She is the Christiane Amanpour of our community; the Oprah Winfrey we look to for breaking barriers and revealing the important stories of our time. Her name is Sonia Deol.
Sonia began in the industry in a time where virtually no other South Asian man or woman was making reigns in the contemporary news industry. Originally from the UK, Sonia was just 14-years-old when she did a radio show for the acclaimed BBC network. Since then, she has gone on to work for various other prestigious networks, won numerous awards and has received the highest acclaim for her work in the news industry.
We sat down with Sonia to talk about her taking on the role as the new co-host for Global BC’s regional morning show alongside popular host, Steve Darling.|
With her latest position with Global BC, she brings along with her over 17 years of experience in the industry. She has been at the forefront for covering some of the most important international events such as the 9/11 attacks in New York, the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions by the UK and US and the Partition of 1947, just to name a few. If you’re wondering which prominent Indian actors Sonia has interviewed, it might be easier to ask which ones she hasn’t interviewed! Sonia has met with stars such as Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Rekha, Zinda Tamanna, Gurdas Maan, Rahat Ali Fateh Khan, Jagjit Singh and many more.
Sonia Deol serves as a true inspiration to our community: her charismatic attitude and unapologetic reporting style has made her name synonymous with good quality news reporting. She is the reporter everyone wants to hear speak: she asks the questions we have on our minds during interviews and she provides the answers we eagerly await during news coverages.
Find out why Sonia left the UK to come to Canada to continue her career, how she felt covering the infamous 9/11 attacks right after they happened, her side to the controversial BBC documentary on the 1984 attacks and much more. Get the inside scoop about the woman who wakes up everyday at 2am to bring all of us the latest news stories for our mornings!
At 14-years-old you did a radio show for the BBC and said you knew right away that this is the industry you wanted to pursue. What made you so sure at such a young age?
Ever since I can remember, I have just been addicted to being a part of the media world. When I was about 8 or 9-years-old, I remember putting on pretend talk shows and radio shows for my parents. It was always something I was very passionate about even at such a young age. I was a very curious child and I always made it a point for myself to ask people questions, learn about their background and to really to learn about the world and the people around me. I wanted answers to my questions and I very much wanted to be the one doing the asking. Oprah Winfrey used to be on television a lot when I was younger and I would look at her and think “that’s what I want to do.”
You are known for your straightforward way of covering news, have you received any backlash for this? How do you respond?
I definitely would say that I am very direct with my news. I see myself as a journalist who is here to represent the people and it is my job to ask questions in a very straight-forward way because that’s what the people want. For example, if I am talking to a government minister, I’m not afraid to ask questions that hold them accountable for the policies he or she are putting in place for the rest of us. I think viewers appreciate my stories or my interviews for uncovering things that may not otherwise have been uncovered. I feel it is my job as a journalist to get answers for people and people respond quite well to it.
What fueled your choice to move to Canada to work for Global BC?
Love! (laughs) I was very happy with my life in the UK but one one of my best friends, Sukhi, wanted to introduce me to his cousin. He said ‘I think you two would really hit it off’ and things of that sort and I remember saying no at first and he set me up with his cousins anyways. So his cousin (my now husband, Harry) and I started chatting and within 6 months of us talking, he had flown to England and I had flown to Vancouver twice! We were at a point where we both knew we wanted to be together. Soon, he proposed right here at English Bay and I went back that year and told my parents I’m getting married. I then handed in my resignation into the BBC and that’s how I ended up coming here! Within less than a year I had: met him, gotten married, left my family, left my career, had my big wedding and in the following month I got pregnant! They say getting married is one of the biggest transitions you have to make and along with doing that, I moved away from everything I had ever known and began my journey as a mother! It was very, very eventful time in my life.
Being a working South Asian woman, how do you handle of the stereotype to “just be a mother” or “just be a wife?”
I feel very grateful to be raised by parents who always encouraged me and my sisters to get an education and they really encouraged us to go out and make something of ourselves. We were never put into a stereotypical box or told our lives ever had to revolve around just one role. They taught us the importance of respect, culture and family values but they also made sure they taught us the importance of independence and feeling accomplished. When I got married, I definitely carried those values with me. One of the reasons I got married to my husband is because he shares my progressive thinking and always encouraged me to better myself.
I truly think you can do it all: you can be a good mom, wife and worker. It’s all about choice. If you choose to stay at home with your kids and you enjoy that, it’s great! I did that when I first had my daughter and it was such a valuable experience for me to be able to spend that time with her. If you would rather not stay at home with your kids, I think that’s okay too! I am in a situation where I had the choice and there definitely is a glass ceiling out there for women and I think we should all work to break it at every level. No woman should ever feel they don’t have the choice to do whatever it is they want to do.
What does a typical day look like for you at Global BC?
I wake up at 2am and start looking at potential news stories that may have broken overnight. From there, I begin developing ideas for that day’s shows. Sometimes we set up shows from the day before but with the way news works, we constantly update ourselves and do our research so we bring the latest and freshest stories. I leave my house at around 3:30am and go straight into makeup when I arrive. At around 4:20 we have a production meeting where we map out the morning show: we determine where we will send reporters, what the big news stories are so far and plan out how the show will shape up. After that, at 5am we are on air and it goes by really fast!
