Jennifer Jones: From ballet dancing to BBC news presenting

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Lewis Sharpe March 5, 2021

From becoming an actor to presenting news for BBC Wales, Jennifer Jones has been able to achieve many of her childhood dreams.

An avid dancer in her youth, Jennifer claims her childhood played a huge part in the way her career has panned out.

‘’My sister and I both went into roles in the media and I was always the one who wanted to be in front of the camera and she was always the one who wanted to be behind the camera,’’ she claimed.

‘’I was massively into dancing when I was a child, and my first ambition was to be a ballet dancer. I got into drama through the Eisteddfod through school and then through Ysgol Glanaethwy when I was a bit older.

‘’ I always thought in the back of my mind that journalism could be something that I wanted to do as well, but my main ambition was to be an actor and so, in a way, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve been able to do the two things I had an interest in throughout my career, so I’ve been very lucky in that sense.’’

Jennifer, who grew up in Bangor, also believes she gained confidence from helping her father who was a magician.

‘’I absolutely loved being a magician’s assistant,’’ she explained.

‘’My dad got a spot on a series on S4C when I was about seven and it was filmed in ‘Theatr Gwynedd’, which isn’t there anymore. It sounds terrible, but he would put me in a bag, and I was tied up and it was like an escapology act; I would get out.

‘’I would be in a leotard and I’d have a little feather in my hair. I absolutely loved it. I think, perhaps that’s partly when I got the bug. I really enjoyed performing with him.’’

Prior to going to university in Oxford, Jennifer took a gap year, living in Japan and France.

‘’It wasn’t my intention to take a gap year but the university I wanted to go to said that anyone studying English there would have to take a year out and it was something that they really encouraged unless you had a particular reason why you couldn’t.

‘’In a way, it was kind of forced upon me, but I’m really glad. We had a contact out in Japan through our family, so I went out and stayed with him for a bit and stayed with another family and taught their children English and they taught me a little bit of Japanese, which sadly I’ve forgotten pretty much all of.

‘’I think travelling in any country really opens your mind to different cultures and different languages and, as long as you can do it safely, it’s a fantastic thing to do.’’

When studying at university, Jennifer was the lead singer in a student funk band called ‘The Cheesegraters’.

‘’Singing in ‘The Cheesegraters’ came completely by accident. I was at a house party in uni. I was downstairs chatting to friends, and I could hear this funky music coming from upstairs, so I went up and there were four or five fellow students jamming – bass guitar, lead guitar, there was a drumkit in the corner and an amazing guy called Steve who was sort of jamming and improvising on a keyboard.

‘’For some reason they said, ‘do you sing?’ and I said, ‘not really, but I can give it a go.’ Someone handed me a mic and an amp, so I started singing with them and that was it. They were like, ‘we’ve got a gig on Saturday, tell us what you want to sing, and we’ll learn the songs.’

‘’For a couple of years at university, every now and then, we would play gigs and, if there was the college ball or something, they’d drag us out and it was great fun. I’m really glad I did it. I guess that, again, was another opportunity to gain confidence in front of an audience.’’

After training to become an actor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and over 10 years of working in the acting industry, Jennifer began her quest to fulfil her other ambition – working in journalism.

‘’I had just had my daughter, who is now 13, and I was down in Cardiff and just felt like I needed to be a bit more grounded here, because most of my acting had been based in North Wales. My life circumstances had changed.

‘’A friend of mine mentioned that Radio Cymru were looking for researchers on short-term contracts in the news department. I rang up and said, ‘would it be alright if I fill in an application form? I don’t have a journalism qualification. I did do some work experience at BBC Bangor when I was at school but, other than that, I don’t currently have any more experience.’ They said, ‘you’ve got nothing to lose. Fill the application form, come along for an interview and we’ll see how it goes.’ I didn’t actually get the job then, but I tried again a couple of times and eventually, after much perseverance, they took me on.’’

After working with BBC Radio Cymru for two years, Jennifer began presenting Welsh language news on S4C’s ‘Newyddion Naw.’ She now also presents a radio show on BBC Radio Cymru called ‘Dros Ginio’.

‘’I have an opportunity to work in different mediums, but also in different languages, and it’s a different audience on Radio Cymru. I love radio and you get to conduct longer interviews, you get to get under the skin of a story and into more depth,’’ she explained.

‘’It’s given me so many more opportunities and I feel very blessed to be bilingual.’’

Jennifer now presents BBC’s ‘Wales Today’, providing people in Wales with news coverage from across the country.

‘‘I’m working the late shift tonight, so I will be going in at lunchtime. There will have been meetings throughout the morning to discuss what all the different outlets are running today, what stories different outlets will be leading with.

‘’By the time I get in, there will be a pretty clear picture of what this evening’s 6:30 programme will look like. Obviously, I will get my head around any interviews I need to conduct. Then I’ll spend the afternoon writing the headlines and cutting the headlines, looking for clips to run with the headlines and just keeping in contact with the producer, sitting with a VT editor who will be cutting all those headlines with me.

‘’From the moment I get in at lunchtime to when we go on air at 6:30, it’s pretty busy and intense.’’

‘’I enjoy so many different elements of the job. Writing and cutting headlines might sound a bit dull, but actually, you’ve got to be quite creative and think creatively. You’ve got to condense a story down to six seconds.

‘’I enjoy the interviewing; we’ve had to do a lot of it recently with coronavirus briefings, and we do that three times a week.

‘’I do enjoy being in the studio; I feel quite comfortable in there. It’s lots of peoples’ idea of hell being live on air and dealing with things going wrong, or a live line to a correspondent going down. I kind of thrive on that. It would be my idea of hell being in the producer’s seat because they’re the ones who have to make the big decisions and they’re the ones who are responsible for the programme editorially.

‘’I like reporting and going out and meeting people, but sadly we haven’t been able to do that as much over the past 12 months. I’m really looking forward to a time where I can go out and actually do interviews in locations and actually talk to people because that’s what the news is all about.’’

Presenting emotional stories, particularly in the current climate, can be challenging for news presenters.

‘’One very sad thing we do on a daily basis at the minute is to read out the death toll and to read out the number of cases. I’m very mindful every day that, whether it’s eight deaths or 80 deaths, these are individuals with families. There might be people watching who hear the death toll who have just lost a relative or a close friend and it does get me every time, but you have to be professional about it,’’ explained Jennifer.

‘’Our job can be quite stressful, and there’s a lot of pressure and, yes, that it true, but I just keep reminding myself that I’m not on the frontline, I don’t work on a Covid ward, and there are people out there who are doing amazing work under such difficult circumstances who also have to be incredibly professional, seeing things they never thought they would see and having to find a way of coping with it and switch off when they get home.’’