Lee McKenzie is one of the most well-known, not just female faces, but faces in general of Formula One in the UK. Having worked in the sport for many years, she has been part of the coverage for channels such as BBC and Channel 4. Having recently become an ambassador for motorsport initiative ‘Dare to be Different’, I asked her about F1 and being a role model to many.
Growing up with her father Bob working as a sports journalist, Lee got to attend many of the country’s most prestigious sporting shows. “I was lucky enough as a child to attended most major sporting events,” she said, “as well as rugby and tennis, I went to lots of F1 races as a teenager and spent my time hanging around in the paddock.”
Having had this childhood, sports journalism was always what McKenzie wanted to go into and she started in this very young. Lee wrote articles for a newspaper at just the age of 15, and then following her university studies she went into “news, covered the Lockerbie trial and general elections”. Her news background is something which Lee believes is essential to what makes her a good at her current sports roles. “To be a good sports journalist you need to be a good journalist,” she explained, adding: “I would urge everyone to start in news.”
Whilst working on the BBC’s F1 coverage, Lee became the first woman in the main anchor role on British TV, speaking of it she said: “I was proud of what I had achieved but not because I am female. I was proud regardless.” This attitude has served her well, not seeing herself as any different to the others also operating in her field.
Her love for the sport meant moving to Channel 4 along with the broadcasting rights was a no-brainer. However, this doesn’t mean she has left the BBC behind, having had a hand in the Olympics, rugby and equestrian coverage. “There was no F1 on BBC TV so there was no choice if I wanted to continue in the sport,” she told me, adding: “it’s important for me to be BBC and Channel 4.”
Moving to Channel 4 has allowed McKenzie to do more in-depth interviews with the show ‘F1 Meets…’ in which she “sits down with someone for an hour with no notes and just chat as if it is a natural conversation”. “I love ‘F1 Meets…’” she explained, “it’s a huge amount of preparation…but long form interviews are what I enjoy most.”
Although, as she has previously said, Lee has a passion for motorsport, this season she will be taking a step back from it. “I want to have more of a work-life balance,” she declared. She admits the decision “wasn’t difficult” to make, saying: “I enjoy working across a variety of programmes too.” Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing as much of McKenzie on C4F1 this year as in previous seasons, though we trust that Channel 4 and Whisper Films will find a just as accomplished replacement for those Grands Prix she doesn’t attend.
In December 2017, Lee McKenzie was announced as an ambassador for ‘Dare to be Different’. “I get asked a lot about how I started and what can people do to be a good journalist” she replied when I asked why she had chosen to join. “Susie Wolff has a been a great friend for many years and it’s a pleasure to work alongside her on her project… and I thought I had something to offer,” she said.
To finish, I asked what advice she would give to the many people who look up to her as a role-model. “Don’t focus on being a girl. Focus on being the best you can be. There is far too much emphasis on gender. If you want to be the best female you are missing 50% of the big picture,” Lee advised.
“Preparation, hard work, ambition is the same for all. Also, be an enthusiast but don’t be a fanatic, you need to be unbiased. As mentioned earlier, be a journalist first and foremost – the best journalists can turn their hand to most subjects.”
Lee McKenzie has never, and will never focus on her gender in her role. She believes she is the best person for the job, not just the best female, something which everyone in whichever area they work in should take on board. Although she won’t be on our screens with F1 as much this year, we will still be seeing her presenting all manner of sports and showing that she can, like all the best journalists, turn her hand to any topic. Although it will be a shame not to see her on Channel 4 as much, the person they bring in will have huge shoes to fill, and a lot to live up to following Lee.
(heading picture credit: D2BD)