How to become a television presenter: an interview with Martyn Andrews

Martyn Andrews is a British television presenter, broadcast journalist, reporter, trained actor and singer. He is one of the original faces of RT (Russia Today TV) now based in London after living in Moscow for eight years. He also makes other freelance television and radio appearances for various media outlets and writes for several travel websites, lifestyle publications and in-flight magazines. Also an authentic and extreme traveler, his various TV contracts and personal travels have taken him to over 160 countries around the world.

Martyn in his element

Hello there Martyn, fantastic to talk to you. So lets just get straight into it. If someone came up to you and said ‘I want to be a TV presenter just like you’ what would you say to them?

“There’s a spectrum of what being a TV presenter means,” says Martyn: “serious news journos, kids TV presenter, MTV daytime presenter, TV chef; they are all completely different to each other with a completely different skill base. The profession isn’t about being famous, it’s about having a long career QVC shopping channel presenters for example; they earn over 100k a year and at the same time very few will know who they are.”

To get into TV you’ve really got to be three of five things, says Martyn: “a wannabe; a journalist; a celebrity already (chef/comedian); an expert or come through the reality TV route”. The latter being the main driving force for lots of new talent on TV over the past 10 years.

“In the first part of my career I was just a wannabe; the next Dermot O’Leary. But they are chance opportunities and rarely ever happen. I participated in drama festivals from the age of 14, as a kid I was used to public speaking – I was always the one to host an assembly. Then when I was 16 I presented Songs of Praise on the BBC which was huge for me at the time. I then did professional musicals for a few years. It wasn’t easy – being in the same musical eight times a week for one year of your life is hard work – I wanted to do more than that; I wanted to travel, I wanted to create, I wanted to write. TV is not repetitive whereas being in musicals is. One of my main aims in life was to become a Blue Peter presenter. I did work experience on Blue Peter and Newsround when I was 17 – it was an amazing experience. Years later Blue Peter saw my show reel as they had presenter auditions – the feedback was that I wasn’t polished enough!”

So in other words you needed to be more than just a ‘wannabe’ then?

“To a point I believe in cosmic ordering where if you want something enough and you ask for it I think it comes to you, but TV is about luck too.”

Almost 10 years after he had starred in his first theatre production, Martyn was to chance upon an offer that would change his life.

“I was in New York and I met a producer over a dinner party and she happened to be the wife of an oligarch – Vladimir Gusinsky – he’s like the Russian version of [Rupert] Murdoch. I became friends with his wife and a few weeks later I got an email saying (Martyn puts on his best Russian accent) ‘Martyn, come to Tel Aviv’ and I got this job offer to take part in this Indiana Jones type programme about the Pyramids, filmed in Egypt, with no contract, no longevity and no real offer apart from a plane ticket. Everybody said you can’t go it’s dangerous, you’ll get kidnapped but I went and I ended up doing the English speaking series on a the RTVI Russian cable station in Israel.”

So getting yourself into the big wide world, meeting this Russian oligarchs wife and with a little bit of luck you were able to secure your own television series? What happened after the success of the Egypt series?

“I received a second phone call from Elena (the wife of the Russian oligarch) ‘Martyn, on Saturday you move to New York and I need you for a channel in Manhattan and we see whether you live or die,‘ and from there I was sent around the world to record a series on diving.

“I trained to be a deep sea decompression diver for six months in Chile, Hawaii, Bermuda, Thailand, Australia all these wonderful locations. Again, no screen test, no contract, no adverts – it was just given to me – right place right time.

“Two years later when I got back to England after a million air miles I thought how am I going to move forward in my career with that experience. Although I had traveled around the world with an Israeli and New York based cable channel, RTVi, I was still a wannabe, however, now I was a wannabe with a bit of experience in travel.”

You came out of your diving series at the age of 25 with lots of travel experience and some TV experience on your back, what was next?

“If you want to be a TV presenter I’d say to every single person; train as a journalist, because it opens a lot more jobs. So I trained to be a journalist. I did the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course at a college that sadly doesn’t exists anymore. No Sweat in Clerkenwell. We did shorthand, legal stuff, all the jargon. I stuck out like a saw thumb because the rest of the class were real print journalists and there’s me from my musical theatre background and my white teeth – but it was that course that propelled me forward and gave me the next step in my broadcast life. Now I was two things that I needed to be a TV presenter; a wannabe and a journalist, and because of my vast experience traveling I sort of built myself as a travel expert so suddenly I became three out of the five things needed to be a TV presenter.

