My Birmingham by Suzanne Virdee
So what does Birmingham mean to me? Well as I scroll through Twitter and come across images posted by @brumpic I always stop and look. Often they’ll be photos taken way before my time and I get a wonderful glimpse into yesteryear imagining what life was like then. Sometimes the pictures posted will be images I remember as a child and just for a few moments, I’ll be small again, enveloped in the atmosphere of that time. It’s then I realise what Birmingham means to me. It means home, it means growing up, it means getting the jobs of my dreams and it means lots of brilliant memories.
It means treasured times with my granny and granddad and spending hours playing in my grandparents back garden in Selly Oak.
As I drive around Birmingham now, with all its changes, I am reminded of so many good times. A trip recently to the MAC with its now very swish arts facilities and tea shop to meet friends reminded me of many trips to feed the ducks as a little girl. One of my favourite photos is me all wrapped up in my favourite red furry jacket and my stout shoes with my mum.
That picture by the lake is very special. She’s grabbing me particularly tightly as moments earlier I’d made a run for it right to the water’s edge and that had sparked a frantic run after me. It also shows the park’s famous windmill. I loved the windmill and always wanted to go and have a close look at it whenever we went to the park. It was a sad day when as a reporter for the Evening Mail, I got into work, to find out it had been burned down by vandals and I wrote the story for that day’s paper. Such a shame.
As a school girl whenever my parents drove around Colmore Circus I would gaze up at the (former) Post and Mail Building, then home to the Evening Mail, Sunday Mercury and Birmingham Post with its impressive shiny black facade and gold lettering and would think how exciting it looked. I imaged all the reporters inside beavering away and I made a little promise to myself, “I’m going to be a reporter and work there.” When just a few years later I did, it was very special. It was so sad to see the building knocked down along with its famous tower and replaced. Sad too, that the newspapers I worked for, the Sunday Mercury and the then titled Birmingham Evening Mail were moved out of the city centre along with the Birmingham Post. The decline of those newspapers is such a loss to this city.
Perhaps I’m so fond of my time on those newspapers because, it was while I was working on the Evening Mail that I met my future husband, press photographer, Andrew Fox. We were married at Edgbaston Old Church – a church that meant so much to me because it was my school church. We used to sneak packets of sweets in and munch them surreptitiously through services, and Christmas choir rehearsals. Like everyone’s wedding day ours was so special, but made extra special by the fact we were married by the former Provost of Birmingham, the Very Reverend Peter Berry. We knew him well through our work on the newspaper and it was so wonderful when he agreed to marry us. We were inundated by fab photos too, because virtually every photographer from the newspaper came to the wedding, about 15 I think, and they all brought their cameras (as if they’d go anywhere without them!) It was fun to come out of the church, newly married, to a crowd of friendly ‘paparazzi’ and we were so lucky to have hundreds of amazing wedding pictures as a result.
Growing up in Birmingham meant I didn’t have to leave my home city to get the job of my dreams. After training on The Solihull Times in nearby Solihull, I became a reporter first on The Sunday Mercury and then the eight editions a day Birmingham Evening Mail. I then went to the BBC, BBC Radio WM, to be precise and was often out and about in the radio car doing reporting or back to the Mill producing and sometimes reading the news bulletins. I was based then at the famous Pebble Mill studios. Walking through those doors, down the corridors plastered with so many famous faces was thrilling, especially when just a few years later after a hugely enjoyable stint at ITV Central, my photo joined them when I became the co-presenter of the regional news programme, BBC Midlands Today!
Birmingham is where I grew up but never would I have dreamed that I would be stopped and asked for my autograph on the streets of my home city or asked to host high profile events, or even be asked to be a patron of charities. I feel so privileged that Birmingham has given me so many opportunities in my chosen career. It’s also enabled me to meet so many incredible people too from members of the public who’ve done amazing things, to Prime Ministers, pop stars, actors and comedians. Now I’m freelance, I’m working all over the place. But when it came to writing my first book, A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Being Fabulous, it was Birmingham and Solihull’s coffee shops that became my office. Being used to the buzz of a newsroom, I’m not great at writing in quiet isolation. So it’s thanks to gallons of Americanos and peppermint tea and our thriving cafe culture that I finished my first book!
I’m passionate about my job, I love being a journalist and when I found out the extent of the problem of sexualisation among young girls and how they were being crippled with low self-esteem and confidence I decided to try to help. My book is about empowering and inspiring the next generation of young girls wherever they are growing up. Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe, with around 40 percent of the population under 25. People make a city, they give it a heart and an energy and I want our next generation of girls to feel as happy here as I did growing up and inspired too to achieve their dreams. You can find out more about my book here. Or see my recent blog from the Huffington Post UK, talking about why I wrote, A Teenage Girl’s Guide To Being Fabulous,
Suzanne Virdee is a freelance journalist and broadcaster and author. Born and brought up in Birmingham she trained on local newspapers before moving into broadcasting and working for BBC Radio WM, ITV News Central, BBC News, as a presenter, for BBC Midlands Today and BBC Breakfast. She is also a blogger for the Times of India and Huffington Post UK. You can follow her on Twitter @suzannevirdee, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn.