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Interview: Gemma Hunt, TV presenter

14 June 2024

‘Kids see past the fakeness of presenters. So you just have to be yourself and be real and natural’

Laura Scottorn

I studied for a media/performance degree at the University of Bedfordshire. In my first year, I took part in a national search to be a new TV presenter on MTV. I didn’t get it, but I got some great show-reel material.

When I was in my third year of uni, I met an agent who came into our university to give a lecture on how to put together a show reel. I showed her the VHS tape that I had of myself on MTV, and said I’d really like to get into kids TV. She sent it off to a contact that she had at CBBC, and they asked to see me.

They invited me for a screen test, and I did that and loved it. And they said: “Oh, well, we’ll see you again soon.” I thought, “Hmm, yeah, OK: that’s what they say to everybody.” And then I got a call, a couple of hours later, from the agent, who said: “They’d like to offer you a six-month contract.”

I started at CBBC on Independence Day 2003. I worked there until, I think, about 2007. And then I took a couple of years out of TV after a heartbreak, where I lost a lot of my confidence. I moved out of London, went back to my home church, and I got loved back to health by my friends and my family, and, obviously, the Lord.

I came back to London a few years later, and was working in a children’s toy and bookshop, where I was running storytelling workshops. And it was then that I got a phone call from my agent, who was still representing me. And she said: “There’s an audition that’s coming up for a new pirate-themed game show on CBeebies. Would you like to go for it?” So I thought, ‘Yes, why not.’ And so I went for the audition, and I got it.

I really felt like that was a God thing, because the show, Swashbuckle, it’s all about hunting for gems. And my name is Gem-ma Hunt.

When we film Swashbuckle, we have to get into the studio at about 7.30 in the morning, to get into make-up and wardrobe. We spent about an hour doing that. And then we get on to the studio floor about nine o’clock, when all the audience members come in. We film one episode, which takes us up till lunchtime. We then take a quick lunch break. And then we get back into wardrobe and make-up, and then into studio, and we film another episode. It takes about three-and-a-half to four hours to film a 22-minute episode.

It’s a long, long day. After that, I just go back to my accommodation and crash, eat some food, watch some telly, chill out, and get an early night. So, really full-on days, but they are so much fun.

The camaraderie is brilliant, and I get on really well with the make-up and the wardrobe team. It doesn’t feel like work, because we’re having so much fun.

I’ve been doing TV now for 21 years. Kids see past the fakeness of presenters; so you just have to be yourself, and be really real and natural. And I think that, being able to do that, you can connect better with the audience.

What is most difficult is being away from my family. I have a husband and a seven-year-old daughter, and so my work often takes me away. That’s really tough: sorting out childcare back at home, and making sure there’s enough meals in the freezer for them to defrost and eat.

I work mainly with children on CBeebies and CBBC, but I try to stay connected with what’s happening with the older generation and my peers, so that I can relate better to people when I meet them to interview them.

I got to go and work at the Royal Albert Hall for one of the BBC Proms with Blue Peter. And I got to interview Sir David Attenborough. That was just a real highlight for my career. He is an absolute legend. That was a really special time for me.

I’d really like to give a Saturday-night entertainment show a real go. I’d love to do an Ant and Dec-type show, or a Noel’s House Party, that kind of thing. I think that’d be really, really cool. I think I’d also like to get into doing things behind the camera. I really admire what producers do. I think I like their creativity and putting a show together. So, now that I know a lot about television, I think that maybe producing could be quite a fun thing to do.

My pirate praise parties are an interactive, fun game/storytelling/dancing session for about 40 minutes, where I tell a big story and I get involved. I involve the children in that. And we sing songs together to go on this adventure to try and reclaim all of my jewels. There’s lots of things they recognise from the TV show. And then there’s an addition for churches, often, where I do an animated retelling of the story of the last coin, where children can get involved, which is really fun.

I grew up in the West Country, in Trowbridge. My parents separated when I was about four; so I spent half my time with my mum over one side of town, and then the other half of my time with my dad on the other side. And that was my normal, alternating between my parents’ houses, and having two birthdays and having two Christmases.

It was great, because my mum was the one that used to take me to church, and my dad taught me loads of great things to do with carpentry and cars and general DIY, that kind of stuff. He’s very creative. So that’s something that I’m grateful to him for. And my mum was always really into baking and gardening. Now that I’m a mum and a wife, I enjoy those things around the house.

We went to a Baptist church in Trowbridge where I grew up. I was always intrigued by the baptistery. It wasn’t until, I think, I was about 15 to 16, when I actually got baptised, that I realised just how special the baptistery was.

At a church summer camp, called Hill House, in Bridgewater, I met lots of other young people who were my age. That’s where I gave my life to Jesus, having seen a video of Jesus dying on the cross. And it just really resonated that he did that for me. And I was so grateful. And it just developed over the years, I think, going along to church and having a good youth group around me and great youth workers. The summer camps were always a real highlight for me. Some of the friends that I made on that are now my best friends.

Do you know what I really don’t like? I cannot bear people not clearing up after their dogs. It makes me so cross because I wouldn’t let my child go and defecate on the road without actually clearing it up. So why is it that it’s OK for dogs to do that? That absolutely does make me very angry — along with door-slamming: I don’t like that, either.

What makes me happiest? I love hosting friends, family, coming around and eating at our house — although I always seem to challenge myself and cook something that I’ve never tried before when people come around.

Jesus gives me hope for the future. He is my hope, my reason for being, the reason that I stand up, my lifeblood, the breath in my lungs. And, even when life is hard — and things, my goodness, they’re not even great right now — I can see past those because Jesus gives me hope to keep going every day. And, even though health fails or relationships are difficult, or work is scarce, I totally have hope and trust in the Lord that things are going to be OK.

I pray, because that is me chatting to my best friend. And it’s a constant dialogue every single day. It’s like sending voice notes like this to God, and praying and thanking Jesus for things that are happening, or questioning what I should be doing, or just having a general chit-chat. And I do love bedtime prayers with my husband and our daughter as well. They’re always really special.

Who I would like to locked in a church with? Do you know, it would probably be my grandparents. I’ve only got one surviving grandparent, now, on my mum’s side, my nanny. And so I’d love to get both nannies and granddads from my mum’s Jamaican side and my dad’s English side together, and talk more about what life was like for them when they grew up, and find out a bit more about their history and what made them happy as kids, because I don’t really know a lot about that.


Gemma Hunt was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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