A formula for 5 Live success

Eleanor Oldroyd (centre) with Tracey Neville and Rebecca Adlington Eleanor Oldroyd (centre) with Tracey Neville and Rebecca Adlington

Eleanor Oldroyd can lay claim to being one of the finest radio sports presenters in this country.

Highly-regarded among her peers, she is one of the most instantly recognisable voices on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Her love of sport developed at an early age and after leaving University, she cut her teeth as a sports journalist filing reports from New Road, the home of Worcestershire County Cricket Club.

Since then, Eleanor has covered nine Olympic Games - six summer and three winter. In March she was named the Sports Journalists' Association's Sports Presenter of the Year.

Yet her latest role, hosting The Friday Sports Panel show, has given her career an interesting, and highly satisfying, new dimension.

Broadcast at 13:00 every Friday, the show invites guests from a wide range of sports to discuss the issues of the week.

The 50th edition has just been broadcast, a significant milestone for a show which is winning acclaim for its unique approach.

Eleanor says: "When we set the show up, we wanted to bring different sports and different voices to the network, those you might not hear so often apart from perhaps during the summer or winter Olympics.

"So we've tried to feature still-competing sports people who don't usually get the opportunity to be heard. And, pretty much without exception, we've stuck to the brief."

More women than men

This philosophy has resulted in a fascinating and eclectic array of names from across the sporting spectrum including netball player Tracey Neville (sister of Gary and Philip), England Women's footballer Karen Carney and World Cup Final rugby referee, Nigel Owens.

Eleanor is particularly proud that the show has featured more female guests than men: "It really shouldn't be a big deal but women in sport are very under-represented on air and I love the fact that we are celebrating so many of our female champions."

Letting the conversation flow

Eleanor says the perfect guest is someone with not only something interesting to say about their own field of expertise but curious about other sports too. On those occasions, Eleanor says she can almost sit back and let the conversation flow:

"Two of my favourite guests have been Tracey Neville and Rebecca Adlington who are both fantastic. They did not know each other before the show but they got on so well."

Lizzy Yarnold, Rachel Atherton, Eleanor Oldroyd and Maddie Hinch Lizzy Yarnold, Rachel Atherton, Eleanor Oldroyd and Maddie Hinch

It's this chemistry between guests which is the secret formula for a good show, says Eleanor: "One of my challenges is to get our guests as relaxed as possible so we try and get everyone in the studio at least 20 minutes before we start, talking freely with one another.

"I always say my favourite programme is when I don't have to do very much work. I can sit back and let the conversation flow and listen to our guests sharing their experiences. In my ideal world it flows like a really good dinner party."

One element that helps is that while guests may be drawn from sports which, at first glance, have nothing at all in common, top sportsmen and women will always have areas of shared interests such as the dedication to training, mental focus and the kind of sacrifices you need to reach the summit.

This was evident in a recent show which featured darts champion Gary Anderson and modern pentathlete, Sam Murray.

"We say it's a sporting conversation you won't hear anywhere else and I think that's true," says Eleanor. "I love it and it's great that our audience seems to be loving it as well. I think they are enjoying the different approach.

"When we invite people on, we usually know beforehand they are going to be good but sometimes you get a programme which just flies. One of my favourites was Becky Adlington, Tracey Neville and Nigel Owens. Becky and Tracey were with me and Nigel was down the line from Wales but the three of them together were just fantastic. The chemistry was there.

"A lot of the conversation was about bullying which all the guests could relate to. Becky received a lot of abuse on social media about her appearance, as did Nigel when he announced he was gay and Tracey has also been on the receiving end because of her footballing brothers."

A team effort

Another challenge facing a show of this nature is keeping it fresh and relevant and Eleanor is quick to pay tribute to her team, editor, Andrew Douglas and two producers, Ben Croucher and Rory Burnand.

"Ultimately, it's all down to the guests," said Eleanor. "Another one of my favourite guests has been wheelchair basketball player, Sophie Carigill, who was absolutely brilliant. The key with Paralympians is that you are talking about the sport, not the disability.

"What we are trying to do is engage with an audience that is sports literate and an audience of sports fans but we are mindful of coming on before Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode's film show.

"It is an interesting slot which used to serve as a preview of the weekend but we decided we wanted to become something very different.

"It's become a really good sports panel discussion programme and I don't think there's anything else around like it. The audience likes it and I know the guests have all enjoyed appearing too. I don't think we've ever had someone on who has not wanted to come back on again."


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