Last year, when Tina Daheley left her newsreader role on Nick Grimshaw’s Radio 1 show, it was meant to be the end of her decade-long stint on breakfast radio. But, to her own surprise, the 37-year-old went on to “the role she thought she’d never do” – read the morning news on Radio 2 for Zoe Ball.
“I said I’d never do it again,” explains Daheley, “but there is a part of me that’s my own worst enemy where I need to keep moving forward, that’s my drive.”
There is no doubt that Daheley has spent the last 12 months moving forward. For the BBC, she led coverage of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, presents the Beyond Today podcast for Radio 4, and has hosted television debates on everything from knife crime to the EU. The only downside is she’s been so busy, she’s had to put her wedding on hold.
“I got engaged at the beginning of last year and we said, whatever happens, we will get married by the end of 2018. Then all these other things came about, like the Royal Wedding, and it never happened,” she says. She’s been with her fiancé Kane, founder of comedy ticket-selling site Joke Pit, for the last seven years, ever since they met in Ibiza. Daheley was on a girls’ trip she’d won when working with Chris Moyles on Radio 1, while Kane was on a family holiday. They hit it off immediately.
“In the past, other people have felt emasculated or threatened about what I do,” says Daheley, “but Kane is so grounded and down to earth, and doesn’t care about celebrity and showbiz. Being where I am now and achieving so much, I put a lot of that down to his incredible support. It’s really interesting, the dynamic of our roles. Normally, if it’s a high-flying man, the woman has the more traditional role. But we have more of a role reversal. He really champions and supports me.”
Off-air, Daheley is much the same as she is on-air: chatty, open and immediately likeable. Over an hour’s coffee down the road from the W1 flat she shares with her fiancé, she talks about everything from catching up with ‘Grimmy’ Grimshaw now the pair no longer work together – “I’ve never seen him looking happier, fitter, and he’s got a boyfriend now” – to her goal of trying to spend less time on her phone: “I’m trying to read a book a week instead.”
When it comes to her new role, she explains the main reason she said yes, bar the fact she can now tell people she’s stepping into her idol Moira Stuart’s shoes, is how fresh it all feels. “In ten years of doing shows, I’ve never done one with a woman at the helm. Zoe’s the first female presenter of Radio 2 breakfast, they’re now purposely trying to get a younger more female audience; it’s an exciting time. If I’d been asked a year ago, I’m not sure it would have been the right fit for me.”
While an old boys’ network club has existed at the BBC for years, thanks to the enforced transparency over equal pay, the corporation’s female employees have started to band together and form their own “women’s club”. “I do feel there is a sisterhood, which is lovely,” says Daheley. “What really upsets me and makes me angry is the way women are constantly pitted against each other.”
When the BBC published their equal pay report, Daheley – who entered the list of top earners with a salary of £150,000-£159,000 – predicted that white men would come out on top while women and minorities would be lower down. “If you tick all those [minority] boxes, you’re more likely to be – and proven to be – at the bottom [of the pay hierarchy].”
It’s why she wants to make sure the current conversation about equal pay now moves on to ethnicity pay gap. “People don’t talk about it in the same way as gender pay gap, or [if I do] they say: ‘You’re banging on about race again, Tina…’”
As one of few female presenters of colour at the BBC – she was born to a working-class Sikh family in north-west London – Daheley knows the importance of representation and isn’t afraid to talk about it. “These things affect you because you live it, you see it and you are it. Sometimes it can be dangerous when you think you have diversity, you see all colours of the rainbow [in a workplace]. But if everyone went to the same school or university, that’s not diversity.”
She knows that her gender, age and background mean she “represents a lot of what the BBC is trying to reach”, but shuts down any critics who suggest her success is down to box-ticking: “I might have felt defensive about that in the past. But look at how much I do,” she says, listing her radio work, her presenting of the Six O’Clock News, Crimewatch, Panorama and various high-profile TV debates. She is also regularly lampooned on Radio 4’s long-running impersonations series, Dead Ringers.
“Really, is that because of the colour of my skin?” she says. “That has to be, hopefully, because people think I’m good at my job.”
Growing up, Daheley was a straight-A student who wanted to do law at university, but ended up studying computer science and working in banking. Her younger brother and older sister both also went into finance, but while they “have done really well”, Daheley walked out of banking almost immediately. Instead, she did a masters in journalism, which she now jokingly calls her “wild gap year.”
She credits her parents, who “came here as Indian immigrants from East Africa, worked really hard, and grafted to give us opportunities”, for keeping her grounded. Both turned 70 last year and still work: her “5ft-nothing” mum is in retail, while her “7ft-with-his-turban” dad works as an MOT tester for Barnet Council. “My parents don’t really say much to me about my work,” she says. “Which I love. They just say: ‘That’s nice. What do you want for dinner’?”
Her partner Kane is white and, while her parents “adore” him, Daheley acknowledges there can be challenges to being in a mixed-race relationship. “Ten years ago, the idea of my relationship might have upset a lot of people. But now statistically there are many more mixed couples, especially with Asian women. What really warms me is when I see my 93-year-old grandmother, who had an arranged marriage in an Indian village, completely embracing and welcoming Kane.” To any members of her community who might disapprove of her relationship, she says: “You can’t say that’s Tina on the 10 o’clock news, but not support my life choices. They come hand in hand.”
While Daheley has fans like Prince William – who sends her thank-you letters and once told her how much he enjoyed listening to her on the radio when growing up – and mentors like “Uncle Trevor” Nelson, she also has her fair share of trolls. Last year, one viewer told her that her “cascading hair was off-putting”, and recently, someone wrote in to complain about “the full horror” of a bright yellow dress she wore presenting the news.
“I’m never offended because it’s not mutually exclusive,” she says. “You can have a brain and care about your hair and clothes; it’s fine. I spent half my career dressing down, not too glam. Then in the last half of my career I’ve thought: ‘No, actually, I’ll wear a red lip and do this.’” She smiles. “Maybe there’s a part of me that likes to just push a little bit. I’d never necessarily seen anyone wearing a bright yellow dress on the news before.”
Daheley isn’t sure what’s next on the cards in her career, though she says: “The dream would be to do something where it’s my voice and my mind, so my own sort of show.” But the one thing she’s certain about is that 2019 will be the year she finally finds the time to tie the knot to her “amazingly supportive” – and patient – fiance.
“God, yes,” she says, finishing her coffee. “I am definitely going to get married this year. I have to.”