Interview: Lisa Lewis publicity manager, writer, and broadcaster

11 May 2018

People aren’t sitting at home in rural Belarus thinking: ‘I like the song, but they voted to leave the EU so I’m not going to vote for them’

I work four days a week at Darton, Longman & Todd as the publicity manager, after working in marketing and events management with Christian and non-Christian charities.

The world of religious publications is a completely new area of work for me to learn. Lots of books are being published, and we all want the best for our authors; so getting publications to review the books is really important, and looking at other ways to publicise the book are a challenge.

My other job, as a writer, commentator, and broadcaster with the Eurovision Song Contest, is completely different. I have been a fan of the contest since I discovered it, way back in 1991. It began in 1956 as a musical event to bring together a continent divided and torn by the war. Almost everything’s changed in the contest since then, but its heritage is still really important. It’s been a broadcasting leader; so quite a lot of the elements you now see in many programmes have come from broadcasters at Eurovision.

Eurovision is the organisation of the European Broadcasting Union, which is responsible for broadcasting entertainment around Europe, like all the European football, Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester, the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, Christmas Around Europe. . . It began with the Queen’s coronation as an experiment in broadcasting. There are different companies and streams: Eurovision, Eurosport, Euronews. It’s based in Geneva, and funded by its members. Every broadcaster pays a membership fee, and is able to broadcast from it; so most of our broadcasting channels in the UK are members.

Every day can be different. I may be writing an in-depth analysis piece on feminism, or a lighter piece on the staging and styling of the artists. Each day during the rehearsal week and the show week I usually host a news show for Radio Six International, with all the goings-on of that day. I may be recording local “colour” pieces for the very popular Eurovision Insight podcast, such as when I visited Chernobyl during our time in Kiev last year; or taking part in a discussion live on BBC2.

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Then there’s the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in November, which most Brits don’t even know about. I’m now entering my third year as the co-host of the show live on radio, which is syndicated to stations across the English-speaking world. Beyond all this are the national finals, where countries select their acts in the run-up to the contest, and then the pre-show promotion season; so it’s pretty busy all through the year.

Behind the scenes at the contests is really fun. It’s pretty hard work, and there are some long days, especially when the host country is a couple of hours ahead of the UK. Last year in Kiev, Ukraine, the show didn’t start until 10 p.m. local time in order to fit the broadcasting schedule across Europe. I wasn’t in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2012, but that show began at midnight for those on the ground.

Like any show, there are things that go on backstage. It’s a little bit like the Big Brother house, where you’re all in a contained environment for a fortnight, and everyone has their own quirks and personalities. But this is nothing to the family feeling we have when we’re there. When one performer was really struggling to cope with the pressure of the show and the media, many of the press came alongside to encourage them, which ended up with renewed confidence, a great final perform­ance, and a very good result — but I’m not going to tell you who it was.

Brexit won’t make a difference to the UK at Eurovision at all. Not all participating countries are EU mem­bers, and there’s virtually no corre­lation to EU membership and scor­ing. After the referendum last year, the UK achieved its best result since 2011, finishing in tenth place after the jury points were added up, and 15th overall. People aren’t sitting at home in rural Belarus or Austria watching the contest and thinking: “I like the song, but they voted to leave the EU; so I’m not going to vote for them.”

Many things determine the value of a book, not just sales figures. We published a book called Transfaith back in February, and I knew from the moment I read the manuscript that this book was of very high value. But the audiences who need to read it will be harder to persuade because of the subject-matter. Every person in Christian leadership needs to read this, because it’s a very well-rounded piece of research. It’s not sensationalist, not eliciting either support or hatred of transgender people, and it has a simple glossary of terms so that people can discuss the issues intelligently.

I’m also on the pastoral facilitation team of Diverse Church for LGBT Christians aged 18 to 30, and we’ve just started Diverse Church Plus for over-30s. It’s an online church, though people meet in regional hubs. It’s the biggest ignored group in the Church. If any other church had grown from zero to 700 in four years, questions would be asked — but we’ve been ignored.

My faith is important. It’s part of who I am. There’s no need to be preachy about it, and I don’t really look at work as a mission field, because that reduces people to groups and labels; but people know I’m a Christian. I’ve been able to share a bit about my faith. I’ve told friends I would pray for them when things are difficult. It’s not an evangelism thing: I do it because I believe in the power of prayer, and want to tell my friends that I love and support them.

I grew up in Guildford, and had a pretty hideous time at school, as I was bullied badly, but that’s part of who I am today, and I’m now good friends with one of the bullies.

I became a Christian when I was 14, although I’d always been brought up in church. I was ordained as a Salvation Army captain in the States, where I’d gone to work as a nanny, and served as a chaplain at the World Trade Center site after 9/11.

That was a huge growth period for my faith. I had no training or skills. I was 24; so you just go: “OK, whatever.” I had to rely completely on God, and he didn’t let me down. By then, there was a ramp into the foundations of the building, and, when they found body parts, we’d give a simple generic prayer over them and for the family, and accompany the bodies out of the build­ing.

You just do cope with it. I always felt anyone could. It’s part of being a Christian, and you do what you have to do wherever God puts you. But I’ve learned that not everyone could go into a site like that and not fall apart. Not really a day goes by when I don’t think of some of the horrific things I saw at Ground Zero.

Four years later, I was sent down after Hurricane Katrina, and spent a month there. We were often sent to help with smaller tragedies that were no less appalling to the people involved. None of us sees it as remarkable, because it’s what my friendship circle there did.

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Now I live in the Cotswolds, and I’m a fully paid-up member of the Anglican Church.

Baking bread’s my speciality. And I really enjoy just hanging out with friends and chatting.

One of my favourite sounds is the Eurovision signature piece, Charpentier’s Te Deum. It means a live show is about to start, and I’m about to start broadcasting. I’m happiest when I’m in the buzz — and slight jeopardy — of those situations.

Exclusion makes me angry. I get really mad when I hear about LGBTI people being turned away from churches, or banned from taking communion.

My ultimate hope for the future is in God, but I’m blessed to know amazing, remarkable people from all over, and thank God for them.

I pray most for unity and inclusion within the Church.

I think I’d choose to be locked in a church with Conchita, who won the Song Contest for Austria in 2014. I’ve had lots of short snippet conversations with her; and Tom Neuwirth, the guy behind the wig and lashes, but I’ve never had the chance to have a proper chat.

Lisa Lewis was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. The Eurovision final is broadcast tomorrow evening.

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