Our Star: Divya Kohli on ITV in England
By Pummy Dhanjal-Sehmbey, M.A.
We asked Divya Kohli to tell us about her inspiration and success on becoming a Broadcast Journalist on England’s ITV. Divya shares about her journey and about the love and support she received from her father in pursuing her goal, and the faith and values that ultimately served to fulfil her dream. Despite facing the deepest sadness of her life along her path, Divya offers some great advice: follow your passion, do not take ‘no’ for an answer, love what you do-do what you love, find friends that support you, and keep going to pursue your dreams. Divya’s accomplishments are a testament to this.
On my 22nd birthday I opened my card from my parents. At the top it read, “Dearest Divya, My Star of the Future.” This was written by my gorgeous Dad who was probably the reason I am doing the job I am doing. He was my number one advocate. He encouraged me to pursue my very early childhood dream of becoming a Broadcast Journalist. Almost four months later, he died. My dreams were shattered, and after finishing my final exams at University, I was deeply upset for almost a year and did absolutely nothing. I was lost. I needed my best friend back. But, faith in myself, in my beliefs, and hoping to fulfil my desires in his name, I got back on track.
My mantra, when it comes to my career is, don’t take NO for an answer. Since the age of sixteen, I was bugging news editors, and producers at most radio stations in my part of the world, England. I really do mean bugging, I was a pain. I wrote to these people every other week asking for any work experience. If they didn’t reply within a week, I was on the phone to them. It worked! At one time I was helping out three different stations, to get as much experience as possible. I didn’t care if I was making tea or coffee, or filing, or actually learning how to write news, as long as I was in there it was perfectly fine.
That experience eventually led me to apply for the course at University that I really wanted. I mean really wanted – I just knew it was right. Dad and I travelled in the car together to visit the different colleges. It was a father-daughter extended road trip. When we got to Nottingham, we looked at each other and said ‘THIS IS IT.” They had everything in this old BBC building – the technology, teachers who’d done the job, and even great contacts within the industry. It was a very practical course, with much of our time spent out and about filming stories for our very own news bulletin. I loved every minute.
Moving away from my parents was hard, I think Dad found it harder. He would call most days, and we’d talk – but not for long as I would be partaking in some University activity! There were days when he’d call wanting me to help with his crossword puzzle because he couldn’t think of the answer…I’d be like ‘Dad – I’m working!’ He and Mama would come and visit a couple of times a month – I think he really missed us kids, especially now that my brother had joined me in Nottingham in the second year. The third year is a blur. I remember bits – like my exams. I recall feeling as though my world was caving in knowing Dad was gone, yet still trying to edit my documentary – part of my final dissertation. My course leader told me I could wait and hand in my project in November, but I was adamant to graduate with the rest of my friends in June. The sun was shining down on my brother, mama, my uncle and I that day. My uncle took Dad’s place in my graduation photograph. When I look at that picture now I think back to how hard it was. It’s a time when you want your parents to share your joy and success. I was now a Broadcast Journalist, a professional, just what Dad had always wanted. I felt he was there though, I hope he was there.
My first ‘paid’ job after this was at a local radio station – and I’d only been there ten months before I applied to work at ITV. I wasn’t expecting to get an interview, especially seeing as I’d only been at this radio station for such a short time. But, after an interview, I got the job. I have never been so excited. I think I called everyone I knew to tell them. The only person I couldn’t tell was Dad. It’s one of two things I wish he were here for. The other: my wedding day. But, I hope he’s up there watching and smiling.
And this is where I have been for the last eight years, working my way up from bulletin producer, to reporting and presenting. It’s no secret that I love my job. I think everyone knows that fact too! It doesn’t feel like work – it feels like I am having fun with different people everyday, it just so happens that a camera is there. I report, I edit and write my own pieces, I present the lunchtime and morning news, I film my own stuff – and I freelance for the national news stations too.
