Tab Interview: Jake Humphrey
‘There were vending machines distributing condoms instead of toothbrushes.’ HOLLY STEVENSON speaks to BBC presenter and Formula 1 anchor JAKE HUMPHREY.
Jake Humphrey probably has the best job in the world. As anchor of the BBC’s Formula 1 coverage, he gets to travel to every country you can think of, he gets to ask what cereal Jenson Button eats for breakfast, and he comes within sniffing distance of the fastest cars on the planet. And before you disparage F1 as a sport for petrol heads and geeks, consider this: in 2008, the worldwide viewing figures were 600 million per race. In the UK alone, half the population (over 30 million) watched F1 in 2009, and it’s Jake Humphrey’s job to keep the show moving. But, what is it like broadcasting over a race weekend?
‘It’s a bit mad,’ Jake admitted, ‘I honestly think it’s the toughest kind of broadcasting you can do, because we’re on air for four hours and we haven’t got an autocue, so everything is off the top of your head. There are times when you’ve got three guests to look after, you’re looking up and down the pit lane to find out whether there’s a car coming, you’re thinking what your next question is, you’re also trying to work out whether it’s a good piece or not, and trying to listen to the answers from the people as well. They say boys can’t multi-task – this is multi-tasking at its very best!’
Whenever I watch Jake presenting a race (yes, I admit it: I am an F1 geek), I’m always struck by his cool confidence – a remarkable thing considering that between March and November, the F1 circus jets off to 19 different circuits. ‘The start of the year is difficult because you go from the UK to Bahrain, then you get home and you’re jet-lagged, then you go to Australia, and just as you get used to aussie time, you have to go to Malaysia, then China, and then home again. So, you spend the first five weeks not knowing what country you’re in, what the time is or what your name is.’
Following a small band of dedicated sportsmen around the world makes for an intense experience, and Jake has the privilege of witnessing the highs and lows of these world-class drivers first-hand. ‘When Red Bull won the constructors’ title in the last race in Brazil, Mark Webber was spraying us with a fire extinguisher, whilst Sebastian Vettel, wearing a devil’s hat and stinking of champagne, told us that he still felt a bit drunk from being on the podium. It’s those moments; when you’re up close and personal with the drivers, just after they’ve won races, that you are given a real insight into F1 at its best.’
Trying not to seethe with jealousy, I asked Jake about his own top moments of the year: ‘We had an interesting experience in South Korea, where we stayed in a ‘Love Hotel’, where you pay by the hour. One of our technical guys had a ‘love chair’ in his room, which was an electronic leather chair, with pictures on the wall of the various things that could be ‘achieved’ by using the chair. There were also vending machines distributing condoms instead of toothbrushes in the hotel corridors. It was a bit more rock ‘n’ roll than a Travelodge!’
Jake Humphrey interviewing Lewis Hamilton at the Brazilian Grand Prix
Jake is unreservedly dedicated and passionate about broadcasting. ‘I love sports broadcasting because it actually matters to people. I’m not really interested in presenting some rubbish quiz show about something that I don’t really care about. I don’t want to be a rent-a-presenter; I want to do something that I care about. I love watching sport; the endeavour, the passion, the dedication and the desire of these sports people. And, the skill is to try and bring that across to the people at home.’ Are you listening, Dermot O’ Leary?
With this level of enthusiasm for quality broadcasting, it’s not hard to see why Jake Humphrey is the BBC’s golden boy. At just 32, he has already presented the Super Bowl twice, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and this year he even had to miss the Japanese Grand Prix to present the Commonwealth Games. But none of this seems to faze him. ‘Doing big events is what’s special – turning up to a Grand Prix circuit with 200,000 fans, and 6 or 7 million watching on the BBC. My favourite show of the year to do is ‘Sports Personality of the Year’. This year, we’re doing it in the LG arena in Birmingham: 13,000 people in the arena, live on the BBC, just a week before Christmas, and it’s so nerve-racking. It’s a massive responsibility, but I love it. I really, really love it.’
If you’re a third year reader and currently feeling a bit sick at the thought of finding a job that you ‘really, really love’, don’t worry – Jake’s coveted position at the BBC sprung from inauspicious beginnings. In the mid-’90s, an 18-year-old Jake had other things on his mind than broadcasting. ‘I was at school in Norwich and I messed up my A-Levels massively, because I was more interested in girls rather than my exams. So, while I was redoing my A-Levels, one of my teachers received a letter from a local TV channel for students to go and do some work experience. While I was doing that, the channel ran a competition for people to send in home videos, and the best one got to host a show. So, I made a video and won the competition, and I ended up presenting a programme for them. When I finished my A-Levels, they offered me a job. I worked my way up and ended up in London working for CBBC. But I always knew I wanted to work for BBC Sport, so I had to work my way up from the bottom again. I was reporting on fourth-division football matches and things like that.’
So, Jake Humphrey is no wet-behind-the-ears Media Studies student. His many years working in the industry have given him an unshakeable belief in his abilities: ‘I’d bet every last penny in my pocket that I could do a better job than any F1 expert standing up in front of a camera keeping the show on the road, so if you want a show that is slick and successful – come to me.’
Not bad for a Norfolk boy.