One of Ayshah Tull’s earliest memories is learning a play for an English class – every single word. Later, her teacher watched as she mouthed along with her classmates.
“All of it! Looking back, my habit of narrating and miming was really helpful. I’m just really good at talking!”
I meet the BBC Newsround presenter in MediaCity in Salford, where the show is based, to mark the Guardian Education Centre’s 15th birthday. Tull is one of the centre’s biggest success stories, for it was not that love of language that inspired her career but a school trip.
“I went with my media class to the Education Centre when I was 15. The first thing the organisers said to us was: ‘You’ve got the task of making a front page.’ We went about looking through [news] wires and figuring out our audience. I thought ‘people get paid to find stories and tell their audiences about all these different things? This is incredible.’”
London-born Tull tells her story with as much enthusiasm as she shows on screen. Now 30, she still has that front page. “It was called The Dawn – very sophisticated!”
“The seed wasn’t planted until I went to the [Guardian] newsroom that day; in that moment that I realised I want to do journalism. It sparked everything,” she says.
Tull went on to study geography at university. “I loved learning about different places and countries so that fitted really well and made sense to me. That background helps me today.”
At 25, she won a place on the coveted BBC Journalism Trainee scheme, before being called to a Newsround screen test. “I stepped into the studio and immediately felt totally at home,” she remembers.
Tull is clearly dedicated to her young audience: “I’ve seen six to 12-year-olds watching our bulletins and seen the moment they switch off. It might be if I’m not totally engaged, or use a word that’s a bit too big and don’t explain it.”
She thrives off their criticism, even when it isn’t delivered very tactfully. “If kids think the show is boring – or I am – they will absolutely tell me and I love that! That’s what I need to know because I always want to be engaging and entertaining.”
Tull wants to inspire young people to follow in her footsteps, no matter where they come from. “It’s really important for me to have young girls – and young boys – look up to me and say ‘do you know what? I’m from a working-class background, no one in my family has ever done anything in journalism but if she can do it, so can I.’”
Tull has embraced her minority-ethnic background and advises aspiring journalists to do the same.
“In journalism you don’t want a room of the same people. You want different ideas. That has to come from you and your experience. You should never be embarrassed about where you come from and what makes you unique.”
She says diversity often makes morning Newsround meetings productive and exciting. “The people I work with all have ideas that come from a variety of different experiences,” she says. “That is the best thing.”
While making a film on the lack of black girls in British ballet, Tull met nine-year-old Kilonda. “Years later, she came up to me after a library event. She told me that she watched me every time I presented Newsround, and how much she looked up to me. That means a lot; I think of that little girl every time I step into the Newsround studio.”
“I think it’s so important for young black girls and boys to see this is the norm. I want this to be the norm in their future.”
For young people aspiring to work in the media, she advises trainee and mentoring schemes. “I got into the industry via a brilliant trainee scheme. People don’t apply because they think it’s never going to happen for them but you just don’t know.”
Tull has had several high-profile mentors, with the latest being the BBC’s head of diversity, Tunde Ogungbesan. “I dream big, and he helped me start to figure out how I was going to get there.”
The big dream is to become the BBC’s Washington correspondent. It’s an aspiration that ties in with her ideal mentor, Michelle Obama. “She is the epitome of class and grace and also really huggy, which I love! She did the role of first lady in such an amazing way and I’d learn so much from her. I already have done.”
Her advice for older students starting to make their way in the media? “Be nice to everyone, and don’t be quiet on work experience: speak up. It can be easy to get overwhelmed, but you’re doing yourself a big disservice if you don’t make the most of an opportunity to do a job that you supposedly love.”
On the Guardian.