Meet the new Blue Peter team

Barney Harwood, Lindsey Russell and Radzi Chinyanganya Barney Harwood, Lindsey Russell and Radzi Chinyanganya host Blue Peter every week

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Like the lead stars of the slightly younger Doctor Who, Blue Peter presenters come and go every few years.

After the public search for a new host earlier this year and the departure of Helen Skelton, a new team is in place, with Lindsey Russell and Radzi Chinyanganya joining Barney Harwood, who has been presenting the show for three years.

Russell hosted her first live broadcast in September, while Chinyanganya started last month, but it feels very dream-like for both.

Speaking at the Salford studios, they're still trying to get their heads around achieving their childhood ambitions.

Chinyanganya reveals a recent absent-minded moment: "A friend said, 'Oh I met a Blue Peter presenter the other day' and I was like, who was it?! I got really excited."

Destined job

He originally auditioned when the show was looking to replace Andy Akinwolere a few years ago. He even travelled from his university in Loughborough to hand in a showreel at Television Centre but was informed at reception that rules didn't allow this.

Coincidentally, Akinwolere happened to be walking past.

"It was this huge opportunity but also a huge dilemma - am I going to go up to this guy?" Chinyanganya recalls. "In the end I'm bumbling my words and he asked, 'Is that a showreel? I'll take it up to the editor, no problem'."

He made it to the final shortlist, but the show then decided not to have a third presenter.

Through a TV training scheme called The Network, he eventually got various media work and bumped into CBBC head of presentation Ewan Vinnicombe at the Edinburgh Festival.

Previous Blue Peter presenters There have been 37 presenters during Blue Peter's history

After a stint as a venue presenter at the London Olympics, he became a runner for CBBC last December, even escorting yours truly to an interview with channel presenter Katie Thistleton after she had been promoted from personal assistant.

A few months later Vinnicombe selected him as a co-host for CBBC adventure show Wild, and then chose him to replace Skelton when she announced her departure in August.

"For me this is literally a dream," says Chinyanganya. "So I'm looking around and there's a large crew, we've got a script that says Blue Peter at the top of it, but this definitely does not feel real."

'Nervous paws'

His co-host Lindsey Russell had a very public route to the job, becoming the first presenter voted into the post by viewers, after the televised contest Blue Peter - You Decide!

Along with other candidates, she underwent challenges including presenting from the top of Blackpool Tower and making a water raft in Snowdonia.

"I had my French dissertation and degree finals to do at the same time, so I never really thought about winning… These four little girls recently told me they were so happy I'd won, and then their mum said they had all been voting for me, and it's moments like that when it hits you. Even now I'm still convinced it must have only been my parents voting."

Along with her co-hosts, she's learnt to shake off nerves before live transmission, adopting a "nervous paws" gesture where her hands come up below her chin like an obedient pet.

Chinyanganya opts to punch the air as if it's a boxing speed ball ("I can either use the nerves or let them use me"), while Harwood likes to wind up the floor manager by pretending to run off and hide.

Underrated skill

They frequently compare the production team to a family, and are very aware that many young viewers see them as older siblings.

Helen Skelton, Lindsey Russell and Barney Harwood Lindsey Russell was announced as the presenter at CBBC Live in Leeds

Harwood explains: "Children's TV presenters have a huge responsibility because, when the parents aren't there, we are and it's very important that we set that example, which you don't get anywhere else."

Chinyanganya adds that it's about finding the right balance. "If kids have just come home from school, the last thing they want are teachers on TV - there is a skill in soft-teach so they don't realise they're learning things."

Children's television has been a training ground for many of the country's best-known presenters, from Noel Edmonds to Tess Daly and Jake Humphrey. But critics can often belittle the genre - do they think their skills can be underrated?

"You've got to start somewhere," says Harwood. "It's like saying that primary school is a bit underrated"

He adds: "It [children's TV] is a vital part of growing up - when you're a kid, you're a sponge and influences are at their greatest then… I think kids' TV might be underrated by some people but that's because they're ignorant."

'Lifestyle choice'

Yet ironically viewers expect higher standards from children's TV presenters when it comes to behaviour, but the Blue Peter trio seem comfortable with those responsibilities.

Chinyanganya says: "For me, being a Blue Peter presenter is a lifestyle choice, it's not just a job, we're not just doing a show from 5.30pm till 6pm - it's everything else that comes with that.

Blue Peter

  • First aired on 16 October 1958, created by John Hunter Blair
  • Moved to Salford in 2011, when Helen Skelton flew in on a helicopter and Barney Harwood arrived by jet-ski
  • Harwood, 33, is also a musician and recently completed a 55-mile leg of the Tour of Britain
  • Lindsey Russell, 22, graduated in Drama and French just before getting the Blue Peter job, and plays piano and lacrosse
  • Radzi Chinyanganya, 26, has competed in karate and skeleton bobsleigh

"I don't think it's a chore for any of us, so if a kid comes up and wants to talk, get an autograph or do a high-five, that's cool."

He adds: "Perhaps one of the reasons we were chosen was that we're the kind of people for whom this is something we want to do."

Blue Peter now gets nearly 100,000 viewers among their target audience of children aged six to 12.

Harwood, who's been presenting for the CBBC channel since it launched in 2002, admits he preferred hosting the output when it was on BBC One during the early days of digital but that attitude "doesn't exist anymore".

"Everything is digital now - there is no terrestrial TV and the plain fact is that, as soon as we jumped over to digital TV, and kids had access to specific content whenever they want, the audience naturally migrated."

He adds: "We now have the best kids' channel in the UK without a shadow of a doubt... I think the fact that we have achieved what we set out to do 12 years ago is nothing short of outstanding."

While viewing habits have changed significantly, some things reassuringly stay the same with daredevil challenges and competitions to design gadgets for the next series of Doctor Who.

But what do the trio want to do in the future, because dream jobs don't last forever?

Russell is focusing on doing her best as a Blue Peter host, while Harwood, who is a keen photographer, admits his other dream job would be taking pictures for the National Geographic, ideally from a helicopter flying over New Zealand.

As for Chinyanganya, "I wanna outdo Bruce Forsyth".

  • Blue Peter, Thursdays, 5.30pm, CBBC

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