“The journalism course I did got me into the world of TV news. In 2005, Russia Today was launching along with Al Jazeera and France 24. Because I had experience of working with Russians making English programmes they screen tested me and they offered a position as a broadcast journalist in Moscow. I wasn’t really in anyone’s vision at first but I knew there would be lots of opportunity and that a weeks later, fingers crossed, I would be. My risk paid off and I presented the entertainment news on Russia Today’s first ever hour on air. A few months later they then offered me the extreme Russian travel series Wayfarer.”

Martyn during his work with RT UK
Martyn during his work with RT UK

Your Wayfarer travel series saw you adventure across the vast country of Russia where you played Tchaikovsky’s piano, became an acrobat in a local Russian circus and you even shot a Kalashnikov. But have you ever felt doubt during your career?

“Absolutely I’ve felt doubt. I thought is this the right path? To be working so much abroad? It was very isolating and I was away from family and friends. I thought I’m presenting a crazy show in deepest darkest Siberia and I’m not in London on the BBC or This Morning!” “But everything is a subjective. I’ve said things on TV before which were either wrong or I got my information mixed up and looked completely dumb. You make mistakes and that’s part of the learning curve, in many ways it’s best to do that outside the UK!”

Do you have sympathy for journalism graduates and wannabe TV presenters who are struggling to find a job and get paid to do what they love?

“I REALLY could write a book on rejection. You need to get used to it. It’s also a very thankless industry. You have to follow up every email you send out. I’d suggest instead of emailing send the editor a card or a letter and post it to them – people don’t send hard copies anymore. You’ll have auditions without being told why you didn’t get the job – people can appear very rude. But with everything regarding rejection; scrape yourself up off the floor, analyse why you didn’t get the job/jobs and just keep trying. Keep going. Winston Churchill said never ever ever ever ever ever give up! I’ve got a poster on my wall saying just that!”

“It helps to be a true storyteller, to stand out from the crowd, maybe a little flirty or witty even. Tenacity is everything. Keep hounding doors. That said you also have to keep in mind your looks – when in front of millions it helps to have nice teeth, you have to be groomed intellectually as well as physically. You’ve got to be as smart as you can, you need to read, have a large vocab, you need to know what’s happening in the world; what’s happening in Syria, what’s happening with Brexit, the gun laws.

You just need to know about life. I know from personal experience you can get criticised verbally in public, I try not to look at any of my comments on YouTube, you’ve got to have a thick skin. A lot of young people in life say they want to be the next Ant and Dec or the next Holly Willoughby, chances are that’s not going to happen. For every one successful person there’s probably 5000 others trying to get that successful job, so it’s not easy. I’m lucky to earn a great living from it.

Would you recommend becoming a TV presenter then, Martyn?

“I would recommend it. You get paid well, there are lots of perks, I’ve received lots of free clothes over the years! I’ve seen so many places around the globe, also the world is a huge place – I’ve had job offers in Dubai, China and America which I didn’t do. Look outside the box. There’s more to life then channel 1-5 in the UK. I’ve got friends presenting sport in Singapore, news in the Cayman Islands. TV presenters are needed all over the world.

Martyn was never one to shy away from an adventure

 But Martyn states that to be a TV presenter you need to get yourself out into the world and stand out from the crowd.

 “But you need to build your profile up. Get on Twitter, get out there, write for magazines for free – in-flight magazines are a great way to boost your readership numbers. I wrote for a Russian airline magazine that had a viewership of 2 million a month and also Conde Nast – I did that for free because the credit is amazing. I’d receive messages on Facebook from people telling me they had read one of my articles on a flight to Bangkok or flight to New York. Sometimes it is better writing a smart piece for a random Moldovan airline magazine then it is writing bubble gum for a publication such as ‘OK’ in the UK.

“But be tenacious, don’t give up and make contacts with everybody. Do radio, magazines, anything you can to get through the front door. Join development teams in different production companies – always train and learn and improve your craft and skill. If you just want to be the next Davina McCall then you’re in for the biggest, hardest journey of your life. It’s a great job but hard work and the rejection is far higher than the success rate.”

Have any questions for Martyn? You can find him on his twitter channel: @martynandrews

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