Originally posted on www.football365.com

Gabby Logan

Gabby Logan

A Love Letter to…one of our best-loved presenters and one of the few that our Johnny has actually met. That’ll be Gabby Logan, then.

Why the Love?It seems barely believable that Gabby has been on our screens presenting TV programmes for 22 years now. Starting out on Sky Sports in 1996, she’s been a constant presence on our telly since, largely fronting sporting programmes, but also making forays into light entertainment, reality TV and panel shows.

Because she’s worked on terrestrial TV for a lot of that time, she is most definitely a household name and as a result can probably now go by just one name: Gabby. There’s only one Gabby, isn’t there? Stuff that former Villa striker.

While some presenters are very familiar to a football audience, outside of that sphere, they’re relatively unknown. This can’t be said of our Gabby.

Wikipedia lists her as presenting 26 different shows in 20 years, everything from ITV’s much-missed Saturday lunchtime show On The Ball, to Champions League finals, to MOTD, to Flockstars – which was apparently a sheep-herding competition. I used to love One Man And His Dog, even though it was inaccurately tilted as the man was often a woman. In a frenetic world, there’s something very peaceful about watching someone getting a dog to herd sheep into a pen, even if it is Tony Blackburn. Surely, that’s perfect slow television.

When you add in guest appearances on another 25 shows, including a noble stint on Strictly, it’s not hard to see how she’s become part of the fabric of our TV lives. It’s also clear just how flexible and wide-ranging she is as a broadcaster and performer.

But it is her football work that is at the core of it all. She’s much loved, I think, because like all the best TV people, you forget that they’re actually doing a job. You forget they’re doing a piece to camera, are following a script or are just doing whatever the gig demands and it simply flows into your consciousness as though it is ‘natural’ when, of course, it is anything but. The best communicators on TV have an ability to transcend the medium itself so that the viewer is not really even conscious that a camera is in the room capturing it all. Rather it seems the presenter is simply there with you. Top notch people like Gabby make it all look really easy, as though you just turn up, point a microphone, read something out and that’s the job done. And that’s how it should appear, of course. But it can mean their technical skill gets overlooked. Even when she’s just having a nice chat with a manager, there is a lot of technique being deployed to make it look easy and smooth.

However, you need more than stellar broadcasting chops to reach the top and to keep yourself there. You also need charisma, charm and to be a good team player and I suspect that’s another reason she’s so popular. She also seems a very good sport – hence her popularity on panel shows like ‘8 Out Of 10 Cats’ and ‘Would I Lie To You?’.

Hugely respected in the industry, she has won “Sports Presenter of the Year” four times at the Television and Radio Industries Club Awards and been nominated a further three times.

As one of the first women to regularly present football programmes in UK, she was at the vanguard of an important change by breaking the sport male-ocracy that had existed since the start of broadcasting. Someone always has to break the new ground, someone always has to take the criticism and abuse from those for whom change is anathema or frightening. And they have to be of strong enough mind and character to tough it out. Yet you’re not even really allowed to talk about the struggles you’ve gone through for fear of seeming precious or self-regarding. But no revolution is without its scars for the revolutionaries and Gabby is certainly one of those, and even though she is now so familiar, we shouldn’t forget that she has surely fought many battles along the way and emerged victorious. Although there’s still a long road to walk towards equality, she was instrumental in helping forge the more progressive and fair situation that we have today. Her presence on TV has surely already been an inspiration to thousands of girls and young women.

Superhero skills

Basically she can do it all and that in itself is a huge achievement because while most shows have a presenter, not all presenting jobs are the same. In fact, they vary an incredible amount from being desk-based, studio-taped gigs, to live in-the-field presentations, to doing filmed segments, pre-recorded interviews or whatever. Gabby does all variants of the artform. All of them require different skills and yet when done well the viewer doesn’t really see how different from each other they are.

But doing a piece to camera in a studio is very different from standing pitchside with a director shouting obscenities in your ear because they’ve spilled hot coffee down their legs, while you’re trying to understand something a pundit has said, while hoping that the naked man that is being wrestled to the ground by police just out of shot isn’t going to escape and run in front of the camera. And all the while you’re required to appear like everything is just fine. You have to be an island of calm in the sea of chaos.

I once had the pleasure of working with Gabby on the Premier League Show. While five of us sat around drinking tea, waiting for the shoot, she was out in the blowing-sideways-north-east rain filming her pieces by the Angel of the North, then came into the pub where we were filming and acted as chairwoman for the discussion.

She was just brilliant at it, asking us questions in turn, pulling out our contributions but always ensuring that the conversation moved on and that the most interesting points were developed. Even at the time it really struck me just what a skill that was because it’d be easy to just sit back and let people talk and then let the editors chop out all the worst wooly bits. It quickly became a quite natural, enjoyable and flowing discussion, but that was entirely because of how she’d conducted it: always shaping, guiding and allowing it to breathe.

One of the big hits of the recent World Cup on the BBC was Gabby’s interviews with players and coach. They’ve rightly been credited as one of the reasons that the public fell back in love with England and as I watched them, I thought again to how she’d got us to talk that day, and how she somehow facilitated you to express yourself but always with a light touch and without exerting any pressure. That in turn allowed you to be yourself. It’s a really elusive artform, hard to grasp and express, but when you’re in the presence of someone who really knows how it do it, it’s quite an experience and one which makes being confessional not just easier, but somehow more desirable.

I think it takes a special sort of character to be that good, a character that is prepared to listen, lacks ego but doesn’t lack personality, so that you are warm and interesting but not out-performing the interviewee. In TV I’m willing to bet that is quite rare but it is one more reason why she’s so good.

