Victoria Hollingsworth on the importance of building relationships

Victoria Hollingsworth is a highly successful freelance producer at the BBC. Her career started as a runner for Sky but she quickly moved through the ranks to receive the enviable job of presenting on A Place In The Sun - a British program featuring standout homes in exotic locations across the globe. She then pivoted and moved into current affairs, producing a number of highly controversial exposés for the BBC and Channel 4. As a mother of two, Victoria is working out how to juggle home life with the demanding responsibilities of a freelance producer. We chatted over Skype in early February and she shared her insights into life in broadcast television and making the leap from daytime TV to current affairs.

 Victoria during the production of the recent UKIP mockumentary called  First 100 Days  shown on Channel 4 in the UK.

Victoria during the production of the recent UKIP mockumentary called First 100 Days shown on Channel 4 in the UK.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
From the age of three I definitely wanted to be a dancer. There are some dreadful home videos of me skipping around and performing in front of the camera. I was always a performer.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I love throwing dinner parties and have really considered my invites to ensure all participants get on! Here goes the list:
Alistair Campbell (Tony's Blairs spin doctor) 
Caitlin Moran (English Journalist/Comedian): She'd be good fun and very vocal
Edward Snowden: I’d love to grill him on how he feels now looking back over decisions that have shaped his life
Sarah Brown (Gordon Brown's wife): She does a great deal for female equality and always seemed dignified in the political arena

Liza Tarbuck (British TV/Radio personality): She would have everyone at ease and in stitches from the start
Jeremy Paxman (English Journalist): He has recently stepped down from fronting BBC’s Newsnight programme and I’m hoping that after a few glasses of wine, he would have some cracking anecdotes to tell
Julie Andrews (Film Actress): I want to sit with her and ask about the making of The Sound of Music 

Pedro Almodovar (Spanish Film Director): I love his films and his energy

What single book had the greatest impact on you?
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. It’s incredibly relevant to me because I am trying to balance family and career and figure out how it all works. It was quite revelatory to read her take on things and although there aren't really any parallels between our lives, it opened my eyes to how I thought of myself in the workplace.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I go to bed at about 11pm and get up around 6:30am when my children wake.

What is your favorite time of the working week?
I've always been freelance so I don't really have a working week and especially at the moment as I'm doing my own idea development. It’s usually done in the evening. I’d have to say I love 8pm on a Wednesday, my feet up on the sofa with a glass of wine in my hand thinking through concepts.

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
I went to dance school to fulfill my ambition but realized after a while that I didn't want to just be a dancer. I started in media as a runner at Sky TV in London and very quickly got to know the right people.

I moved up quite quickly from being a runner and was offered a position to became a TV presenter. I presented on a film show called Movie Nights, a show called A Place In The Sun that went out on Channel 4 and also did a show that went on HGTV in America called World's Most Extreme Homes. I absolutely loved it. It involved traveling around the world and meeting incredible people who lived in amazing houses.

I was put up for other presenting gigs but began to appreciate that my ideas for new shows had become more serious, topical, challenging and probing in nature. I found it incredibly hard to break out of the daytime TV mold so I went and did a Masters in Investigative Journalism at City University in London.

Going back to study was a tremendous help. It was almost like starting from scratch and provided the launch pad for me to start working in Current Affairs. I finally found my passion and it's been a great ride since then.

The last thing I did was produce a documentary for BBC’s flagship current affairs program Panorama called ‘All in a good cause’ that examined where charities invest the funds they raise. It was highly controversial at the time as one of the charities we were looking at was Comic Relief, which is heavily supported by the BBC who dedicate an entire evening to its fundraising extravaganza.  That ended up being nominated for a Scottish BAFTA. It caused a bit of stink and got in loads of headlines and in the process I learned a lot about dealing with people higher up the food chain who think that power can stop a story getting out. Thankfully in this instant we weren’t intimidated. I was heavily pregnant during the most stressful time and part of me was wishing my waters would break just so I could escape the intense meetings with lawyers. It was challenging and rewarding. That was towards the end of 2013 and after the birth of my second child (who politely waited until the program was finished) I took some time off.

