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From stage to screen

Felicity Baker | 01.10.2012

Felicity Baker decided not to let stammering hold her back, and here explains how taking up acting led her to a job interviewing high-profile politicians.

Felicity BakerI can still remember the first time I walked into number 10 Downing Street with my camera crew. Temporarily forgetting why I was there I asked, "Does the yellow staircase actually exist?" The press officer gave me a slightly shocked look, before I followed up with, "It's my first time here and I've seen Love Actually, so I just wondered." She then burst out laughing and asked me if I wanted the full tour. We did eventually get our television clip with the Deputy Prime Minister, too.

My speech has improved a great deal since childhood, and because of this I learnt quickly how to avoid words and situations to an extent where I often appear fluent in normal conversation. What people can't see is my mind constantly planning how to avoid different words, and the feelings of frustration and anger when people ask me what my surname is, or to read out a phone number - then the stammer once again rears its ugly head.

At school I always avoided getting involved with any type of performance, though it was what I loved, for fear of being ridiculed. When I went to university I was determined not to repeat the mistake and became heavily involved with the drama society. Upon leaving, I applied to do a Masters degree at King's College in London and RADA; I knew it would be a challenge but I had a point to prove to myself. It was by far the most difficult year of my life, but also the most rewarding. The acting classes were gruelling and I struggled continuously with reading from the scripts, as it's always when I'm in a situation where I can't change words that my stammer is at its most fervent. Despite this I not only survived, but people said that the moments where I did hesitate on stage made me more engaging to watch. From that moment on I knew I could do anything.

It was time to pursue a childhood dream: working at the BBC. My first job at BBC Breakfast was one I had applied to through the Extend Scheme, exclusively for people with a disability, allowing them to get 6 months paid work within different departments. My stammer was so prevalent during my interview that I was convinced I didn't stand a chance, but I was wrong. Not only did I beat hundreds of other people to be offered the placement, but my line manager insisted that he didn't even notice me stammering during the interview, as he was too busy listening to what I actually had to say. Starting the job, I was thrown straight into the deep end, working in a busy newsroom. It turned out to be the best thing for me; I could no longer avoid making phone calls and speaking up in meetings. Slowly my confidence began to grow and these tasks became easier.

Despite this I not only survived, but people said that the moments where I did hesitate on stage made me more engaging to watch. From that moment on I knew I could do anything.

On a personal level, one of the best things about working at the BBC is that, much like my time at RADA, it allows me to confront my speech demons on a daily basis. While I'm out with friends they will always jump in and speak for me if they can see I'm hesitating because of my speech, something I'm always grateful for. At work I have no such safety net. Since 2010 I now work at BBC Westminster, where I make calls on a daily basis, as well as conducting interviews with a wide range of people, including high profile politicians. I go through a meticulous process before each interview, changing the words of each question to make it easier for me to say. It doesn't always work, and I have days or weeks where my speech deteriorates and the familiar feelings of anger and embarrassment return. But I remind myself that although stammering is a part of who I am, it in no way defines me as a person.

One day I hope to be a reporter on BBC News. Being in the middle of the action and explaining it to the audience at home would fulfil another childhood dream, one that when I was younger I would never have thought possible. I know that if (or should I say when!) this happens, my stammer won't have magically disappeared, but in a strange way that makes me want it all the more. And after all, if I did stammer on live television occasionally, what's the worst that could happen? Watch this space...

From the Autumn 2012 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 11