When researching why people like her so much, a recurring reason given was that she speaks clearly and smoothly. It hadn’t actually occurred to me before that she is accentless. Being born in Leeds, I wonder if she can drop into proper, what my Hull-born mother used to call, “Thee-in and Thar-in” and come out with a bit of ‘Nar then, lad, is thee winnin’?”

Also spent time in the north east so you’d hope she can do a good “divvant dunch us, wa Geordies, us, like”.

Definitely should just drop into a broad accent out of nowhere in the middle of MOTD if only to stir us all out of the post-pub reverie.

Style guru?

If there’s one thing I’d hate about being a public figure it’d be being judged by your appearance, be it for good or bad. It must make you incredibly self-conscious the whole time and you can multiply that in intensity when you’re a famous female off the telly. Just look at how quick comments about women refer to sex in some way. It’s always lurking beneath the surface, it would seem.

Obviously, women are judged by appearance every day of their lives and at every turn, with a constancy and intensity that men just don’t suffer to the same degree. It is very hard for us as men to quite comprehend this omnipresent type of scrutiny from teenage years onwards. And you can times that scrutiny by about 1,000 if you’re famous. It must be awful as people point their phones at you while you’re buying a 12-pack of toilet rolls in Asda and before you know it, a tabloid has published the picture and is speculating about your digestive health. Have a bad hair day or put a bit of weight on and you’ll make the Mail’s sidebar of shame for weeks. Good god, it’d make you want to hide away. Some of the public’s appetite for intrusion and gossip seems insatiable, though I can’t work out why, really. It seems as if famous people are not thought of as actual humans like the rest of us.

Most of us want to be thought of as looking good in one way or another. But when it comes to how women look on TV what you wear is almost a political act. There’s always someone who thinks you should look different and in the world of social media, they feel somehow empowered to tell you, no matter how rude. If it looks like you made a lot of effort, people will think you’re a vain show pony who only got the job because of your looks. If it seems like you’ve made no effort, people will think you’re just a scruffy bugger who should be trying harder.

However, as I always run the fashion ruler over the male subjects of this column it’s only fair I do likewise for the women. When I met Gabby it was winter and she was wearing a fantastic long navy blue Russian army-style coat with gold buttons that looked like it was made from a heavy Merino wool, possibly with some cashmere content too. Would rather like one of those myself to survive the Edinburgh winters.

Like many presenters who don’t want what they’re wearing to get in the way of the job, she usually goes for a relatively undemonstrative style in non-camera-zazzing plain colours, seemingly at the designer end of the market. Perhaps there’s some Nicole Farhi in her wardrobe, but also some leather for an occasional night of both rock and roll.

What the people say

There was much appreciation for Gabby’s work. That’s not surprising for someone who feels such a regular part of our lives and who has always seemed so warm and accessible.

This came in from Kelly Cates:

‘I love Gabby. I think she’s technically the best presenter on telly, her interviews with the England squad were warm and insightful and she can also make me cry with laughter.’

And then this, from 5 live tennis commentator David Law:

‘Always feels like no stone has been left unturned when it comes to preparation. Puts the subject of an interview before herself. She was on our BBC Radio 5 Live Wimbledon team one year. No ego.’

And now for your contributions:

‘Her best quality is making everything she says seem off the cuff and part of the conversation, yet it must be thought out beforehand because she never makes a mistake.’

‘Although she was the first woman that I remember getting a mainstream football gig, she didn’t seem like a novelty. She was just an excellent presenter with a love and knowledge of the game. Her subsequent and continued success bears this out.’

‘Top presenter, calm, gravitas, engaging.’

‘The daughter of a true Welsh football legend who we all love in Wales. Having sadly experienced family tragedy it’s great to see her having a successful career. An inspiration to us all.’

‘Total pro who seems comfortable whatever the situation. Great interviews with the England team helped the nation fall back in love with international football.’

‘You don’t present for as long as Gabby has without being very good. Always enjoy her filling in on MOTD and she was great as England reporter this summer. Must be one of the few (only) women to present a CL Final. Wouldn’t mind her replacing Lineker when he finishes at the Beeb.’

‘That rarity of a lady who has worked in sport presenting for a number of years and I can’t remember a bad word said about her.’

‘There was a cool teacher/pupil interview vibe to her pieces with the England players in Russia. She brilliantly gauged the goodwill that the players had cultivated and they made for good TV.’


‘Just a mention for the programme about the Bradford fire Gabby presented on BT. Showed great empathy with the interviewees and did an incredible job considering her own family’s involvement, the interview with her dad was particularly moving.’

‘Smoother than Gary Lineker’s silk sheets. She is bloody brilliant.’

‘Oh simply this.. she was asked once on 5 live what advice she would now give her 15 year old self. She said “be nicer to your brothe. He won’t be around for ever.” Heart breaking stuff.’

‘Does the simple things excellently: Thorough research but without it ever coming across as try hard. Puts interviewees at ease and therefore produces better ‘conversations’ rather than a Q&A. Judges perfectly when to probe more and when to simply be quiet. Just brilliant.’

Future Days

Already at the top of her profession, having climbed all the peaks in the broadcasting mountain range, it will be interesting to see how her career develops and whether she will continue to be a regular face on our screens, or will branch out more into business or perhaps mentoring. Having studied law at University, being a non-exec director of Perform, being Chancellor of Leeds Trinity University and fulfilling a lots of charity roles too, she could stretch out into other fields very successfully. But whatever the future holds, I know we’ll always want her in our football TV lives.

John Nicholson

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