Culture

Edith Bowman: 'It would be unbelievable to the teenage me that I ended up being on the telly'

Getting a job on MTV would have blown Edith Bowman's teenage mind, but there's one film she's made that she's not yet ready to watch

Edith Bowman

Image: PR supplied

Edith Bowman was born in 1974 and grew up in Anstruther, Fife. While doing a Communication Studies degree at Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh she did work experience at Radio Forth, which set her on the way to stardom.

Bowman’s first on-screen job on television was as a news presenter for MTV UK, and she went on to present many shows for the station. Since then she has been a regular presence on British screens and airwaves, with a CV that includes Top Of The Pops, reporting for the BBC on the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Celebrity Antiques Road Trip, numerous presenting slots on BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music, and most recently the Coast to Coast Food Festival with her old radio sparring partner Colin Murray.

In her Letter To My Younger Self, Bowman, who married Editors frontman Tom Smith in 2013 and has two children, reflects on how her ambition and determination drove her to success, and how her grandad proved to be a massive inspiration.

By the time I was 16 I was desperate to learn to drive and have the freedom to get out of Anstruther [a small coastal town in Fife] and go to gigs and the cinema. Anstruther didn’t have a cinema, so my dad started to run this big projection system in the function suite of the [Bowman family-run] hotel, mostly for putting the football on at weekends. But on a Saturday morning he set up a little film club and put on stuff like Bugsy Malone and The Goonies. It was amazing to have that; I would sit and help him stamp people’s membership cards when they came in, things like that. And there was always music around, with my mum taking me to gigs and the bands playing at the hotel every Saturday. There would be little folk nights in the cocktail bar, road shows from different radio stations coming in, street parties to celebrate anything that we possibly could – so there was this constant musical soundtrack in my life. 

My mum recently found some more old reels of family films that she put onto DVD. My dad was often filming us on holidays or at Christmas and my mum’s house now has every wall covered in photos – there’s hardly any wall space left. These days we’re really bad at printing pictures so since my first kid Rudy was born I’ve been making a big photo album with hundreds of pages of pictures every Christmas. And I give them to my mum and dad, and Tom’s [husband Tom Smith, frontman of the band Editors], and we’ve got ours. Spike, my nine-year-old, absolutely loves sitting on the sofa with them, looking at all the pictures and remembering places we went, things we did. The thing I love about that is the conversation it encourages. We talk about past times, places, people. I think any opportunity to do that is beautiful, actually. 

Edith Bowman at the 2001 MTV Awards
2001: At the MTV Europe Music Awards in Frankfurt. Image: Toni Anne Barson Archive/WireImage

It would be unbelievable to the teenage me that I ended up being on the radio or the telly. There was definitely a dream of getting involved in that world in some way, but it felt completely unattainable. But I kept trying to break into radio, even if I thought it was an unlikely thing. I was persistent, I pestered Radio Forth [in Edinburgh] constantly and I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I hounded the programme controller about getting work experience, and I think it got to the point where he was just like, oh my god, get her in just to get her off my case. So I went to see him and he was horrible. He was like, well, what do you want? I said I’d like work experience and to learn the ropes and by the end of it have my own radio show. And his response was: I can’t put someone with an accent like yours on the radio.  

I sat there feeling the tears welling up. But in my head I was thinking, I want this and I want this really bad. He did then give me two weeks’ work experience. And I pretty much slept at that radio station. I worked my arse off. I wasn’t scared of hard work – one of the many things I’ve got to thank my mum and dad and the hotel for is that I learned a work ethic really young. In those two weeks I made myself kind of indispensable, so they asked me if I wanted to do weekends and holidays. And that was my way in. 

Edith Bowman with son Rudy in 2010
2010: Holding son Rudy as they watch Editors perform at V Festival. Image: Samir Hussein/Getty Images

If I really wanted to blow my teenage mind I’d tell her about getting a job on MTV. The idea of being involved in something so big in worldwide popular culture, to be part of that team, that would be unbelievable. And if I could give my younger self advice I’d just say, be more patient. Actually, that’s something I’m still really bad at. I’ve got four different projects at different stages at the minute and I’m like, oh my god, come on! Maybe if I could go back and try and get myself to be better at being patient I’d be better at it now. But I was brought up to work for things, we were never handed anything. It’s something I’m trying to instil in my kids, the importance of working for something rather than expecting it.   

I have a frustration with the way the media runs now, and how disposable things are due to social media. It’s always, what’s the next thing, what’s the next thing? And I think, can we just take a moment to appreciate everything around us? 

One of the biggest lessons I’d pass on to my younger self is not to take notice of what other people think. It’s none of your business what other people think of you, so long as you’ve got a good relationship with yourself. So many times you go for jobs you don’t get and it’s fuck all to do with your ability. You know you’re the best person for the job, but it’s someone else’s decision. So you’ve just got to learn to be at peace with that. And that’s a hard thing to do. I still kind of sometimes struggle with it – if I want a job really badly, and I’m emotionally connected to it, it’s really hard when I don’t get it.  

Edith Bowman and Colin Murray
2023: With co-presenter of Coast to Coast Food Festival, Colin Murray. Image: BBC

If I could have one last conversation with anyone it would be my grandad. He was like my third parent. His story is incredible actually. He got married to my gran in Plymouth when he was in the Navy. They had my dad, and they had my aunt Edith, and my gran passed away in childbirth. So he moved back up to Scotland to be around his family, who helped bring the kids up. I was his first grandchild, named after my aunt. We had this amazing, special relationship. And I was with him when he died about 16 years ago. I was holding his hand when he passed away.  

One of the things that I did a year or two before he passed away is I went home, sat him down in my old bedroom, in our old house, and filmed him talking about his life from his earliest memory onwards. I haven’t actually been able to watch that yet. But I will do, because I want to make a short film about him. That’s the plan, once I can bring myself to watch that. My mum got his ashes made into a little locket that I wear every day. So he’s always there with me. And there are loads of pictures of him up around the house and we talk about him a lot. So even though my kids didn’t know him physically, I think they’re very aware of how important he was to me and to us as a family. But if I could have one time back with him, the thing I would love him to do is meet my kids. 

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If I could re-live one moment in time I’d go back to when I was about 12. My mum and dad worked loads when I was growing up, running the hotel, and I spent my weekends at Grandad’s house. Then when I was about 12, we – Mum and Dad and my brother – started going on holiday for two weeks every year. Those two weeks, just the four of us, being away from everything, was so nice. There was one trip to America just before my brother was five. We went to Disney World then we did a week down in a place called Clearwater. I remember going on this pirate ship on the beach, both of us dressed as pirates. During those two weeks my parents weren’t worrying about the pressures of the hotel. Everything about everyday life was pushed to the side so we could just be a family, and just have fun and eat amazing food and go on adventures. It was the most beautiful, lovely time. 

Coast to Coast Food Festival is on weekdays from Monday March 13 at 6:30pm on BBC Two and iPlayer 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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