Woman’s Hour review: Emma Barnett effortlessly owns the show

Her first week as Woman’s Hour host reveals an iron confidence, shrewd news sense and a need to breathe

The broadcaster Emma Barnett is a seriously tough interviewer. In my fevered mind’s eye, I imagine her home life consists of her gleefully sucking the marrow from hapless politicians’ bones. She’s quite the contrast from Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey as the new main presenter of Woman’s Hour. Murray – very much Dame Jenni these days – long ago underwent an apotheosis from mere broadcaster into treacle-voiced national institution. Garvey, meanwhile, steadfastly projects sanity and ordinariness. There’s nothing ordinary about Barnett – though I wouldn’t rule out her ending up a national institution. “If I may,” is a phrase she uses quite a lot, when speaking to guests or introducing items. Never was there a more phatic request. One senses that Barnett doesn’t ask permission for much. Nor should she.

That iron confidence is reassuring for the listener. From the first moment that she came on air on Monday morning, reading out a letter to the show from the actual Queen, Barnett gave every impression of effortlessly owning the programme. That’s despite the fact that her first interview was a little frustrating. It was a good idea to talk to Sonia Khan, the special adviser who had been marched out of Downing Street in the summer of 2019 after a “conversation” with Dominic Cummings. The trouble was that getting Khan to say anything spontaneous or off-script was like trying to catch a squirrel by the tail. Not that the encounter was devoid of interest. Khan apparently considered herself an “experienced” person in government because she’d served for five years and was nearly 30.

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