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Lady with the tray on her head

Peter Barron | 12:15 UK time, Friday, 1 September 2006

Which item on Newsnight over the past week has generated the most press enquiries?

Newsnight logoWas it Susan Watts' investigation into stem cell treatments? Many anxious viewers suffering from MS and other incurable conditions contacted us after that one, but there were just a couple of press calls. Was it our series on the best public services in the world, which this week featured the revolution in education in Qatar, where the female teachers wear the full veil? No, although you can read about the series in this week's New Statesman and next Monday in the Daily Mirror.

flint.jpgWhat really got the press going this week was last Friday's encounter between Emily Maitlis and the Health Minister Caroline Flint. The interview was about the parlous state of the NHS's computer systems involving the troubled company iSoft.

It was a good story, but it wasn't that which interested the press pack. Ms Flint was doing her interview down the line from a camera in the BBC Sheffield newsroom. As she spoke a woman wove casually past in the background, as people often do in newsroom shots. She was carrying a full tray of teas. Not unusual. Balanced on her head. (Watch it here.)

The press office phones went mad. Who was the mysterious woman with the deft tea-tray skills? I rang our colleagues at Radio Sheffield who told me she's the lady who tidies up the office in the evenings. She's been getting the teas in like this for years. No-one there bats an eyelid.

"Did I want a word?" You bet. So, for all those inquisitive hacks out there I can reveal that our head-carrying heroine is Nana Amoatin, originally from Ghana. "It's not that difficult", says Nana, "anyone could do it".


  • 1.
  • At 02:52 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • geoff whiles wrote:

I love that story about the girl with the tea tray on her heard. I also love your balance of serious and irreverance. Well done Newsnight. My favourite programme. PS I love Kirsty!

  • 2.
  • At 02:58 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • Nana Yaa wrote:

As soon as I saw the title of this piece, I knew it would be about Ghana in one way or the other.
I wish I could boast of that prowess but alas I am yet to be able to make it to the stage of perfect balance.
One keeps trying.
Thanks for sharing the story.


Nana Yaa

( also proud to be from Ghana)

  • 3.
  • At 03:18 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • Edmund Barton wrote:

Why waste television on politicians when you can interview someone who can be useful as well as unique.

  • 4.
  • At 03:30 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • Mark Curry wrote:

Marvellous - talented BBC staff the length and breadth of the country and Nana certainly makes watching Caroline Flint less painful!

I agree with Edmund Barton.

I live in Seattle Wa. bu can never download your picttures, And cannot understand the tech info that follows when I try get the correct system to operate. Can you help ?

  • 7.
  • At 05:38 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • Ann Hamilton wrote:

So she carried a tray of cups on her head. I never even batted an eye lid I was brought up in a country where to carry things on your head is normal, even though I did see it, I did not thought it remarkable
so until you pointed it out today it simply passed me by, BUT I did notice an interviewer surreptitiously picking his nose one night recently!

  • 8.
  • At 05:49 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • Barbara Brown wrote:

How wonderful, but what will the Health and Safety Exec make of it?

  • 9.
  • At 07:03 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • Jennifer Watts wrote:

Superb and delighful to watch. Did Ms Flint find out?
Jennifer W

  • 10.
  • At 10:11 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • Peter May wrote:

Lady with the tea tray-just great !!!

That Caroline Flint's all right as well. Did she play drums for the
Corrs as a stand-in !!!!!

  • 11.
  • At 04:12 PM on 04 Sep 2006,
  • kantara wrote:

In Ghana, even men can balance things on their heads. It comes out of years of fetching water in buckets and cans as a child and carrying them home; at least once, sometimes twice or thrice a day. We also carry food from our farms on our heads and walk several miles home with the foodstuffs or firewood balanced on our heads. Apart from the unusual sight, this practice helps us develop a straight back and strong spine. Alas, it is disappearing fast, as pipe-borne water makes its way into our villages, and more kids attend school than go to the work on farms.

  • 12.
  • At 12:41 PM on 05 Sep 2006,
  • Simon wrote:

That's the first time I've heard someone say "alas" that more people have access to education and clean water!

  • 13.
  • At 07:44 PM on 06 Sep 2006,
  • Samantha Prosser wrote:

I saw that shot as well and told my husband she had to be Ghanaian. I was born in the UK but lived for some years in Ghana, and I just recognised that 'move' because that's what it is! I don't think as young women, they're all lined up and taught how to do Nana says, anyone can do it! It's all in the swing of the hips and a gentle movement of the neck to keep whatever you have on your head in a balanced position. In Ghana, it's not an uncommon sight to see women in the markets selling tomatoes, bread, etc all piled on a large wooden tray, carefully balanced on their heads. And there's usually a chant of some sort being sang rather loudly, to attract people to buy from them. If you haven't got a stall in the market, you have to sell your stuff somehow. Too add to this, there's sometimes a baby being carried on the back as well! This is when a piece of cloth is wrapped around the back, strapping in the child who is straddled to the mother's back, with the cloth secured at the front. Rather like a papoose.

Anyway, I got pretty excited because it brought back some fond memories!

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