One big misconception about my job that a lot of people (including my mother once upon a time!) might have is that news anchors simply sit and read out the news. There’s so much more to it: theres preparation we have to do, research that goes into the stories and all the pre and post production hours that go into a segment. After a show we discuss what went well and what didn’t and discuss ideas we have for the subsequent show. There is much more to being a new anchor than reading the news! (laughs)
With your schedule, how do you balance your work, family and social life?
People are really usually really shocked when I say I wake up at 2am but I actually really enjoy my hours! When I get up at 2am and begin my workday, my daughter is still sleeping and by husband drops her off to preschool. I leave work at about 10 or 11 am so I am able to pick my daughter up from school and enjoy the rest of the day for her. There are definitely times where I am really tired and everyone knows how difficult it can be to try to take a nap when a 3-year-old just wants to play (laughs) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I make sure to go to sleep at around 9pm so I can wake up at 2am and do it all over again!
How would you describe the dynamic between yourself and co-host Steve Darling?
I feel we both have a lot of energy together on screen. With the two of us you get humor, passion and quality news-telling. We’re very passionate about bringing the news to the people and with the way we interact with one another, let’s just say we can really wake people up! (laughs). Our dynamic works very well.
Can you describe your experience covering the 9/11 attacks in New York?
I was in London hosting a news show for a station called BBC London and I used to host the Drive Time Show. When the attacks happened I was due to go into work that afternoon and I remember watching the broadcasts at home. I vividly remember seeing the first plane go into the towers. At that point, we were in complete shock but it wasn’t until the second plane hit–the moment where we knew it couldn’t have been a mistake–that the air in the room changed. The news machine turned into something I had never seen before.
When I went on air, everyone was tuning in to listen to me talk about what had happened. They extended my show and I was on air for about 6 hours. At that point we hadn’t really talked about terrorism in the way it’s talked about now in the media. It was a really big moment in the media and a big moment for me on a personal level. It was a turning point in all of our lives. After that day, everything changed.
Who is a prominent figure you would like to interview?
To be completely honest, I like interviewing anyone with a good story. They don’t have to be famous or be a so-called “prominent” figure in the community. Some of my best and most memorable interviews are everyday people with extraordinary stories to tell: the alcoholic who turned their life around; the cancer patient who has recovered their terrible disease–these are the stories that resonate with me and are the stories I love to tell. If I’m being frank, I get much more excited about these stories and I think other people do too.
If I did have to choose one person, however, I would love to sit down and interview the Queen. She was very young when she first became the reigning monarch and so much has changed and she has seen so much in her lifetime. She has seen so much history and must have some amazing insights about the world. I think it’s so interesting how the Queen and the royal family hold values that are very similar to our Indian families: the importance of family values and staying together for example. Considering that, it’s especially interesting that all of her children (except her youngest son) have separated or divorced. That must have taken an emotional toll on her and I think it would be interesting to hear her feelings on that.
There was some controversy surrounding the documentary you took part in about the 1984 attacks on The Golden Temple, especially about the portrayal of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Do you have any comments about that?
I feel that some people assumed that because I was on the frontline of the documentary that it was entirely my work and my viewpoints. In reality, it was a BBC documentary and a BBC production. There was a whole team behind it: producers, editors, directors–there was a large editorial team that was deciding the content for the documentary. I am not trying to deny that I was infact the one telling the documentary that came out, but I think people may not realize that my job for the project was to be the voice of a story that was decided by an entire team.
What is something about yourself that our readers may be surprised to know?
I don’t drink coffee! (laughs) People are really surprised that I wake up at 2am and am surrounded by a team of individuals that are caffeine frenzies and I still don’t drink it! I love tea but will not drink coffee.
What has been your proudest or most memorable story to cover?
The most memorable would have to be a story I covered on the Partition of 1947. I was honored to be able to interview people who actually lived through it. For anyone who may not know, it was one of the biggest migrations this world has ever seen. The man who drew the line to decide what was going to be Pakistan and India had never actually been to either of those regions but laid a map out in front of him and literally drew a line for what would be the start of Punjab. It was a very difficult time for those who were involved and being able to sit down and interview them and capture their stories was an incredible experience for me.
What advice do you have for our readers, especially young women, who want to pursue a career in the media industry?
Never let anyone tell you that you cannot do it. Don’t let anyone discourage you. If you are passionate about the industry, have good communication skills, are prepared to work hard and genuinely care about people and their stories, you can make a place for yourself in the industry.
When I first started, there was no one from my community that I could look up to or give as an example for my dad when I first told him about my career choice. My dad is very supportive and given me so many invaluable tools to help me get to where I am today but he didn’t really understand my choice to be a news anchor at first. He, as well as many others in our community, thought of being a reporter as more of a hobby rather than a “proper job.” I’m sure a lot of your readers can relate to the pressure of parents (especially Indian parents) wanting you to become a “doctor” or “engineer.”
I have come a long way and through working with networks such as the BBC and Global TV, I am proud to win the argument that being a news anchor is a proper job! My dad is so proud now and loves to tell people what I do for wor and it’s been a long and truly rewarding journey. So for anyone who wants to pursue this career, especially young women from our community: keep working hard and you can make it in the industry. If you have the heart and dedication and are willing to put in long hours, you will be successful.