When the first lockdown was announced back in March, it had a devastating effect on the TV industry, with production on countless shows shut down indefinitely.
Fortunately, broadcaster Steph McGovern had a plan.
Almost immediately, she sprung into action, and within days, she’s had crew over to her family home to rig it with cameras, so she could move her then-upcoming Channel 4 talk show from its planned studio in Leeds to her... front room.
It was from here that she fronted the new daytime show for a total of six weeks, as well as guest hosting the first episode of Have I Got News For You upon its unusual return – all with her newborn daughter in another room.
As part of HuffPost UK’s new interview series 2020: The Year That Wasn’t, we spoke to the Steph’s Packed Lunch host about navigating a hectic year and how she’s feeling as we head into 2021...
Thinking back to January, how did you feel looking ahead to 2020?
I felt quite nervous, because I felt like I was doing lots of new things at once. I’d just moved to North Yorkshire from Manchester, I’d just had a baby and I’d just left a job I’d been in since I was 19, at the BBC. So it was full on.
But actually, I shouldn’t have worried at all at the beginning – because none of it turned out how I imagined. I had also been excited that things were going to be different in 2020, but like all of us, I didn’t know how different…
How did lockdown affect what you already had planned for the year?
Well, it affected things massively. I was originally meant to be launching a show from Leeds, in the studio there. I’d done the pilot there, everything was underway, we were getting the team together and it was all getting to the point that we were ready to go – and then obviously, the announcement came about lockdown. And so it was either we don’t do anything, and postpone the launch until later in the year, or I try and do it from home.
I don’t know why I ever suggested it, but I suddenly said ‘maybe we could do it at home’, not thinking it would be feasible, but then within a few days an engineer had been round and worked out that actually it was possible. And then a brilliant director who’d worked on Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity and everything, worked out how to rig the house and the living room so it would work. And then we just went for it!
It was all a bit of a flash, the five days where we decided to do it from my house and then it happened a week later – but it just felt like everyone was adapting, so it was really exciting.
Obviously there were still concern about what on earth was happening in the world, but from a work point of view, it felt really exciting to be part of it. Plus, I’m one of those people who likes to be part of the action. I didn’t want to be just sat at home watching all the stuff about lockdown, I wanted to be part of the story and muscle my way in on the action, as well.
What’s mad is I’m actually quite a private person. In January I wouldn’t even have done a photo-shoot in my house, never mind a daily show from my front room.
How did you make it work in 2020, and what are you most proud of?
This sounds really cheesy, but I think I’m actually most proud of managing to balance the baby and doing my work. That was the one thing I was worried about, ‘as a new parent, how am I going to get through being a mum and working?’, or whatever. So I felt proud that me and my partner and the baby and the job all kind of came together and worked.
But then you realise, that’s what everyone does. Hundreds of years before us, people have done that. You kind of doubt yourself, though. I know that I’m hardworking and I can do my job well, but I didn’t know whether I could do parenthood well. And so I think I’m pleased that I got to the end of the year, my child’s one year old and she’s still alive, and actually I’ve still got a job!
It’s the little things that I’m proud of, now. For years I did massive interviews and all kinds of amazing things with my job, but now I’m actually like, ‘oh my god, we’ve got through another few months of looking after her, and it’s going fine, and we’re all fine, and we’re happy’.
Also, I’m just proud that our team managed to pull off doing the show. And managing to launch in the studio, still in the middle of the pandemic. We got there in the end and we’re doing it safely, and doing important stories as well as bringing a bit of fun to people’s daily routine.
What was the one thing that got you through lockdown?
Again, this sounds cheesy, but it was my baby, because she was just totally unaware of anything, so actually her development this year, has been the thing that’s kept me grounded. Because it’s like, ‘OK we don’t know what’s going to happen next with the pandemic, we don’t know when we’re going to be out of this lockdown… oh but look, she’s just been laughing!’ or ‘she’s just pooed on the utility room floor’ or whatever. I actually got loads of joy out of those types of things and they kept me sane. OK, she wasn’t seeing family and our friends… and she still finds it a bit mad when we do see people now because she’s like, ‘wow, more people on this planet exist than you, and my other mum’.
She’s helped to make it feel normal. I really look forward to seeing what the next thing that she was going to do is.
What did you find to be the biggest challenge or lowest point of the year?
It’s really obvious, not seeing my friends and family. I just really miss them. And my daughter’s grandparents not getting to see her for so long in a year where she has changed so much, that was the tough thing. There’s only so much FaceTime you can do with a one year old.
And then, not knowing when it was going to end. I’m someone who does set myself targets and goalposts, and say ‘it’ll be alright because by July, we will be doing this, this and this’. And it just felt like we couldn’t do that, and therefore it was hard to get by each week.
But that’s the same for everyone, I have an incredible amount of respect for everyone trying to get through it, because it is hard. I’m lucky that I’ve got my partner – I don’t know how single parents have done it.
My hat is off to single parents anyway, but unbelievably more so now. It’s hard enough in normal times looking after a baby on your own, but in this… it must just be unbearable.
What’s the biggest lesson that you’re taking away from 2020?
You never expect there to be a time where you’re not allowed to see your friends and family, so I’ve learned now that I will absolutely cherish all the time that I have with them. I took things for granted before, but I will not take them for granted again.
I’m no different to anyone else – I actually think I’ve had a better lockdown than lots of other people, because I have still got my job, and I’m doing a job I love, and I’ve got my family, and my daughter, and fortunately I haven’t got ill, and stuff like that. I feel like one of the lucky ones, if I’m honest.
How do you feel now looking ahead to 2021?
I daren’t feel excited about 2021 in case it’s just more of the same. I’m not trying to look too far ahead now, I’ve decided now I’m literally going to take things week by week. I’m not going to go, ‘I can’t wait for 2021’, because none of us know what it’s going to bring us.
Hopefully, things will eventually get back to some type of normality. But I’m not going to hold out everything for that, I’m just going to carry on thinking ‘let’s just get through this week’, and enjoy the things that we can do.
Steph’s Packed Lunch returns to Channel 4 on Monday 4 January at 12.30pm.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.