Beginnings Before Blogging – Russell

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Hi! Russell here with my beginnings and back story before we set up this blog. You can catch up on Patrick’s post by clicking here….

Paid to love food

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been awfully fond of food. On lazy Saturday mornings growing up, after kids TV shows ended I switched over to watch cookery shows on the other channels with my mum, every week, religiously. My dad would constantly insist on me helping him in the kitchen with various dishes, in order for me to always make the basics, and then master them. When it came to looking for a summer job at age 17, I instinctively wanted to be surrounded by something I knew quite a lot about. I was terrifically lucky to get offered a job in my local Marks & Spencer- a shop whose food I have long loved and craved and had quite a lot of passion for.

Around the same time, I suffered terribly from mouth ulcers. I had tried every remedy and old-wives tales to try and stop them: salty water, Bonjela, rinsing my mouth out in whiskey (that was a fun one), and the worst one – applying salt directly onto the ulcer. Nothing really worked for me, so I tried to research and discover why I was getting them in the first place. I had blood tests and allergy assessments to find out if it was something I was eating. Then a friend of my mother’s heard that it was common that Monosodium Glutamate (MSG/E621) was a cause of them. Needless to say, I cut MSG completely out of my diet, as best as I could; starving myself of some of my favourite treats. And it worked. Working in M&S was pretty amazing because of my allergy; none of their food contained the substance, so I was free to eat absolutely anything I liked. And that I sure did.

Russell James Alford job Dublin marks spencer retail food

The summer job that I began in 2008 became so much more than a means to an end. I was employed by them until mid-2013, over five years of my young life.

Not going to plan

I had adored radio since I got my first taste of it aged 15. I knew at that moment that I wanted to do nothing but work in the radio industry but school work had to be done, and I had a lot to learn before I could ever get my opportunity.  I knew that once it came to my college course choices, I wanted to study communication and the wider media. But unlike most of my peers, I had to juggle work and school, and I always knew in the back of my mind that I needed to focus on my school work a bit more, but I was getting a good wage for my age (in a job I enjoyed and was passionate about) and I wasn’t prepared to give that up.

When it came to my exam results, I didn’t get my first choice, nor my second choice, but my third. I wasn’t over the moon about it, but I was happy to be at least going to a university, and one that had an up-and-coming media society – Dublin City University (DCU). Rather than investing all my time in my studies, I spent as much time as I could in the radio studio. I did that for three years and achieved so much, while gaining great experience. In my first year, I won a national student media award. I was chosen as the best student radio DJ in Ireland. The best experience was in my final year when I was one of two managers, running the entire college station. Through this, I learned everything and more than I would have if I got my first choice.

russell james alford DCU studio radio DCUFM

Following graduation, I hoped that my experience in both presenting and management coupled with my enthusiasm for the medium would enable me to get some sort of paid employment off the bat. Alas, it wasn’t to be but I got some great and invaluable presenting experience, unpaid, in the meantime. But I was always hungry for more.

Leaving for London

For as long as I can remember, I loved the city of London. It was one of those places that I would walk around in, constantly in awe at everything and anything. Coming back home to Dublin after a trip there always felt like a bit of a let down, even though there were things I loved about Dublin (namely a good pint of Guinness, batter burgers and having family and friends close-by). In the midst of my teenage years, I had always planned that I would go to university in London as soon as secondary school was finished. That didn’t happen. I then developed plans to move right after I finished in university in Dublin, on the 29th April 2012. I don’t quite know why I chose that date, or even why I can remember it, but I did. The date passed, and about a year or so later, with little light in the tunnel for me in Ireland to move up the career ladder, the thought of moving to the magical city of London sprung to the front of my mind once again.

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Interestingly, it was during a lovely holiday to our favourite destination of Brussels that we conjured up our plan. We sat in the airport, about to board our plane home, reflecting on a fantastic trip which was absolute much-needed comfort and escape from a life of somewhat hell at home in Dublin. Both of us at loose ends in our jobs, little prospects on the horizon and going through the motions in a horrid living situation. The two of us sat necking a bucket or two of Hoegaarden and we talked about what we shall be doing in the weeks that followed this trip.

Our lease was set to choke us for at least another six months. The conversation centered around longer term plans, dreams, hopes. Eventually, it concluded with Patrick saying to me “Do you honestly think the BBC will hire you while you are living and working across an entire sea in Dublin?”. That give me a wallop and serious food for thought. He then pointed out that the two gates surrounding our departure gate were both destined for my favourite city, and we were stuck in the middle, going to Dublin. My mind was made up, London it was.

russell james alford yalding house bbc radio 1 2012

Beginning my Tour

July 1st was the date we both set to up sticks and leave the Emerald Isle and, as both our CV’s said, to “seek new opportunities and challenges in a brand new location”.  Within 10 days of arriving in what was to be our new home town, we had our flat sorted, bank accounts set up and were now able to work legally in the UK. It was all going swimmingly well. Within those ten days, two perfect opportunities came up in the one place I always dreamt of working in; the BBC. One was to be a Tour Guide at their beautiful, brand new premises of Broadcasting House, the other was a two-month radio internship in BBC Radio 1/1Xtra. One appealed to the history nerd within me, the other to the dream of working in one of the world’s greatest radio stations.

