Sian Thomas studied for a BA and MA in Welsh at Swansea University. She is a successful radio and television presenter.
Why did you want to work in television?
I didn't choose TV, but TV chose me! From an early age, I wanted to be an archaeologist, working in Egypt in particular, but it was impossible to study ancient history at school - more modern history had to be done first. I loved Welsh too, so I decided to study Welsh as a degree, and keep Egyptology as a great interest and hobby. I was very aware of the struggle to establish a Welsh language television channel, and by the time I finished college, S4C was a reality. By then, I had extensive radio experience, and after interviewing for a presenter job with S4C, I got the job. The rest is history, as they say.
How did you start your career?
While in school sixth form - Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, I was looking for work over the summer, to earn some extra money. I had the opportunity to work on the reception at the Swansea Sound radio station - answering phones - for three weeks, while the receptionist was on holiday. While I was there people would bring their coffee to chat with me, and I talked a little bit about the fact that I liked singing and took an interest in the Welsh pop scene. The job came to an end, but a few weeks later I received a phone call from Wyn Thomas, who was then head of the Station's Welsh language programmes, asking if I was interested in presenting a light live programme on Welsh language music. The current DJ was leaving to go to the BBC. I had never considered presenting, but I accepted the offer, and went for a trial programme. At the end of that, Wyn said 'see you next week’, and that's how it started. I was trained on using the control desk, and within a week I had a weekly live radio programme for two hours every Friday night! Within no time, I was 'hooked' and enjoying every minute.
Swansea University was my first choice for a degree - I was keen to study dialectics and sociology of language, and the Welsh Department offered it as an option. So it was very convenient for me to go to Swansea Sound every Friday night to do my programme, and then come back to College. I did this for four years while doing a BA in Welsh, followed by an MA in dialectics and sociology of language. While there, I learned all aspects of radio broadcasting - collecting news stories, editing tapes, selling 'air-time' ads, making 'jingles', 'you name it' I did it. It was an amazing experience, and a great foundation for the broadcasting world. By now I had caught the broadcast bug, and S4C was going to happen, and on the horizon. After leaving College I went to work for a few months as a Radio Cymru researcher in Swansea, before seeing S4C's presenting job advertised in the press. I went for it, and like I said, the rest is history.
What do you like best about presenting?
I love presenting. I like being in the midst of people, and love hearing their stories. So this job is perfect for me. I get to chat to someone different every day and have the opportunity to learn all sorts of things. It is a privilege to share stories, visit people's homes, and tell their story. It has also meant that I've had the opportunity to travel the world and film in many different countries. Every day is different, and that's great.
How does being the first female presenter on S4C make you feel?
Being there at the beginning of anything is a privilege, and being there at the beginning of S4C was unforgettable. There had been so much struggle and sacrifice behind establishing S4C, and I was keen to do my best to ensure its success. I was one of the channel's first three presenters, and the youngest. Being there on the opening night was an amazing experience. There is only one opening night - it's unique, and I was there.
Do you think there is still ‘ageism’ against female presenters?
I've been very fortunate in my career to work with a variety of people from all walks of life, and in all fields. Since that first job at Swansea Sound Radio, I've been in the minority, as a woman, and while things have improved tremendously over the years, women are still in the minority in the top jobs in broadcasting. I must admit, I have never experienced prejudice because I am a woman, or because of my age. I think I have been more fortunate than many. It is true that men are criticised less harshly than women for their appearance (and often ability), and there is certainly a very real and live bias in the media. As a woman you are expected to look better and prove that you can do the job not just as well, but often better than men. Things change - look at the wonderful women who appear on our screens every night - but I have no doubt that they have had to fight, and struggle to win their place. There is still a long way to go, and many more battles ahead.
Who is the most famous person you’ve interviewed?
I've had the privilege of interviewing all kinds of people in all walks of life. What makes someone famous? That you’re known on the street? That you are rich, or successful in your career? That you are a familiar face throughout the world? Influential? If so, I've been lucky enough to interview many people of this kind. It's hard to say which one would be the most famous, or for what reason.
Who was the most difficult to interview and why?
The most difficult? I'll keep that a secret - but there would be more than one name on the list!!
What are your memories of being a student at Swansea?
I can honestly say that my student years at Swansea were the happiest in my life. If I could do the same thing again, with exactly the same people, I would be there straight away! I loved the course and the staff of the Welsh Department, the Gym Gym (Welsh society) was great, and I made lifelong friends there. The University was also on one campus - unlike many other universities, which either have no campus, or have scattered departments across a city or town. We, the students of Swansea, were together, whatever our courses - history, engineering, English, science, music, Welsh and so on. Everyone ate together in the canteen and drank together at the bar. As a result, the paths of Welsh-speaking students studying in all of the different fields, crossed on a daily basis, even if we were studying in completely separate departments. I also had friends from all over the world. There is of course now another huge campus on Fabian Way, which is great, but as a result, there are now two parts to the University, and two campuses. For me, being together as one Swansea student body was invaluable. The Welsh language is now, thankfully, given more attention and more status than in our day. In those days, it was a constant struggle to get things done bilingually, and to gain recognised status for the language within the University.
I will never forget my days at University in Swansea - happy days, contented days, good days and days to cherish forever.