Being live on location is one of my favourite things. I can’t describe the adrenaline rush, the excitement, and the enormous joy I feel when I know I’m about to broadcast live to thousands of people, or report live from a scene where a new story has broken. You have one chance to get it right, you can’t really make mistakes. You have to be on the ball – and to know your subject. You can hear the director in your ear, and the production assistant telling you how long till you’re on. ‘Divya – we’re coming to you in roughly 45 seconds…you have 90 seconds to talk…!” When it’s over I can’t calm down, I am well and truly buzzing.
I guess my specialism is music and entertainment. I cover all the music festivals, new TV dramas, and interview the stars of super duper shows like The X Factor. I’ve interviewed Amitabh Bachchan, Simon Cowell, Dame Helen Mirren, Pamela Anderson to name but a few. Amitabh Bachchan is one I remember distinctly. That’s mainly because I have NEVER been so scared in my life. Now, I’ve interviewed lots of big stars – but not like this! I mean if I mess this up, my family would most certainly be on my case. I was nervous like I’ve never been, and as I interviewed him in the beautiful surroundings of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I felt like I was having an out of body experience. It was as if I had left my own body and was watching myself interviewing this massive movie star – I could hear my voice say ‘Divya, YOU are interviewing AMITABH…!’ He was great though, humble, chatty, and a true gentleman.
These stories are a ball to do, you meet great people, and you work in a team. That’s the best thing about it. Some of my colleagues have become my best friends, we’ve kind of grown up together, and although some have now left, we still keep in touch. So, they are some of the good things about my workplace. But sometimes, you can really make a difference to the lives of others on the opposite side of the television.
I remember a family I interviewed after they lost their daughter in a car crash. It was my first time doing what they call a ‘door knock’ in the business. It’s where you knock on a door without phoning and arranging an interview beforehand. You go in blind – it’s terrifying. I knocked on the door knowing this family had suffered. It was Easter and I felt like I was imposing. The mother answered the door, I said my piece, and asked if she wanted to pay tribute to her daughter. She looked at me, hesitated, and then looked to her husband. I thought she would close the door in my face – but she said yes. That afternoon she poured her heart out to me on camera. She told me what a vivacious, and beautiful girl her baby was. How she was destined for amazing things in life. How her death would be something the family would never get over.
A few months later I saw the family again in court – at the sentencing of the man accused of dangerous driving. He had showed no remorse – he had not made an apology, the one thing this family wanted so badly. He didn’t comment as he came out of court, escaping prison and ordered to pay only a fine, I chased him as he walked to his car. I asked over and over if he thought he should say sorry – he was silent. No words. But, this attempt made such a difference to the family of the girl who died. A few weeks later I received a heartfelt thank you from the mother – saying she’d never forget how much I helped them. We still keep in touch today, and it’s good to know that sometimes journalism can make a difference. We can spread the word about something. We can relay the facts – we can expose, we can tell a story. Each day I am telling someone else’s story. I am honoured to be doing that.
So what does the future hold? Well I hope to fulfil more ambitions. I have always wanted to read the national news, and that remains. I want to present some sort of entertainment programme – and I’ve just made a showreel highlighting some of my best work which is posted on YouTube. I’ve even been looking for opportunities in the States, so a certain aunt of mine will be happy (she lives in California!). A new dream is to wow the crowds on the red carpet, converse with A-list film stars in Hollywood’s fascinating bubble. Who knows what the next few months and years will bring – but you can bet your life that I’ll be bugging someone until they say yes!
I thought long and hard about how my religion has influenced my successful career. It took some time for me to realize. But, I think it comes down to this. I try to help others. I want to make a difference in our world. I was brought up to be a strong woman. To have independence, and to strive for what I want in life. To be an equal to all others – I am lucky enough that being female, or being Asian, has never come as a hurdle I had to jump hard over. That’s what Sikhism is all about right? It is my family, cultural, and religious beliefs that have made me who I am today.
Divya Kohli can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org