usual working wardrobe, tailored trousers and a smart jacket, a floral midi with white trainers, or whatever else well-dressed, professional women feel comfortable in?

Who cares if she is wearing killer heels when all that matters is the killer question?

Of course, I know the answer. As someone who has appeared on TV and who has worked behind the camera as a producer, with female presenters, I know that for women on TV, no matter how successful and accomplished, appearance is crucial. I can just imagine the producers of the new show trying to figure out what Laura’s ‘look’ should be.

‘We want her to appear sophisticated, in control, tough but warm, oh and super-glamorous,’ someone would have said — hence the razzmatazz style and blonde waves. In other words, it’s not enough for Laura to be a brilliant journalist at the top of her game. She has to be ‘gorgeous’ in a contrived and artificial way instead of naturally good-looking in a way that was true to her personality.

There is nothing wrong with women looking glamorous on TV. Indeed, knowing you are pleasing on the eye is one battle won. And on your debut as the host of a flagship weekend political news programme any presenter, male or female, would want to make their mark.

But I was sorry that the Laura K team thought a sparkly jumper, stilettos and excess make-up were the necessary attire in which to interview Liz Truss. Was any viewer ever distracted by what Andrew Marr wore, the colour of his tie, the cut of his suit or whether he was wearing Hush Puppies or desert boots? I doubt it. He just got on with the job.

There is nothing wrong with women looking glamorous on TV. Indeed, knowing you are pleasing on the eye is one battle won. And on your debut as the host of a flagship weekend political news programme any presenter, male or female, would want to make their mark

There is nothing wrong with women looking glamorous on TV. Indeed, knowing you are pleasing on the eye is one battle won. And on your debut as the host of a flagship weekend political news programme any presenter, male or female, would want to make their mark

I think what we are seeing here is the influence of American TV, seeping through to British newsrooms. In the U.S., every female news presenter is expected to be as glamorous — perfect figures, hair, make-up, teeth and clothes — as they are smart; on cable channels the women financial reporters are even called the ‘money honeys’. The big difference with British television news and current affairs is, however, that the men are expected to be equally glossy.

I recall having a conversation with the agent who represents the whip-smart Mishal Husain, just before she joined the team at BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. The agent was lamenting the fact that such a beautiful woman was wasted on radio as no one could see her. But what it actually did was give Mishal a chance to prove her mettle as a steely interviewer. On TV, critics might say she had become a star because of her looks; on radio, all we know about is her talent.

When I was growing up, Valerie Singleton could wear a floral shirt and a corduroy gilet on Blue Peter and no one said a thing. Now, of course, anyone appearing on TV — but most especially women — has their appearance dissected to the very last eyelash.

I once made the mistake of going on Twitter after a TV appearance on Newsnight and finding a long and devastating discussion about the state of my upper arms. (The first rule of TV, never go sleeveless if you are not a size 8; second rule of TV, even a size 8 looks like a size 14 on camera.) No one has to look at social media but it definitely informs the debate.

I understand why the producers (and probably Laura Kuenssberg herself) decided to go glam for her debut. Yes, I know I found it distracting and irritating but I have to remind myself what if she’d gone the other way? What if she had walked on set dressed in what most women actually wear on a Sunday morning? That would have made headlines for the wrong reasons. Dressing up is a safer option than pretending it doesn’t matter what a woman on TV looks like.

But unless women follow their besuited male colleagues and wear what is basically a uniform, I am afraid there will always be comments on what they are wearing. Unless of course — God forbid — we all grow up.

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