Women in sport: Zoe Barber

For our first interview of the Women in Sport series, Elana Shapiro sits down with Zoe Barber.

Elana Shapiro
1st March 2021
International Women’s Day (8th March) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The Courier Sport wanted to seize this opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the women in Newcastle University’s community who have forged careers in the field of sport. Over the next week we will speak with women who have achieved extraordinary things in a diverse range of positions but all in the context of sport or the sports industry. I sat down with alumna, Zoe Barber, to kick off the week.  

Zoe Barber, a publicist for BBC Breakfast and BBC Sport, achieved a master’s degree in International and Multimedia Journalism from Newcastle University in 2014. She then spent almost two years working for a PR agency before making the move to the BBC. She tells me that it’s difficult to say what she does on a day to day basis because that’s how it is in T.V – every day is different. It’s also certainly not a 9 to 5 job. Zoe was drafting a press release at 10 past 8 the night before, she laughs, “It’s a job where you have to keep your eye out all the time but I suppose if you love your job it doesn’t feel like work”.

And it’s clear that she does. She tells me with pride about a feature she had been involved with that morning for BBC Breakfast. A stable which offers 3,000 riding lessons a year to disabled at risk children needed to raise £1m to escape facing closure. BBC Breakfast reported on the story and the stable was able to reach its fundraising target.

During more normal times, a large part of Zoe’s job is managing publicity and PR for events. “I love an event, I love a party” she tells me. Wimbledon and the Sports Personality of the Year Awards are just two that she describes, “Wimbledon was out of this world. It was like something out of a fairy-tale. Seeing the green courts in real life. Serena Williams and Andy Murray walked past, casual as you like, and I was starstruck. I know not many people get to go behind the scenes like that so you treat it with the utmost respect and soak it all in. The Sports Personality of the Year is always a fun one to work on. There are hundreds of sportspeople around you all night. There is the red carpet, so you have the showbiz element to it and then you get to look after the award winners in the press room as well, setting up press interviews for them. It’s a 16 hour day but I wouldn’t have it any other way”.

Zoe didn’t always know that this is what she wanted to do. Before her masters at Newcastle, she studied English at Northumbria. During that time, she realised she loved being creative, writing and working with people, but it wasn’t until Zoe took some PR modules during her master’s that she found where she wanted to go.

However, it wasn’t always a smooth path and Zoe speaks honestly about this, “The problem with the society that we are in right now, especially with social media, people always post about their highlights, don’t they? But what people don’t see are the rejections, knockbacks and fluffed interviews. It would be disingenuous for me to sit here and say I got into the BBC the first time around. I had to apply four or five times to be taken seriously”. Her advice is to build experience where you can, keep showing your passion, and relax and trust the process.

Talk turns to the year ahead and Zoe exudes positivity. Sport is finally back. The Olympics, Wimbledon, The 100 and the Euros are all on the horizon and these are the things which bring people together and spread joy. Zoe explains that, along with the privilege of meeting and working with so many amazing people (Dina Asher Smith and Jurgen Klopp are two names mentioned), seeing the joy and passion as people rally behind their teams is one of the best parts of her job – she can’t wait.

We conclude by talking about our favourite sportswomen. A difficult question that leads to a few moments of deep thought before she answers, “Can I give you a few? Megan Rapinoe has to be on there for her swagger and Katarina Johnson-Thompson is just a brilliant role model. And also Holly Doyle. She won third place in this year’s SPOTY awards and when we interviewed her, I was so impressed by her passion and determination even though she is so young”.

Tomorrow we speak to Maddy Wood, the Pathway and Development Manager at Durham Women Football Club.

Images Source: Zoe Barber

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