Coming to the Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival to talk about his collection of poems and his life, Stephen Dixon is the Sky News broadcaster with a twinkle in his eye known for his engaging presenting style as anchor for the Sunrise programme, writes Jo Ward.
An unmistakable soft Cumbrian accent is evident as Stephen chats to me about his forthcoming trip to Gibraltar. What led him to write a book and why poems in particular? “I have always written poems,” he tells me. “It’s just a nice way to express feelings and thoughts at any given time, so I used to jot the odd one down here and there and then at some point, about eighteen months ago, I realised that I had a fair collection and I rather randomly decided to send them off to a publishing house,” Stephen explains. He went on to say that he didn’t expect anything to come of it and was expecting a rejection letter, but the publishing house liked them. “It was a bit of a surprise really,” he laughs.
The book is entitled ‘Love is the Beauty of the Soul’ and Stephen has dedicated it to his parents and Thomas and Isobel, his nephew and niece, with the sentiment: ‘The love of a family crosses generations and never fades’. Family is obviously very important to him. “That is how I have been brought up,” he states. “That is what actually matters in life, none of this and no television job or anything related to that is important,” he says, continuing; “what matters is family and relationships, so I wanted to make that clear.”
Sometimes poetry can come across as being pretentious, but the refreshing thing about Stephen’s collection is that, when asked, even he hasn’t got a clue as to the underlying meanings behind some of his poems. Written over a decade and stored on his computer, they reflect all aspects of his life, often touching and thought provoking, revealing his passion for nature that surrounds the Lakes in his home county.
Stephen has a well-known affinity for Gibraltar, always talking about the Rock fondly if it features in the news. “I came over in 2011 when I was on the judging panel for Miss Gibraltar and have been several times since,” he says. “I fell in love with the place because Gibraltar is a little bit old fashioned in the sense that it has a much warmer and welcoming atmosphere than in the UK, where people can become quite hard and so driven towards a career or a job that there is a lack of community.”
Proud of being a diabetic, Stephen is a staunch campaigner for diabetes awareness. “I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 17 and although the diagnosis came as a huge shock to me and my family, I very quickly had to learn to self-manage the condition.” It was in 2003 that Stephen made the news himself when colleagues became concerned when he didn’t turn up to present Sunrise, so they sent the police and paramedics along who broke into his flat to find him out cold from a ‘hypo episode.’
“It is all well and good to sit back and try and be someone who is semi-famous but I think that you have got to do something positive and worthwhile, so the fact that I have a public profile is why I talk about my diabetes on air,” he explains. “I do a lot of work with diabetes charities and I go round and visit diabetes groups across the UK, and the one thing which I have always been struck by is the fact that people say that it is inspiring to them to see someone with Type 1 on the television.” Stephen says that he feels that he has a duty to fulfil to make sure that people with Type 1 can see someone like themselves with a public profile, but also to educate people who aren’t Type 1 who misunderstand what it is and what causes it. “People completely confuse Type 1 and Type 2, so I have a responsibility to try and educate a little bit on that matter.”
Stephen’s broadcasting career began in hospital radio when he was a teenager, prior to his setting off to Nottingham Trent University to train as a broadcast journalist. From there he worked in local radio, moving to ITN, then Channel 4 and Channel 5 before landing his dream job with the move to Sky happening in 2000. “It has just been a steady onward progression really and as much as I love journalism, I also have a fascination with broadcasting.” This passion stems from his grandfather whom he claims ‘was a bit of a broadcast pioneer’. “He worked at the shipyards ‘up north’ and built radio antennae,” Stephen says. “He had the first television on the street – so his fascination with broadcasting seems to have filtered down through the genes a little bit.”
Regular watchers of Stephen would have noticed a slight change to his looks a couple of months ago with the appearance of some new facial hair. #Beardgate! Stephen explains: “I was off work for a couple of weeks and I grew a beard during that time, so when I went back I had the beard on air for three days -that was all – but it did cause a little bit of a stir.” He tells me that it was something his brother would have grown in a week and that he was determined to show off his attempt at growing a beard on air, even if it was only for one weekend.
Social media is a platform that Stephen embraces, but unlike his colleagues who only Tweet about the news, he likes to Tweet about what he deems to be ‘the ordinary stuff’ of life. “I think people just want to know a little bit more about the person behind the face they see on TV, and it seems to be quite a popular thing for me to do.” This is evident by the fact that his personal Twitter account @StephenDixonTV has nearly 27,000 followers. It is also noticeable that he likes to share photos from his youth, particularly from his university days back in the 90s. “I do like to Tweet or Instagram the odd old picture, just because it is quite a nice little memory, isn’t it,” he says rhetorically with a little chuckle. “I don’t really feel 44 and sometimes looking at the pictures of when I was 19 or 20 does make me realise that I have aged.”
A product of the environment in which he grew up as a child, his appreciation for nature and beauty was formed by walking round the Fells and canoeing over the lakes, Stephen is proud of his northern working-class roots. “There is a lot of good honest decency that you get in those communities that you don’t get in the middle-class media elite, which drives me bonkers frankly.” Plain speaking as always, Stephen says honestly that although he is out of the working-class earnings bracket, he likes to think that the values instilled into him as he was growing up are responsible for shaping him. “People looking at me from the outside might disagree,” he states, “but I’m certainly not going to Waitrose and buying ciabatta and pitted olives!”
Although presenting serious news and current affairs programmes can be demanding, there is often time for a more relaxed style, and Stephen admits that he enjoys the banter that he and his co-presenter on Sunrise, Gillian Joseph, have together even if they sometimes make headlines on their own account after having an attack of the giggles. “I am very fortunate in my relationship with Gillian, despite our different cultures and experiences,” he says. “We are similar ages, she is married with kids and I am single, she is black and I am white, but for some reason we just click and there is always a bit of a laugh and a joke going on.”
Proving what a down-to-earth guy he is, Stephen tells me that he was thrilled to receive a Tweet from Beverley Callard who plays Liz McDonald in Coronation Street. “She said that I was her favourite breakfast presenter and that made my day – anyone from Corrie who likes what I do – well that has got to be a good thing.”
Stephen Dixon will be talking to James Neish on Friday, 16th November at 2.00 pm at The University of Gibraltar.