I applied for both of them, knowing that if I got a shot at either of them at least, I would be over the moon. Hoping I would get an interview for the Tour Guide job, the two of us went on a tour of the building, just so I could know exactly how they worked. I was fairly confident I would get an interview here anyway, especially since I also have a theatre background, but was still trying to keep calm and confident. There and then, not a second later than we handed back our visitor badges and left the building, an email arrived in my inbox. It was an interview invitation. I had received rejection after rejection from jobs within the BBC and beyond for years. Each one hurt, some more than others, especially after finishing university, when I felt those jobs within my reach. My reaction couldn’t be contained and I just burst into tears with happiness then went for a calming scone and tea as I gathered myself.

The very next day, another email dropped into my inbox. This time, an interview for Radio 1. I continually swore when I seen it, I thought it was simply a mistake. “This couldn’t be happening all at once!”, I thought.

When it Rained, it Poured

The interviews were a week apart from each other. Both taking place on a Tuesday afternoon. First was for the Tour Guide job. I left it feeling very confident and humbled by the experience. By the  Friday, I was told the news I had dreamt of hearing all my life; I’ve been offered a job at the BBC. The Tour Guide job came through and I would start in 10 days time. I cried again, in fact I cried a lot. Nothing could ever match that feeling. But I knew a week later, another opportunity that, as greedy as it sounds, I wanted equally was still within my grasp and I was so close to it I could touch it.

That next interview left me feeling less confident. I was competing against some terrifically talented  people around my age for the same gig. I had spent most of the last few years working away in retail, trying to get bits of experience here and there. My work in college was the only thing that really stood for me, but that was some time ago. When the interviewers told me that I was one of 32 shortlisted for the job, out of over a thousand applicants, I left feeling that regardless of how it went, I achieved something incredible here. I had an interview at BBC Radio 1, that was pretty swanky, and always a dream of mine.

My first day of Tour Guide training was September 9th, two months after arriving in London. I had heard nothing about Radio 1 in the days proceeding the interview so I knew in my gut that I would find out that day, but I was training and terrified if I didn’t answer my phone, I wouldn’t get it. Then during lunch, while getting to know my new colleagues, my phone began to ring.

Russell James Alford BBC Radio 1 radio media broadcast

The Minute, The Moment

I was asked for feedback about the interview process which led onto the most gut-wrenching, drawn-out, sweat-dripping, fear-inducing minute of my life. “There were over 1000 applications and you were one of 32, so you should be very proud of yourself for getting this far… But we had to take through the most creative people who we felt would give the most to the station, as well as get the most from the placement”. At that moment i just wanted to say “please tell me, I didn’t get it, its okay”. Then, “With that in mind, Russell, we would love to offer you an internship at Radio 1″. I was speechless, then couldn’t stop saying “thank you”, then started sobbing. For the following month, I continued to pinch myself. I still couldn’t believe my luck. The first  two job interviews I had in London both resulted in dream jobs.

With my fellow intern and best friend Katie Crooks

 

So for two months from  Monday, October 14th 2013, I was living the dream as an intern at BBC Radio 1/1Xtra. It was possibly one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I got to create features which ended up on The Radio 1 Breakfast Show; I got to watch amazing musicians from the side of the stage at the Radio 1 Teen Awards; but the best part was creating a two-hour radio show with my fellow interns, who I’m great friends with now too, which was broadcast on Radio 1 on Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day 2013. One of the proudest moments of my life!

A Break in Transmission

 

Since finishing my stint at Radio 1, my career has taken a different direction.

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I passionately tried to get back to Radio 1, wherever and however I could, but the right role has never came up, or maybe the right person has never given me the chance I need. I tried to find some new way into the media, into the production process, and then in September 2014, I made the drastic change from radio to television. I was incredibly lucky to get a job working at ITV Studios, as a Client Services Runner. I remained there until April 2015.

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Since then I now spend each morning working in breakfast television on Good Morning Britain and Lorrainewhere I work as  Green Room Assistant. That means I get up at 4am each day…how I do it no one can understand, but it really is SO much fun.

Amazing Things Will Happen

I sort of hate cliché sayings about dreams coming through and all that malarky, but there is one which Conan O’Brien said on his last Tonight Show a couple of years back which has always stuck with me:

“Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”

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  • Sam

    Geez, way to make me develop an irrational online crush in one blog post! *blushes*

  • Pingback: Beginnings Before Blogging – Patrick | GastroGays()

  • Why do people feel the need to differentiate/define themselves by their sexuality?

    • GastroGays

      Because until we live in a world where people are not killed, persecuted or bullied for being gay, lesbian, trans etc. we are always going to be differentiated and singled out by society. We’re assuming you’re straight…everyone assumed you are straight because that’s “normal” in the eyes of society. You’ve not had to correct people, fight for the most basic human rights, or put yourself in harms way because of the way you were born. It’s not gonna end in our generation so either be part of the change or be part of the problem. We are who were are.

  • paul soden

    Enjoyed reading about you, Russell. Your optimisim and energy should give us all hope. Paul (Stephen & Jimmy’s friend). Hope you remember me from Dublin!