BBC Newcastle’s Anna Foster: “I’ve had mental health struggles”

SHE’s shared listeners personal stories but Anna Foster, who recently joined the Radio Newcastle Breakfast Show, has never before spoken about her own past mental health struggles.

Whether she’s covering breaking news or interviewing a celebrity her wit, warm voice and incisive questioning makes Anna someone you just know you’d get on really well with.

“As a radio presenter I’ve heard a lot of personal stories on the mid morning show so you don’t really want it to be about you the presenter, my guests must always be the focus but stigma surrounding mental health issues really must end so I feel a responsibility to be honest.”

With a career in broadcasting spanning two decades, the classically trained soprano returned to the fold at BBC Newcastle 18 months ago to present the mid-morning slot and is now co-hosting the fast-paced breakfast show with Alfie Joey whilst Charlie Charlton is on maternity leave.

Although radio has been a constant companion throughout it was never mapped out on her original career path, Anna got her big break in broadcasting after one of the loneliest points in her life.

“When I was very young I used to sing into a little microphone, there’s still a tape recording of me singing ‘Tell Me on a Sunday’ and after that I was in school plays but I always loved the radio,” she explained.

“I went to St Mary’s boarding school in Thirsk by default as my parents were headteachers there and during break times we would run up to our room and turn the radio on. I loved singing from being a tot, and I had a brilliant music master who used to make it cool to belong to a choir. There was senior choir, but even better, was chapel choir, I had a huge passion for music and performed at York Minster as well as all over the country, achieving a Royal College of Music Grade 8 and a performance diploma.”

She said she didn’t do well in her A Levels (“I was too interested in boys”) and went to university studying something she really didn’t want to do. Her longtime singing teacher urged her to pursue music as that was what she was really good at and she secured a place at Trinity College of Music in London.

“But my friends who’d been before me were graduating without jobs and after three years at music college I spiralled a bit. My mental health was not good as I was having panic attacks and my mum said “Come home and let’s start afresh”.

“I felt like I’d failed by dropping out of uni twice but London can be a very lonely place and, although I had great friends, they were spread across the city. Because I’d always loved radio, I called up the local station, Stray FM in Harrogate, asking for work experience. After a day I was told I was a “chatty lass” and was taken on to present The Breakfast Show for £12.50 per show.”

“I’ve not really said before that I’ve had struggles. When I had my first baby I was really poorly, I suffered badly from OCD and had intrusive thoughts but there was no social media of help and I really do not want people to suffer in silence now as there is help and a supportive community out there.”

That was back in 1996, since then she joined GNR Breakfast Show with John Foster, the pair went on to present TFM breakfast in 1998 – Anna went on to be ‘best man’ to John, presenting all sorts of confusion as his bride to be was Radio 5 Live Drivetime presenter Anna Foster!

She moved on to join Metro Radio in Newcastle in 2003 and she presented Breakfast with Brian Moore and latterly Tony Horne. She switched back to Magic Breakfast as a solo presenter in 2012 until 2014 and was then presenting on Made in Tyne and Wear TV but leaving for BBC Newcastle.

“In the Mid-Morning show there are more long-form interviews, which I really enjoy as I love to hear people’s stories in-depth as I’m a bit of a chatterer, at breakfast though it’s very newsbased – which also has its perks as we get to inform everyone and set the tone for the day.

“During the first couple of weeks I felt like I was in a windtunnel as it’s so fast paced but Alfie is brilliant to work with and I get on really well with him, we tend to take turns when doing interviews to give each other space and time to think.”

The intimacy of radio still fascinates Anna and she is still an avid listener. “The best broadcasters make you feel that they are personally telling you a story as well as informing you. We are someone’s friend, I do feel like I am talking to one person.”

Although she is experienced at coaxing guests to open up, she has been reticent about sharing her own past anxieties.

“As a radio presenter I’ve heard a lot of personal stories on the mid morning show so you don’t really want it to be about you the presenter, my guests must always be the focus but stigma surrounding mental health issues really must end so I feel a responsibility to be honest.”

“I’ve not really said before that I’ve had struggles. When I had my first baby I was really poorly, I suffered badly from OCD and had intrusive thoughts but there was no social media of help and I really do not want people to suffer in silence now as there is help and a supportive community out there.
“I am very passionate that people talk about mental health and I retweet a lot of mental health posts on Twitter.”

When she’s not on the airwaves, hosting events, singing or playing darts for her local team in County Durham she’s wife to Steven (a fire station watch manager in Newcastle) and mum to Jamie, 18, Zara, 16, and Yasmin, 15.

Life in Anna’s busy house sounds familiarly chaotic. “My house quite often looks like burglars have been in it – I haven’t Hoovered for about two weeks.

“I should be up at 4.30am but I leave it until the last possible minute and I should be in bed early but it’s usually 11.30pm before I’m asleep. I can hear my husband when he opens the fridge and the teenagers arguing over bathroom space.

Despite the incredibly early mornings it’s obvious that Anna is relishing this new chapter of her career on the BBC Newcastle Breakfast show.

“I still get a little bit nervous every time I go on air but I think that’s a good thing, being in people’s homes, cars and workplaces is an honour and I have to pinch myself that after 20 years I still get to do this amazing job.”

CONTACT:

Anna Foster and Alfie Joey present the BBC radio Newcastle Breakfast Show every weekday morning on 95.4FM

Anna can be found Tweeting @Ladyannafoster

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