Everything You Need to Know: Presenting with Martyn Andrews

The highs and lows, challenges and triumphs of being a presenter with RT's Martyn Andrews

Martyn Andrews is a broadcast journalist and presenter, who has worked in as far flung locations as Siberia and the Arctic Circle. He has hosted cookery programmes, has been a travel expert for the Alan Titchmarsh Show on ITV, hosted an award winning diving documentary, studio entertainment shows, appeared on CNN’s Connect the World, reported live from the Eurovision Song Contest, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and much more. His work as a travel, culture and extreme adventure presenter has taken him all around the world. He sat down with Spotlight to discuss the ins and outs of being a presenter today, and what you need to know in order to have your own success in this difficult area of the industry. 

I think a bit of cosmic ordering helps – if you want to be a chef, or if you want to be a pilot – if you want anything badly enough in life, you eventually get it. It may not be for the right airline or the right restaurant, but you will get there.
Martyn Andrews

What made you realise it was travel presenting that you wanted to pursue?

When I was in Liverpool as a little freckly child, a little male version of Annie, I said, “When I grow up I want to get rid of my accent, I want to travel the world!” I wanted to be in musicals, and to present. I also knew – having done a lot of them even when I was a child – that doing 8 shows a week is actually quite uncreative. If you’re in an original cast, great. But I was in the Starlight Express in the 17th cast change. It’s very much stand on that spot, repeat for a year, get paid your few hundred pounds a week. That’s it. And I’m naturally just more opinionated, vivacious, nosey – I’m an actor and a journalist.

I was dogmatic in my pursuit of being a presenter. I think a bit of cosmic ordering helps – if you want to be a chef, or if you want to be a pilot – if you want anything badly enough in life, you eventually get it. It may not be for the right airline or the right restaurant, but you will get there. In my case I took steps to maximise opportunities.

After training in drama, was there a specific set of training you pursued to be a presenter specifically?

I did a journalism course, and that is the first thing I’d say to any wannabe presenter. You have to be a journalist as opposed to just being a drama student. The first thing I should say is that I hated it - I did a print journalism course. I was a west-end-Wendy with bleached teeth doing high kicks, with people who wanted to work for the Financial Times! I was doing stuff like shorthand and I thought, “I just do not need this”. I didn’t really need anything other than the journalism training – like how to write a story that’s complicated in 90 words. So, that training was great. But the legal stuff I didn’t need as much as other people did. The reason I did it is because once you have the NCTJ or the BCTJ, whether it’s a degree or post-grad, it gives you access to news channels. And I kind of thought maybe I could be an entertainment presenter or something like that. Those bosses aren’t likely to take you without some kind of journalism or other professional training. It was the stepping stone that I needed to open lot of new doors.

What are the key qualities, do you think, that make a good presenter?

I’ve got a list: I think to be a presenter you have to be one of these six things. You either are a wannabe, a journalist, an expert, already a celebrity, come from reality TV or a children’s presenter. Every single person you can think of who is a presenter on TV comes from one of them. The most difficult one to be is a wannabe, because that is literally the Dermot O’Leary’s – he was a runner and was taken from a production company and put on television. And that happens once out of 10,000 people. I was a wannabe in my early 20s, [but I thought] if I’m a journalist, I’ve got two out of three. As time has progressed I’ve got a great following on Twitter and I’ve done lots of articles for OK and similar, so I’m not a big celebrity at all but I can slightly tick that box if I want to. Now, with all my vast travel that I’ve done, I can say I’m a travel expert as well. I’ve got a good spread of things. The only thing I don’t have is reality TV, which is terribly frustrating. Sometimes I think maybe I should just do celebrity Big Brother – create my own scandal! I remember for example when I was presenting for the Olympics in Sochi, and in fact that was when my Twitter exploded. I came out live on TV saying, “I’m gay, live in Russia and I think it’s great!” so I got a lot of attention from that.

Is that the best approach, being an expert?

Absolutely. If you’re 22 years old and went to Guildford and you want to be a presenter and you’ve got no experience, then you won’t get there – just being a wannabe, you won’t get there. There are no castings.

If you want to be a presenter, I’d say do a journalism course first. Pursue a passion – become an expert in something. If you like fashion, or gardening, whatever. Then you’ll be a wannabe, a journalist and an expert. Then once you’re known you can aim towards being a celebrity.

Do you think celebrity presenters are changing the landscape for presenting generally? What are the other key challenges for presenters working today?

Yes, and it’s something you should really talk about – the opportunities for presenters are really less and less because of reality TV. ITV for example are so ratings and brand-content based. The perfect example of that is Ferne McCann - she’s now the entertainment presenter on This Morning.

