Simon Vigar (Politics 1991)

Volunteer in the Spotlight - Simon Vigar

Volunteer in the Spotlight is a regular feature that highlights the alumni that help current students achieve more. Simon Vigar (Politics 1991) is Royal Correspondent at Channel 5 News. Read about his career and why he volunteers at the University.

Tell us about yourself and your career journey.

Although I had an interest in politics, the radio station was as big a draw. Back then, Exeter was one of the few unis with a station. Not as posh as the one you've got now, naturally! I threw myself into that and studied politics in my spare time, narrowly avoiding getting kicked out at the end of the first year. I will never forget all the naughty boys having to come back in August for the re-sits in the old library.

I crammed in the last year, got a respectable degree and won a couple of student journalism awards: handy in a recession as this secured me three job offers. I accepted the post at Northsound in Aberdeen and by way of Capital, Talkradio, IRN, Channel 5 News, ITN, BBC World, LBC and Heart I am now back at 5 News as Royal correspondent. I've also covered many big court cases (Stephen Lawrence, Baby P, Joanna Yeates) along with the Olympics, Wimbledon and World Cups. The great thing about 5 is the variety which, as a reporter, you just don't get at any other network. We punch above our weight, have good ratings at 5pm and are nominated again this year for a Royal Television Society award. We've also been a breeding ground for far bigger talent than me: to name a handful Kirsty Young, Sarah Smith, Charlie Stayt, Peter Lane on screen and off screen Mark Adams (now Comms chief at the IOC), Deborah Turness (now boss of NBC news) and Craig Oliver (Comms chief at Downing St).

What aspects of your working life have you enjoyed the most so far?

I'm very lucky that I've always known what I wanted to do and have been given a front row seat to so many big stories. In the early days at Capital Radio I got a few showbiz exclusives and big interviews in the days when PR people did not have total control. A young Johnny Depp was the best. At Channel 5, I've been sent around the world a few times and done live reports in pretty remote locations: the Solomon Islands with William & Kate takes some beating as does London 2012.

If you weren’t in this sector, what do you think you would be doing instead?

Opening the batting for England. Sadly, I can't bat and that heads a long list of things I can't do. I can tell stories, though, and I believe people always have and always will need storytellers, whether its round a camp fire in a cave or a TV news bulletin or online or whatever. The industry is moving so quickly no-one really knows where its going but story-tellers are safe. I think.  

What advice would you give to current students, and how can Exeter graduates get into your area of work?

Get published: Exepose, Xpression, online, get stuff on your CV that shows you can hack it. Actions speak louder than words. Also, at Exeter right now are future Cabinet ministers, future headliners at Glastonbury, future sports stars. You, as a young hack, should work out who they are and do a feature on them. I was at Exeter with, among others, Thom Yorke of Radiohead and several senior government ministers (Rob Halfon, James Brokenshire & Sajid Javid). Some I clocked, some I didn't! 

Every degree is relevant to journalism, we cover everything, we need languages, we need law, we need grammar! But your degree will not get you the job. I believe you've either got the fire in your belly or you haven't. Don't come into journalism if you want piles of money or job security. Do come if you want fun.

And finally, what inspires you to volunteer so much of your time to help Exeter students?

A couple of hours on one afternoon a year is not a great deal! But the reason I'm in Exeter on that same Friday every January is instructive: it’s because I'm about to go to a cottage on Dartmoor with four people who I first met at Mardon in 1988. Despite being scattered around the UK and Europe, we've 'done Dartmoor' every single January since then. Exeter is a special place where you make friends for life.

Date: 21 March 2016

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