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Monday 28 Jul 2014

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Songs Of Praise – Sally Magnusson

Sally Magnusson has travelled the length and breadth of the United Kingdom – and beyond – presenting for Songs Of Praise, which she joined in 1984. She is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster and writer, who as well as Songs Of Praise has presented a range of programmes for the BBC, including news, current affairs and politics.

On TV she reports occasionally for Panorama and anchors the Scottish BBC news programme Reporting Scotland. She also presents the Radio 4 geneaology series Tracing Your Roots and the Radio Scotland magazine programme Sally On Sunday.

What has been your most memorable experience whilst presenting Songs Of Praise?

In more than 25 years of presenting Songs Of Praise I've clocked up dozens of memorable moments. I will never forget being in Tanzania during our edition marking the G8 summit at Gleneagles and staying in a village where Make Poverty History was not a slogan but an imperative. What moved me was the matter-of-fact way in which one woman described walking 20 miles to collect water for her family and 20 miles back again. Every single day. For her, the arrival of a water source in her community meant gaining a life. That sort of encounter changes you.

Which place did you enjoyed visiting most with Songs Of Praise?

Cape Town to interview Archbishop Desmond Tutu was eye-opening, but I've also enjoyed the wilds of North Wales, the windswept isles of Orkney, the pilgrimage route to Canterbury, the Roman ruins of Bath... the list goes on and on. It's been a remarkable privilege to have gone to so many places and into so many communities in my time with Songs Of Praise.

Is there a particular viewer's story that has stayed with you or inspired you over the years?

It would be invidious to pick out any single story, because I've been moved and challenged so often over the years. What has inspired me, again and again, is people's quiet resilience. I've met people who have faced the most profound personal trauma with selflessness and courage, invariably asking not "Why me?" but "Why not me?" They have rarely been famous and have certainly never considered themselves in any way special – but week after week they have shown the heights of grace and dignity to which human beings can rise.

What is your favourite hymn/piece of music?

Be Thou My Vision for its spare Celtic lyricism.

Which celebrity have you enjoyed talking to about their faith/ or favourite music and why?

The Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. His chapel childhood has given him a love of hymns and an inspirational ability to convey their power. His rendition of Isaac Watts' stunning hymn, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross, in the splendour of Bangor Cathedral had the hair on the back of my neck standing up.

Have you had any Songs of Praise "bloomers" that you can share with us?

I've rarely done a Songs Of Praise recording devoid of bloomers. Mine could probably fill a programme of their own. In fact, there are so many I can't actually remember a single one.

Why do you think Songs Of Praise is still so well loved 50 years after it was first broadcast?

I think it's something to do with its unapologetic celebration of faith – as expressed both in song and by the most extraordinary range of people from all sorts of backgrounds in an almost infinite variety of places. In the best moments for our nation and the worst, Songs Of Praise has been there – mourning with the nation's losses and celebrating its joys. I remember particularly the programmes I presented the Sunday after the Dunblane massacre – one of the nation's darkest days – and the Queen Mother's 100th birthday – one of its most cheerful.

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