Unfortunately, presenting goes hand in hand with ratings, brand, status and all that. It’s really annoying because I look at people and I think they’ve got bad interview technique or they’re not a journalist or they’re not smart enough for this interview, or they’re just winging it, or it’s wrong casting, but I know that they have a handcuffed deal with that channel and they have to be used in something. It’s a complicated beast.

Another thing is diversity and casting – being a presenter is about casting and being an actor. And you know the diversity bracket is great but it’s not me at the moment – I spent the past twenty years getting rid of my Scouse accent and now what do they want? Scouse accents! I spent years trying to become this middle class public school boy but maybe the Scouse boy would have been more successful now.

How important are headshots and showreels in the presenting world? Is it important to have an online presence?

My website’s important. My photographs – I’ve got a selection – for magazine articles, etc. I’ve got my showreels – more important for presenters than for actors. If you’re an actor, a future employee can watch you in a show, within reason, if you’re in work. Whereas presenting is recorded and you’re not playing other people, you’re playing yourself. As a presenter, you have different guises – outdoor locations, whether you can you cope with crowds, whether you can you cope in a live studio environment, doing autocue... Some people read autocue terribly!

What’s the key to reading autocue well?

My biggest trick about anybody reading autocue is to move your eyebrows as you read. When you read something you naturally concentrate. I can’t move my eyebrows right now; my Botox is too strong – I’m vain and ageing! But yeah, if you can, move your eyebrows. You need to make sure a channel exec or whatever knows that you can deliver the goods.

What other skills have you had to learn along the way?

I lived in Moscow for nine years and I had to learnt to do everything. My Russian is great now but when I started it was terrible. The Russian thing in my life came absolutely out of nowhere. I was in Starlight Express in 2000 playing Elektra, looking like a drag queen, and five years later I was filming in the Kremlin, learning Russian! Bonkers! I just think that if you put enough fingers in pies, eventually you pull out a plum.

I was in Russia for 9 years and I always wonder where I would have been had I not gone to Russia? Would I be presenting Homes Under the Hammer? Or would I be singing on a cruise ship? Who knows.

What’s been the highlight and the lowlight or biggest challenge in your career so far?

Filming my Russian travel show called Wayfarer – it was the highlight and the lowlight. I lived with Eskimos in the Arctic Circle, I was shot out of a cannon, I trained in the Russian army, I para-glided over war zones - it was bonkers. In the early days I didn’t really speak much Russian, maybe only 50 bad sentences. So, I was freezing, I was lonely –  I’d have dinners with the crew, who all spoke Russian, or just take my meals in my room. They were long shoots – we’d go to Siberia for ten days and I felt alienated. Some of Russia that I’ve seen is glamorous and fabulous, but some of it is also grim and Soviet. So, when it’s grim filming in minus 37… My mother said once to me, “I feel like you don’t exist!” I feel guilty for being abroad for so long.

The highlight must be the places I’ve seen and what I’ve been paid to see – I opened Nefertiti’s tomb, I’ve flown on private jets, I’ve slept in the Great Pyramid by myself overnight, I’ve seen Ivan the Terrible’s Tomb, I’ve met amazing celebrities. I’ve met some really fabulous amazing people with interesting stories and it’s been an amazing career. Miraculously, I’ve had this amazing career and lots of people don’t know who I am.

Any final advice for future successful presenters?

I often say to people, do not think that presenting is just the UK. A tonne of people who live around the world presenting get paid brilliantly. To be blunt, a BBC daytime programme will pay you like 30k for three months of work. But I’ve got friends who earn a fortune who work for Fox Sports in Singapore, channels in the States - like E! in LA, friends in China on CCTV. There’s opportunities in Russia, in Ecuador, France, Qatar, the new African channels that are popping up – I think it’s really important to not just focus on channels 1 to 5 in the UK.

I also think everything changes in TV. I think people understand that the smartest people don’t always get the right job. You need tenacity being a presenter. The rejection I’ve had is just terrible – you should see the letters I’ve had. It can be very narrow minded.

Right now, I’m pitching ideas with me and someone who’s known. You have to be very specific – pick a time slot and day. You have to be so precise. You should know the audience categories. An art programme on Sky Arts would probably cater to women over 50, etc. – you have to know what’s male skewing, female skewing, you have to guess what they would want from that specific slot for their maximum ratings. Then there has to be the USP to use you as a presenter. It’s not impossible but it’s a very difficult career to pursue.

Thank you to Martyn for giving us his time to talk about the tough world of presenting - if you'd like to read more about Martyn, you can find out what he's up to online here or via his Twitter account. 

All images courtesy of Martyn Andrews.