I'm currently now in the throws of developing some more current affairs ideas. It takes time but I work with a couple of great guys and we are digging away at something exciting at the moment. Watch this space.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your industry?
I had to overcome being typecast within the industry as a blonde daytime TV presenter. I realized that there were other issues that I cared about that I wanted to explore that I wasn't given the opportunity to because I was being typecast. Going back to study and proving myself that way dramatically turned things around for me. 

What motivates you?
Being a mother of two, if I’m going to work and not be with my children, then it's going to be on something that I'm feeling pretty passionate about. It goes with the stories that I research. What motivates me is feeling really annoyed that someone is getting away with something and not being held accountable for wrong-doing. I can't bear small-mindedness. Trying to get the truth out there and engage people gives me the drive to bring a story to life.

What advice would you give to your children at the start of their career?
I always say to my daughter that I hope one day she does a job that she loves. I can't bear the thought of doing a 9 to 5 and living for the weekend.

My husband is a cameraman and he's freelance as well. So we're both fortunate that we love what we do and I'm pretty sure that we will instill that in both our children. One thing I would say to them at the start of their career is to learn how to make a good cup of tea because that's going to stand them in good stead. Being nice and polite and remembering if you boss/ colleagues take milk or sugar goes a long way.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I had a major car accident when I was filming and presenting A Place In The Sun. It was very serious and I broke my back. This prompted the re-direction in my career. The accident made me reassess my work and I really thought that if I was going to continue in broadcast TV then I was going to make it count. I wanted to create content that was important and that people would really care about.

So I made a radio documentary about the shortage of adapted housing for people in wheelchairs because I'd broken my back and contemplated a life in a wheelchair. It was half an hour in length and went on BBC Radio 4.

Much to my delight, after the show aired the charity that I was speaking to in the program received a donation of a house to be adapted for someone in a wheelchair. I was completely blown away. It wasn't a big thing, I didn't change legislation but somebody was moved and motivated to do something after hearing my content and I felt like I'd done something helpful.

On a larger scale I feel proud to have worked on a big TV documentary for Channel 4 which was the first to air the findings of the Iraq War Logs shared with us by Wiki leaks founder Julian Assange.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
I'm still very much in it and paving a way for my success. But I believe honesty, perseverance and drive make great work. I get a lot of work through my connections and contacts made along the way. Building those relationships is so important for success when you're freelance. I've also always thought that it's not the best person that gets the job, but it's usually the person who is easiest to get along with. It's the person that you want to be around.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
It is possible to change the course of your career and life. You just have to want it and work hard at making it happen. 

I do a bit of teaching at a university in London and I'm always saying to my students that they have to do something that they're passionate about now and not worry about the future because you can change course as long as you're doing it with integrity and honesty.

How do you balance work and family life?
To be honest there aren't many women at the top within my industry. There are not many who have managed to have families and careers because media is such a time-demanding industry that isn't always conducive to family life.

When I'm producing it's not going to work every time. The last job I did was with a couple of friends and a commissioning editor who I knew quite well. So it worked then, but won't every time. It's too demanding and inflexible.

My husband and I made the decision that he would be more available and flexible with work but in our partnership I would be the one who is around more for the children. It's my choice. The next program I work on will certainly be on a part time basis, but a lot can be achieved in that time!

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
My husband, my mum, my best friend and a few more senior producers who's opinions I really value. I'm not one to suffer in silence. I like to get lots of peoples opinions.

What's next?
Coming out on Monday (16th Feb) is a fictional mockumentary called First Hundred Days. It’s about the extreme right-wing political party in the UK called UKIP having won the general election. One of my really good friends has directed it, Chris Atkins, and I play the roving reporter character. I love doing stuff like that. It's satirical and hilarious.

I'm also in the process of developing a new idea for another Panorama on the BBC or Dispatches for Channel 4.

 

As told to Caroline Hugall over Skype on Thursday 12th February. Victoria is based in London.