BBC’s Rachel Burden - my new life in Knutsford
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 15:34 11 September 2017
She’s the first voice many people hear every morning and she sounds right at home in the Cheshire countryside, as Paul Mackenzie reports
There will be a party on the airwaves this month to celebrate Radio Five Live turning 20. Among the first to tune in back in 1994 was a teenage student in Dublin who is now one of the station’s most recognisable voices.
Rachel Burden has co-presented the breakfast programme with Nicky Campbell for almost three years, having previously worked on the station’s weekend morning programme and in local radio.
The station moved to Salford in September 2011 and while there were some widely reported grumbles from presenters who didn’t want to leave London, Rachel did not need to be asked twice. ‘It didn’t take much thinking about,’ she said. ‘I was fortunate with the timing – my children were young, my husband had flexibility with work and we had no ties to London and there was the lure of a brilliant job.
‘Also, I knew Cheshire reasonably well already because my parents had lived here, two of my brothers were born in Stockport and I have a cousin in Stockton Heath.
‘The one big wrench was that I was used to having my mum on the doorstep, but they come up regularly.’
She and her husband, who is also a journalist, now live with their three children in a delightful cottage surrounded by fields a few miles from Knutsford.
‘When we were looking for somewhere to live my husband wanted somewhere rural. I wasn’t bothered but since we were re-locating for my work I thought it was only fair that we should do that for him. The other considerations were that I wanted to be in easy reach of Media City and accessible for my parents and family.
‘Once we’d set those parameters we looked within that radius and ended up in the most expensive part of Cheshire. That wasn’t really a part of the plan, but it is lovely.
‘I love where we live but I’m definitely not part of the Cheshire Set: I don’t drive a four by four and I’m not at Alderley Edge all the time drinking champagne.’
Rachel had been hosting the programme for just a few months at the time of the move but had served her apprenticeship on local radio in Suffolk and Bristol. Even before then though she had been given a thorough grounding in the media by her father, Paul Burden, who presented an early morning business programme on television.
She said: ‘My dad was at the BBC for years and before that he worked for a news agency in the north. He started at the Beeb as a reporter and ended up presenting the early morning business programme Business Breakfast. He left the BBC the year I started, so there was a bit of a sense of handing over the baton.
‘My dad was away quite a bit when I was young and when he was at home he worked hours similar to mine now.
‘I was the fourth of five children and all the others were boys so it was a noisy, boisterous environment. The radio was on all the time, I grew up with the Today programme on every morning and surrounded by news and I’m sure that had a bearing on me. I always had an interest in news and media and I made up my mind when I went to university in Dublin that I wanted to work in radio, it has always been my big passion.’
From Trinity College, where she graduated with a degree in history and politics, Rachel took a post-graduate course in broadcast journalism in Cardiff. When that course finished she worked for 15 months on Radio Suffolk and then spent six years with Radio Bristol.
‘I had done a lot of stuff on air and off air and I wanted to have a go at presenting a programme. My boss was reluctant at first but she let me do some cover shifts when presenters were away and then there was a change of presenters and I started on the morning programme.
‘I sent a demo tape to Five Live and I got a nice letter back saying ‘thanks, but no thanks’. That was the station I listened to other than the one I worked on, I felt it was my radio home. I felt I understood the station, I knew it and I thought it fitted me, that’s why I approached them but when I didn’t get anywhere I accepted that that opportunity had gone.
‘But then the regional boss put a word in for me and someone from Five Live actually took the trouble to drive down the M4 until he could pick up Radio Bristol and listened to me.’
Since then the 38-year-old has covered major news stories and reported from sporting events across the globe but leaving her cottage near Chelford is always hard. ‘It’s not nice to leave your family but when news calls, you’ve got to go. That sounds naff but it’s the nature of what we do,’ she added.
‘We have a unique privilege to be there and witness events. I spent ten days in South Africa when Nelson Mandela died, I was in Rome for the death of one pope and there again for the resignation of another, so I have been fortunate.
‘Of all the stories I’ve reported on though, the Olympics in London were the most wonderful joyous experience. I loved every moment of it. For every crappy shift, every slow news day, every late night, every early morning, it was worth it to for that opportunity.’
And there have been plenty of early mornings. Her day starts at 3.30am and she’s usually in the office at Media City an hour later. There’s an hour and a half to prepare for the programme, then she and Nicky Campbell are on air for three hours before she can turn of the microphone and head home to bed.
‘When I get in I have a short nap, about half an hour works, but any longer and I get into a deeper sleep and end up feeling woozy, then I sit in bed and catch up on reading and then it’s on with the normal mum stuff.
‘It is quite a brutal schedule but it has its advantages – the main one is that I can be with the children every afternoon.
‘Then it’s a matter of getting things done, getting them to bed and getting to bed myself. On a really good night I’ll be in bed before them. I aim to be in bed by 8.30 and have the light off by nine. I love what I do, but everything else is about being a mum.’