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Let's salute Helen McDermott, our queen of broadcasting

PUBLISHED: 06:52 17 November 2017

East Anglian broadcasting legend Helen McDermott. Picture: Archant

East Anglian broadcasting legend Helen McDermott. Picture: Archant

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016

Opinion: Nick Conrad salutes one of the East Anglia's best-loved personalities - Helen McDermott.

I’m delighted that this year’s Norwich’s festive lights were switched on by a woman who has been lighting up our television screens for many decades. It is rare I use this column to pay tribute to an individual, however Helen McDermott deserves praise. She is like UHT milk - we’ve all tried to identify a ‘used by date’ however she never seems to spoil.

Household names come and go. Very few have the durability to span decades. Those who do stick around tend to have a canny knack to reinvent, constantly morphing their ‘product’ to satisfy the public’s current whim. This is exactly what Helen has done so skilfully over the years. She’s been a singer, an actor, a newsreader, a property developer and an entrepreneur, amongst other things!

I first met Helen on a sunny summer’s morning 15 years ago in Suffolk. She was filming an advert and I was working in commercial radio. The radio station was a great little community station and I respected the team hugely, however I wasn’t a fan of my duty promoting the brand. The radio station mascot, at the time, was a fluffy rabbit which was toured around in an open-top convertible. I detested parading around our local market places hand in hand with a massive cuddly rabbit. With a fake smile plastered all over my jaded face I’d wave at children while doing my darndest to get out to the town as quickly as possible. Having witnessed my blushes, Helen and I connected.

Though Helen is recognised as being an approachable, pleasant and an ‘appropriate’ member of society, I can reveal the guise of respectability masks a wicked sense of humour and a very mischievous personality. It’s this which makes Helen so unique and appealing. She’s real!

In an industry where hopefuls and ‘wannabes’ clamber over the careers of ‘has-beens’, Helen has warded off the Grim Reaper of obscurity. As others tire and become predicable, her ability to rejuvenate ensures her longevity. I admire her thigh-slapping panto as much as I appreciate her ability to light up a screen with her warmth and wit.

So what lies behind her success? Well, she is a habitual autocue dodger, unregulated and deliciously unpredictable on-screen and off. Above all those attributes, she’s dogged. The cult of personality drives most forms of media – however, most presenters when the studio lights switch off morph into predictable normality - their personalities aren’t actually that entertaining. Very few have the rare ability to continually capture the public’s imagination.

Helen enjoys great local loyalty – spanning all generations. For an older demographic she’s the woman who delivered the news, whilst youngsters remember BC the bear. She is a wonderful one-woman variety show and a fantastic friend.

Together we campaigned for local TV long before the idea was even politically embryonic. She was integral to launching new local radio stations in Norfolk as well as being a passionate campaigner on mental health. Helen’s genuine warmth marks her out as a unique and dynamic individual. It is extremely unfair that older female presenters are routinely dumped off our screens while their older male counterparts continue. Hats off to Helen who has bucked the trend.

So as she stood on the steps of City Hall to illuminate the city, I pay tribute to a lady who has lit up our screens for many years – and long may she continue.

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