Stephanie Hirst has just finished a Question and Answer session with an audience of Radio Academy North East members that have travelled from far and wide.
You would think that given the events of the last 2 years, that the former commercial radio presenter and Sony Award winner would be tired of these presentations, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Dressed in a tightly fitted black top, jeans and boots, she looked relaxed and effortlessly radiant, a far cry from the first time we met.
That day was Friday 13th June 2014, and the event was another Radio Academy event, giving students a masterclass on the fine art of being a breakfast presenter. Hirsty looked that day, to be honest, knackered, like the early morning starts were really taking a toll and a far cry from some of the promotional photos that the radio station used to dish out.
The session started prompt at 7pm, hosted by Tim Lichfield, and the audience, a mixture of industry professionals, students and the occasional radio anorak. They all sat, transfixed and hanging onto every word. Her part in the event was scheduled to last until 9.20pm, however she has the gift of captivating her subjects as she did every morning during her time presenting Hirsty’s Daily Dose on Capital Yorkshire.
After the session was over, we met in the bar of the venue, the lavish Ramsdale Hall Hotel in Durham, and retired to a corner of the room.
“Was that alright then? You’ve sat through all that before, you must be getting bored of hearing the same old stuff.” says Stephanie, with her Barnsley undertone and a smile as wide as the M1.
I replied that, to use a sporting metaphor, a talk of two halves. The first half being the first 38 years of his life, and the second half being the next two of hers.
For those of you that are unaware, Stephanie Hirst was until very recently assigned the gender of male with the name Simon, with her transition being one of the more high profile ones in the media, Caitlyn Jenner apart.
A subject not far from Stephanie’s heart is that of “Radio Bedroom”, and you can see the twinkle in her eye when she speaks of her days growing up in Barnsley, badgering the local radio stations, desperate to get on air.
“I used to ring Radio Hallam all the time, I had to get the phone from my parents bedroom across the landing, and make sure the wire was under the bedroom door. It used to annoy me that I couldn’t get through to the presenter who was on the radio so I gave up with them, and started to ring Radio Aire in Leeds.
“I tell you, if you give me a touchtone phone now, I can dial the number for Radio Aire with my eyes shut…0532 835500.”
At that point, she prods at the table as if the phone was there.
“I had to learn how to do it really quickly so that I got in there first!
“They all knew my voice and that I was good for being on air. I wasn’t shy and always had so much to talk about, so it made their job that much easier.”
From ringing Radio Aire aged 12, Hirsty was in the studios of Radio Aire, which is still situated within a strip of land between Burley Road and Kirstall Road in Leeds, next door to the ITV Studios building.
“I used to be in there as much as I could be. I would go in and help on a show, and the presenter would let me drive the desk out of the news, with the jingles played manually and then into the song.
“There were times when I used to be in the station at midnight on a weekend, just so that I could learn little things that would help me to hone my craft and build my radio toolbox.
“But without all those late nights and badgering the presenters, I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you, and I wouldn’t have had this life. I’ve worked with so many great people so far, and the best is yet to come.”
With that in mind, the journey could have taken a different path back in October 2014, when Hirsty spoke on radio about her decision to transition. Radio was the only medium that could give her a platform to tell her story. Radio is intimate, radio is storytelling without the pictures, and radio was for so long Stephanie’s home. It continues to be home, but now there are different strings to her bow. Television has been introduced to the recipe, as well as managing current and upcoming talent within the radio industry.
“There’s so much more to add you know, one day I might just have to write it all down.” she added before taking a sip from her glass.
That’s a book that will be well worth a read, and I know that there won’t just be one volume.
This article is aimed at publications such as weekend newspaper magazines or glossy weeklies such as Hello, or OK.
I came across the story during a Radio Academy event in Durham which I attended.