Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

How Jill Got Her Sporting Chance

Golden Moment: Jill interviewing Olympic cycling hero Chris Hoy
Golden Moment: Jill interviewing Olympic cycling hero Chris Hoy

Jill Douglas on her fantastic career in TV, being a mother and visiting our great city, by Stephanie Bell

Her career as a top UK sports broadcaster has taken her to some of the most exotic cities in the world, but Jill Douglas is very excited at the prospect of seeing Belfast for the very first time next week. The former BBC and Sky sports reporter and presenter will be the special guest hosting this year’s annual Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards on Monday night.

And the blooming mum-to-be, who is expecting her second child in April, says she can’t wait.

“I was delighted to be asked to host the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards,” she reveals.

“It is a big celebration after what has been a big year for sport in Northern Ireland and I am really pleased to have the chance to be part of that.

“I can’t wait, I’m hoping I will learn a lot more about sport in Northern Ireland.

“I know GAA is really big although I’ve never got the chance to see a match. When I was in Australia in 2003 I got to watch a hybrid-type game of Ireland v Australia and it was quite an eye-opener. I thought rugby was rough, but those guys were knocking seven bells out of each other.

“I also knew Joey and Robert Dunlop and interviewed Joey on many occasions, so it will be lovely to spend a night with Northern Ireland’s sporting men and women.

“I think it is fantastic to see all the different sports people come together for such a special occasion and getting all dressed up.

“I am more used to seeing rugby players covered in mud at the end of a game than dressed in tuxedos, so it is a real novelty for me.”

Brought up in Scotland and now living in Cheltenham, Jill has been a regular visitor to Northern Ireland for a number of years, but has never had the chance to see Belfast.

“I have good friends in Dungannon and have visited them frequently but, apart from driving through Belfast from the airport, I have never had the chance to see the city,” she admits.

“I am getting an early flight on Monday so that I can spend some time exploring it, which is really quite exciting.”

To the sporting world, Jill needs no introduction.

Her career as a journalist has taken her to the very height of her profession and, as a sports broadcaster, she has covered some of the world’s biggest events, including last year’s Olympic Games.

She is perhaps best-known as a rugby reporter and more recently has begun to cover cycling for the BBC, which has brought her into close contact with Northern Ireland’s Olympic silver medallist Wendy Houvenaghel.

“I got to know Wendy when she first came on the scene a couple of years ago and she is such a lovely girl and such a great ambassador for the sport,” says Jill of our elite champion cyclist.

“Her silver medal win in Beijing was tremendous.”

In her own career, Jill has enjoyed a phenomenal rise through the ranks of journalism, in particular sports broadcasting.

Brought up in the great Scottish border rugby town of Hawick, she grew up with the game. But going on to become famous as a TV rugby correspondent was pure coincidence as Jill’s early ambition was to make it as a news reporter.

She says: “Hawick is a great rugby town and when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s they were the top team in Scotland, winning everything in Scottish rugby.

“They also gave Scotland some of their best players such as Jim Renwick, Colin Deans, Alan Tomes and Tony Stranger, and the legendary commentator Bill McLaren is also from my home town.

“I was just seven when I started going to games with my sister and we went every Saturday without fail to all the home and away games.

“I grew up interested in sport and the other thing Hawick is known for is horse racing, which is another great passion of mine.

“I now live in Cheltenham close to the race track where I can indulge my passion.

“But I had no interest in working in sport and in my first job with my local paper, the Southern Reporter, I trained to be a news journalist.”

Her talent as a journalist was spotted by Border Television after a major press conference at which Jill describes herself as having been “quite mouthy”.

She tells the story: “Later that day I was leaving the courthouse in Edinburgh and the news editor for Border television pulled up and offered me a job.

“I spent a year as a sub-editor with them, then took a year out to travel around Africa and returned to Border as a news presenter and reporter.”

It set the pattern for her incredible career, which has seen her take up some of the prime spots in TV sports reporting with the country’s biggest companies — without applying or being interviewed for a single post.

She got a chance to show her flexibility as an all rounder when she was asked to cover the Isle of Man TT races for Border. She also badgered them to allow her to cover some rugby games.

This led to her next being head-hunted by BBC Scotland in 1997 to present their big sports show, Rugby Special.

She says: “It was quite a big thing because I was the first woman on the programme and it was such a big show that there was a bit of a who-ha in the press over it.

“I was thrilled by the opportunity. Bill McLaren was very encouraging and said some nice things about me. To me, whether you are a man or a woman shouldn’t make any difference, so I just got on with it and had good fun there.”

Throughout her career, Jill has been one of a growing number of female sports broadcasters in what was very much a traditionally male-dominated area of the industry.

Gender, however, has never been an issue for her.

She says: “I’ve only ever been treated fairly by sports men and women, both coaches and players.

“My colleagues have also never had a problem working with a woman. I’m firmly of the view if you can do the job it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman.”

In 1999, Jill moved to London to work in Sky Sports News, a move which again came about after the company approached her.

She recalls: “I was quite keen to try living in London and it was a great opportunity which also allowed me to do that.

“I got to cover a whole range of things with Sky, although I probably mostly covered rugby and athletics.

“It was amazing for someone who never had a career path and who enjoyed news, with no plans for going into sport.

“I have been very lucky to have such a great job which has allowed me to travel and meet so many great people.”

After four years at Sky, Jill was offered yet another job, this time by the BBC in London. She was able to negotiate what — for her — was a dream assignment, before agreeing to go on board.

She explains: “I told them I would move but wanted to cover the Rugby World Cup in Australia. They let me do it and because they had no TV rights to it, they let me do it for radio and I covered it for Radio Five Live and, of course, England won and it was just amazing.”

Many of the world’s biggest sporting events of the past decade have seen Jill on the ground reporting on the progress of UK competitors.

She has covered the Olympics twice, the Paralympics, the Commonwealth Games and Wimbledon as well as the Six Nations |Championship.

Just as rugby forms a lot of her cherished childhood memories and shaped her career, it has also played a major role in her private life. She met her husband, Carl Hogg, who is also from a Scottish border farming family, at a friend’s wedding and, yes, you’ve guessed it, Carl is a former Melrose rugby player and works as a rugby coach for Gloucester.

The couple have one son, Johnnie, who celebrated his second birthday on Thursday and they are expecting their second child in three months.

After Johnnie’s birth, Jill decided to leave the BBC and work as a freelance to enable her to spend more time with her new son.

She says: “I still cover rugby and cycling for the BBC, plus some equestrian events. After Johnnie was born, I needed to have more control over what I was doing and spend less time abroad.

“It is difficult juggling work with motherhood but the key for me is to be well organised.

“When I have to go away for a few days to cover an event, it’s like a military operation, I make lots of lists about everything and am extremely well organised. People will say I am a little bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to being organised but it does work for me.”

With baby number two on the way, Jill seems to have made the perfect career move once again.

“I am really, really lucky to do the job that I do,” she says, before quipping: “There can be long days and lots of travel, but I could have had to work for a living which would be awful.”

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