Sky Sports News presenter Bela Shah is taking on a mammoth challenge, but one she is really keen to succeed in, earning a place on the BMW PGA Championship Celebrity Pro-Am by playing in the brand new Slingsby Golf Academy.
Despite having never picked up a golf club or stepping foot on a golf course before her training started, Shah is determined to show women that golf isn’t just a man’s game by competing against three other women, Helen Skelton, Natalie Pinkham and Fleur East, in a play-off to qualify for the Celebrity Pro-Am.
The lawyer turned broadcast journalist hopes to donate a bonus cheque courtesy of Slingsby should she win a place on the tournament, to Crohn’s and Colitis UK.
Shah revealed how her training has been going so far, especially now golf courses are back open, what working at Sky Sports News is like and how enjoyably manic Transfer Deadline Day is in the studio.
Q) Do you think the Slingsby Golf Academy is going to be a massive inspiration for women to take up the sport?
A) I really do. We have only just started but I have already had messages from women and girls asking me about playing golf, how I’m finding it etc. I have a hectic schedule with work, but this golf challenge is showing that it is possible to fit golf into a busy life. Women’s sport has taken huge steps forward - Sky Sports has announced a new deal to show live women’s football and I believe initiatives like the Slingsby Golf Academy can really help to break down those barriers and remove stereotypes about who can play sport. Everyone!
Q) Why don't you think more women get involved in golf?
A) When I was growing up, I thought of it as a men’s game because I never really saw female golfers on TV. I didn’t know any women who played golf. Like me, some women might feel intimidated and think it’s male dominated space. Things are different now; the women’s game is huge, and I really enjoy watching it on TV - even more since I’ve started playing! My coach is female and I’m learning to play at Royal Mid Surrey which has the largest ladies’ section in the country.
Q) Out of the other three women you'll be playing against to qualify for the BMW PGA Championship Celebrity Pro-Am (Helen Skelton, Natalie Pinkham and Fleur East) who do you see as your biggest competition?
A) This is very tough question! Natalie mentioned she has played hockey before and I saw her absolutely smash the golf ball in practice so that is a bit of a worry. Helen has been so successful in previous challenges she’s done with boxing and SAS! Fleur had a really good technique and power in her swing. It’s not looking great for me!
Q) How's training been so far despite not having access to a golf course in recent months?
A) Like everyone, we tried our best to adapt to the lockdown restrictions. We started by practising with a putting mat at home and a golf net in the garden. I had weekly Zoom sessions with my coach, Alice. I would send her videos of me putting so she can see my posture, grip, swing etc. It’s been so good to get onto the golf course, I had my first lesson on the day golf courses reopened and the sun was shining!
Q) Had you had any experience playing golf before this or is this the first time you've picked up a club?
A) I had never played golf before! I don’t think crazy golf counts! This was the first time I had picked up a golf club and my first lesson was actually the first time I’d even been on a golf course. I am way out of my comfort zone, but Alice has been excellent teaching me from scratch.
Q) Do you think you'll carry on playing golf after the competition to further improve the skill?
A) Although we have only just started, I have really enjoyed it so far. I love being outside and learning something new, so I definitely want to continue playing after this challenge. I’m so lucky to be able to work with a professional PGA coach and practice at such an amazing course. It’s really opened my eyes as to how beneficial golf can be - physically and mentally. It’s also fun and social.
Q) In the hopes that you do win the playoff, have you got a charity in mind that you'll be donating the bonus cheque to?
A) I would love to donate the money to Crohn’s and Colitis UK. My mum and sister both have Crohn’s disease. I have grown up seeing how devastating it can be. I have also seen the many ways in which the disease can be successfully managed with the right diagnosis and treatment.
Q) Before becoming a presenter you were a lawyer and then a journalist, what motivated you to make these career choices and were they difficult decisions to make?
A) I’ve always loved football, I used to watch the World Cup with my dad and then I started following the Premier League. We used to watch cricket and athletics together. I played netball right through to university and was also a keen swimmer. I didn’t really think it would be viable to work in sport or broadcasting - I thought it would be too competitive and I couldn’t really see a path for me to get there. So originally, I studied law at university - which I found really interesting - and qualified as a solicitor. I worked in the legal department at ITV Sport which was amazing because I was able to combine law and sport. Working in a broadcast environment, made me realise I wanted to try and see if I could switch sides. I’ve always watched Sky Sports News so presenting on SSN was my ultimate dream job but honestly not something I thought would happen. My parents and partner encouraged me to give it a try and they have always believed in me and supported me throughout. So, they really inspired me to quit my job as a lawyer and train as a broadcast journalist. I quit my job at ITV Sport and did a postgraduate diploma in Broadcast Journalism. I gained lots of work experience and started freelancing which led me to Channel 5 where I did my first live TV bulletins and reporting. I contacted Sky Sports News and was offered some shadow shifts. During that time, I did a screen test and at the end of my shadowing I was offered freelance shifts presenting sport bulletins on Sky News. A few months later, I did my first presenting shift on Sky Sports News which was a dream come true.
Q) Do you ever get nervous before going on air, or does that get better with experience?
A) I remember being very nervous for my first live TV bulletin for Channel 5. The director was counting me down from 60 seconds and I could see the huge clock in the studio ticking down. My heart was beating so fast but once I read the first story, my nerves settled, and I really enjoyed the rest of the bulletin. I felt nervous before my very first Sky Sports News shift because it was such a big moment for me - I had worked really hard towards my goal and to get there was very special. I don’t get nervous now but that’s down to experience. Now it’s more excitement. You learn to deal with things like breaking news and technical issues. Like with anything, the more you do it, the more confident you become.
Q) Is Transfer Deadline Day as busy as it seems to the viewer watching it on Sky Sports News?
A) Transfer Deadline Day is the best day at Sky Sports News. It’s extremely busy but so exciting. The whole studio is black and yellow in our transfer colours, the newsroom is buzzing, there is a revolving door of A-list guests. It’s such a fun day to be a part of. For me, it always highlights what an amazing team we have at SSN - the producers, presenters, reporters, directors, editors, graphic designers, floor managers, sound department. The work that goes into Deadline Day is immense.
Slingsby Gin is a proud sponsor of the BMW PGA Championship, and has launched its celebrity Golf Academy to encourage more women to take to the course this summer and to champion the social side of the sport. Please visit spiritofharrogate.co.uk for more information, and follow Bela’s journey on @slingsbysocial.
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