Talbot Heath school’s Speech Day provided the opportunity to both pay tribute to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, but also to celebrate the achievements of the school community and future generations. Before the successes of the school’s Senior pupils, particularly those of the GCSE and A level candidates, were awarded, the community stood for the National Anthem and a moment of private reflection.
Mrs Holloway stated how the day was very moving for her personally, ‘We are holding our first live Speech Day with pupils, staff and parents in three years and it has brought home to me just how many obstacles our pupils have overcome to excel in their studies and many extra-curricular activities throughout the pandemic.’
The guest speaker, was former pupil, Rhaya Barton, who joined Talbot Heath at the age of 4 and left in 2012. After graduating from Royal Holloway University, with a 2:1 in English Literature, Rhaya went on to complete a Masters in TV Journalism at City University of London to pursue a career in news broadcasting. Rhaya is now a Broadcast Journalist for BBC Breakfast TV – the morning national news programme on BBC One.
Aspiring journalist and Upper 6 pupil Taya M, interviewed Rhaya before the ceremony, as detailed below…
A Conversation with Rhaya Barton, Senior Journalist at BBC Breakfast
‘I am greeted in the Talbot Heath School waiting room by a glamorous, yet friendly smile. Rhaya sits opposite me on a soft green sofa, the very picture of a ‘TH girl’; confident and self-assured, whilst emitting a sense of openness, warmth, and intellectual curiosity.
‘I reflect to myself how it seems a fitting place for our meeting – the space in which I first sat my entrance exams, some years ago, now used to discuss the industry into which I am hoping to emerge. Both Rhaya and I seem to share in this nostalgic mood. I ask the former pupil how it feels to return to the campus, and am unsurprised to hear that it seems “in some ways very different, and in others, like [she] was here yesterday”. Of course, since her graduation, there have been exciting innovations; most noticeably in the form of the STEAM Hub building, where her ‘Speech Day’ talk is later due to take place. Still, the ongoing traditions and memories remain. She fondly reminisces on past School Birthdays: “Where else would you parade and sing happy birthday to bricks and mortar?!”. She is also grateful for the times spent with friends, many of whom she remains close with today.
‘While I discuss with Rhaya her career path, I realise even more the strength of Talbot Heath traditions, and the generational power of the women educated here. During her own sixth-form years, Rhaya herself was inspired to become a TV journalist by a former pupil, Ruth Peacock, visiting for a Speech Day talk. Ruth continued to mentor her, organising a trip to the BBC studios, formerly in London. It is bizarre to think of all three of us having been in this building – separated by time, connected by a passion. Rhaya’s passion began early; she knew from a young age that she wanted to be involved with TV, initially as a newsreader. Her favourite subjects were English and Drama, which stood her in good stead for University, where she went on to study a BA in English Literature, and an MA in Television Journalism. Interestingly, she advises anyone hoping to go into the industry to study their undergraduate degree in a related essay subject, rather than journalism directly: “You develop a strong set of writing and creative skills, that a pure journalism course may not offer.”
‘As for other advice, Rhaya is down-to-earth about the realities of working in journalism. “Be sure” she says, mock-intensely. We both laugh, but I get the sense that, as with any dream, there have been trade-offs. Sure enough, Rhaya talks about the requirements of both day and night shifts, even as part of senior roles. “The news never stops”. It is a challenging career, that requires adaptability, resilience, and coping under intense pressures. She relays an anecdote about ‘rolling breaking news’, wherein she had just two minutes to write, approve, and brief producers on, a fresh headline coming in.
‘Yet, in spite of the challenges, Rhaya is sure-set that she “wouldn’t want to be anywhere else”. It is clear, from the shine in her eyes when talking about her work, and the years of dedication, that her job is also her joy. Her responsibilities are varied, and include a mixture of writing, sub-editing, managing teams, and making/interviewing contacts. Due to the balance of heavy and light-hearted stories on BBC Breakfast, she has had plenty of opportunities to meet famous figures – some of her favourites have been David Attenborough and West Life. It’s not all banter or glamour though; she takes pride in the profound impact that more ‘hard-hitting’ stories can make. Later, when I listen to her speech at the event, I am moved by her experiences of reporting during COVID-19, working on special programmes about relatives of those who sadly passed. “Telling one person’s story, can change a life. It can change everything”. This is the power of journalism.
The future of Rhaya’s career is bright. She hopes to continue at BBC Breakfast, potentially one day becoming an editor. As I fold away my notepad, I am left with an overwhelming feeling of hope; for Rhaya, for my own ambitions, and for future TH women, entering the wide world with all this support behind them.’