The Great Brexit Referendum took place just over a week ago and the UK is still reeling from the fall-out. It was a momentous night and Primrose Hill’s Sarah Deech was in the thick of the action as it unfolded.
After 15 years as a Producer in the BBC News national newsroom, Sarah branched out on her successful freelance career in journalism and PR consultancy. She was delighted to be invited back to run the BBC’s coverage of the night in Manchester which was where the result for the North West and also the overall national result were to be announced from the town hall, a particularly high-profile and important event. Having carried out the same role, again as a freelancer, for the BBC’s coverage of the Thanet South constituency in the General Election last year – where UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage was a candidate – Sarah was no stranger to directing high-profile political coverage. Which, in the event, turned out to be just as well.
But even the highly-experienced Sarah was astonished by the impact of the events of the night. As she texted to a friend the next day, it turned out to be ‘exhilarating, stressful, exhausting and many other adjectives all at once. I think I have a touch of PTSD!’
From boarding a train from Euston at 1pm on the Thursday of the referendum with political correspondent Jo Coburn (best-known for presenting BBC2’s Daily Politics with Andrew Neil), through to 9.30am the next day, Sarah was flat out organising her team of cameramen and engineers and juggling events as they unfolded. The result was expected to be a narrow Remain win, but as the night went on, it became clear of course that Brexit was to be the winner. This was confirmed at 7.20am, announced in the hall by Jenny Watson, the Chief Counting Officer of the Electoral Commission. After a 3-hour nap when she finally came off duty, our newshound woke up to find that she had missed David Cameron’s resignation. The political landscape was changing at lightning speed, and seems to have done ever since.
Sarah described the breadth and pace of her responsibilities on the night:
“I was chiefly there to produce Jo Coburn and get information from the various press officers, referendum groups and politicians, to establish what was going on, what the mood was etc and to pass the intelligence back to the programme editors at the BBC nerve-centre in Elstree (hopefully before the competition!)… but I also had to have overall responsibility for the camera crew and technical crew, particularly for the pool filming. Also there was a *lot* of arranging MPs and MEPs for live interviews either with Jo on site, or ‘down the line’ with David Dimbleby (or more often, politely declining their offers.. politicians spot TV news cameras like wasps spot jam…. and as the night wore on the BBC1 programme got busier and busier so more and more politicians were disappointed).”
Political heavyweights Andy Burnham MP, Gisela Stuart MP, Nigel Evans MP and Natalie Bennett arrived on the scene in Manchester, along with officials for the two campaigns, Vote Leave and Stronger In, plus throngs of supporters and party members. All the while, Sarah remained the calm centre of the storm, leading her team as they carried out their duties and made sense of the fast-moving developments to keep us, the public, as fully-informed as possible. And after hours of this frantic activity, Sarah knew that she had to remain at her peak, fuelled by adrenaline and emergency chocolate, right up until the end when the result was announced.
She told me ‘It was definitely the most momentous event I’ve ever covered in seventeen years as a journalist. I felt like the country I live in had changed dramatically overnight.’
And for better or worse, how right she was.
Find Sarah on Twitter: @londonette
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