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Tuesday 8 April 2014

Excellent Women: Gemma Cairney

While many of us have never seen what 4am looks like, Gemma Cairney is one woman who's up and at it extra early presenting BBC Radio 1's early breakfast show.

Formerly a stylist, Gemma is now one of the most charismatic young female presenters around bringing her love of fashion, music and feminism together in her unique projects. Having done a course at drama school, Gemma decided her performing talents might make her a decent presenter, combined with the skills she'd picked up putting together a winning look as a stylist.

'I remember shuddering at the idea of replying 'Oh I want to be a TV presenter' if anyone were to ask me what I wanted to do, thinking it was the cheesiest aspiration of all time!'

'I applied for a bursary to do a beginners course in Radio at Point Blank, a specialist college in Hoxton. I was awarded the bursary to do it and never looked back. I was presenting a six part podcast at festivals by the time I'd completed the 12 week course. It's fair to say I was obsessed.'

She went on to win the Gold Award at the Sony Radio Academy awards for best documentary or feature with her radio documentary Bruising Silence about abusive teenage relationships. She then presented a documentary for BBC Three about the aftermath of the riots in 2012, followed by another documentary Dying for Clear Skin highlighting the damaging effect of skin conditions and the risk of depression caused by treatment medication. She's vocal about a wide range of issues from benefits, road safety for cyclists and feminism.

Does Gemma she feel pressure to always look cracking on TV?

'I wish I could say I didn't, but I do. Walking down my local high street in a mismatched shell suit top and paisley skirt with natty hair and no make up I feel perfectly happy, confident and comfortable in my own skin. As soon as I have to analyse my image or the way I look from a more public perspective, I feel less so. Lots of women on screen or in print look quite similar and it can be difficult to ignore that I don't look like any of them.

I think one of the many reasons I love radio is that I can scream with laughter and it doesn't matter how goofy I look. I've just moved to early breakfast and have been wearing a one piece to work every morning so far. I get up at 3am, if I had to get full hair and make up done at that time, I'd hate it.' 

Most recently, you might have seen Gemma presenting the second series of The Fox Problem, a show inspired by the 90s TV Gemma and her co-presenters missed - think The Big Breakfast and TFI Friday.

'Myself and Georgia (the other presenter) co-produce it so every word that come out of our mouths, every guest, even the way the set looked was down to us working with our team. Most TV shows that I've worked on, it's all mapped out for you and you are just attached to the production. But this was mad pressure, a labour of sheer love. We had Mel C sitting next to Lauren Laverne talking about girl power, and Sir Richard Branson and Commander Hadfield talking about the future of space travel via Skype; those moments made us feel part of something really special!

I first met Gemma myself when I was running a stall at one of her projects, Rumble in the Jumble last year. Gemma explains what it's all about better than I could:

'In short it's a mad day of shopping for bargains. The big difference is that most of the pieces are donated by recognisable names. Last year, Annie Mac gave us a fake fur leopard print coat and in the pocket was a ticket to see Chemical Brothers at the Roundhouse!  All the money will be put into Oxfam's Music Circle who have been been raising money for women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Oxfam made a video in the DRC that inspired the Music Circle to form, it shows the effects on some of the women who have been sexually abused and lost their partners and family members due to the situation there. I sobbed uncontrollably when I saw it, the thought of some of these experiences left me desperate to help.

Gems that have already been donated so far this year include hand written lyrics to Sweet Dreams by Annie Lennox, Anna Calvi's Gucci heels, Lauren Laverne's Marc Jacobs dress and Shirley Manson's shoes. There are also fantastic stalls full of designer samples and old ASOS stock- last year presenter Laura Whitmore sold me one of her dresses for a tenner, and Gizzi Erskine served up her legendary chilli! Come and see Gemma (and me!) at Rumble in the Jumble on 26th April.

Inspired? Discover more excellent women in our weekly column.


  1. LOVE her! I think she presented Glasto last year and she was so bubbly and warm it made me want to know more about her!

    1. Yes, she did Abigail!She is UBER bubbly and lovely! Hope to see you at Rumble in the Jumble!

  2. She uses her powers for good! Hurrah! And you know what? She looks like she's having so much fun doing it.

  3. Oh wow, I'd never heard of her before this but what an inspiration!! And I love the sound of The Fox Problem!

    1. Hopefully it's be back for another series- I miss 90s TV too!


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