Kay Burley: From working class Wigan girl to leading general election broadcaster

Kay Burley
Kay Burley

Wading through spin, managing egos, holding politicians to account (or at least trying to) – elections are the most hectic time of the year for the media.

The Wigan Post’s sister paper The i is asking leading broadcasters who break the news as it happens what goes on behind the scenes, starting this week with Kay Burley.

He Whatsapped me afterwards to say ‘I’m always ready for the Burley haymaker’

Kay Burley

A founding member of Sky News, Burley’s political insight spans decades. As well as questioning politicians about the headlines, Burley’s interviews often make them.

She has interviewed key players in the political establishment with a famously forthright presenting style that can sometimes attract controversy.

As well as probing politicians with difficult questions – she remains unrepentant about making reference to Ed Miliband’s “poor mum” after he beat his brother David in the Labour leadership contest – she has had great fun interviewing some MPs.

Chuka Umunna, the Labour candidate for Streatham, is “usually quite entertaining”, says Burley. “As is Dominic Raab – he’s quite fun.” Mr Raab, the Tory candidate for Esher and Walton, received “quite a kicking” from her in April when he suggested the media skewed political debates.

But he took it well, Burley tells The i from the Sky Central building. “He Whatsapped me afterwards to say ‘I’m always ready for the Burley haymaker’ - you have to approach it with a bit of humour as well,” she says.

Her own strength as a woman in a male-dominated field is evidenced by her entry into journalism. Born in a working class family in Wigan, Burley launched her career with two weeks of work experience, aged 17, at her local newspaper.

She wrote 68 letters to newspaper editors across the country asking for a job and “kept banging on the door until somebody opened it”.

That newspaper would turn out to be the Wigan Evening Post and Chronicle, who did not have a job but did invite her in for a chat.

Burley spent three weeks preparing for this conversation and walked out of it with a position there. “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is a mantra she now repeats regularly. Burley has covered a number of breaking stories in the decades which followed.

She was live on air when the second plane hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade centre in New York during the 9/11 terror attacks.

“There were a lot of expletives in my ear. I just said, ‘Well, it would seem almost unbelievable, but from what we can see ...’ and then one of the towers went, and one of the other towers collapsed as well, and in that sentence that I have just given to you, 3,000 people died.”

Sky’s coverage of 9/11 earned the broadcaster a Bafta, “which I proudly have in my loo” she says.

Click here for the full aricle on The i.