June Sarpong

June Sarpong

June Sarpong has always been a bit political. The 31-year-old might be best known to teenagers as the anchor of the Channel 4 Sunday morning magazine T4 – but she is known in Westminster as the ex-girlfriend of David Lammy, the former arts minister.

She works for several charities, such as Kids Company, The Prince’s Trust and Make Poverty History – and she has interviewed as stated above, Tony Blair, Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown. Sarpong waved goodbye to T4 last December after nine years and an MBE for services to broadcasting and charity. Now, perhaps not surprisingly, she’s come up with a website that combines showbiz and politics.

“The idea came out of a meeting I had in Los Angeles with NBC about possible TV projects,” Sarpong says. “I said I wanted to do something that mixed politics and entertainment for a younger, female demographic. And the boss of NBC news said, ‘Are you doing this online?’ I said no, and she said, ‘Why are you not doing this online?’ “Sarpong went home, flicked through her contacts book and made some calls, and the result is Politics and the City ( The rather tired title aside, the website is slick and original. Sarpong has hired two political journalists and two glossy magazine journalists to provide the content, which is divided up into politics, news, beauty, gossip, and fashion and music. There will be contributions from the long list of women Sarpong has interviewed and befriended over the years, including the model Lily Cole, Kylie Minogue, Minnie Driver and Joely Richardson.

“I think women in this country feel disenfranchised, politically. It’s all such a boys’ club. It makes no sense that it’s such a male-dominated area when it’s something that affects us all. If it’s only men, or mostly men, involved in the political process, that’s no good.”But Sarpong isn’t starting a revolution. “It’s more about informing. So many of my girlfriends, who are smart, successful women, don’t have a clue about politics – and it’s not because they don’t want to. Often they don’t feel confident speaking up because they don’t feel knowledgeable enough. Newspapers assume an awful lot of knowledge.

On the website, we have a box with each subject that will explain things clearly – you know, this is all you need to know about the Lisbon treaty.”The website, which goes live today, has had rave reviews from test audiences. “Women are interested in this sort of thing. They’re concerned about the credit crunch, about not being able to get on the property ladder, about job security. Women are under huge pressure, much more now than women of, say, my grandmother’s generation.

It was easier to meet someone; now it’s hard to find a man who’s not intimidated by a successful woman. You’re made to feel bad if you don’t work in order to have children – and on top of all that you’re expected to look like a supermodel!” Does she feel that pressure? “Much less, I think. Because I work in the media, I know what an illusion it all is.”Sarpong was born one of four children in 1977 in Leytonstone, east London, to Ghanaian parents. She moved to Ghana when she was two, returning at five. On her way to school in Leytonstone, aged 15, she was hit by a car. She suffered a fractured and dislocated spine and was in and out of hospitals for 18 months. The experience affected her profoundly. First, it cemented her belief that God was on her side. “I believe in God 100 per cent,” she says. “My family is also very spiritual and it helps me. I’m never going to be on my soap box, bashing my Bible. But I believe in spirituality and I certainly believe in a higher power.”Sarpong doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs and, unlike many TV presenters, she is never pictured falling out of nightclubs.

It’s partly what makes politicians want to be associated with her – young, talented, black and squeaky clean. The accident also inspired her to follow her dream of working in music; she got a job at Kiss FM, and then at Arista Records. She presented Planet Pop on MTV and was spotted by Channel 4 executives who were putting together T4. Sarpong’s talent was interviewing; having worked for such celebrities as Whitney Houston, Puff Daddy and Estelle she was unfazed by meeting stars. Interviewing a tired, bored and crotchety Robert De Niro, Sarpong won him round by simply saying: “Hi Bob, I’m June.” The actress Maggie Gyllenhaal was a tougher nut. “I was her last interview of the day on a press junket for Sherrybaby.

Maggie is not the most talkative person and she doesn’t enjoy things like that. Someone like George Clooney really enjoys the process. Will Smith is like that, and Tom Cruise. They are such big stars for a good reason. “But Maggie is all about acting and the art and doesn’t really want to be famous anyway. I also asked her about her brother Jake and she didn’t like that at all. So I sat there thinking, ‘Oh dear, what am I going to do?’ And then, I just sort of stopped the interview and said, ‘I totally understand that you don’t like this process – I get it. But this film is not something the average British cinema-goer would probably go and see. But it’s so good and your performance is so amazing that I want people to go and see it. And I want this interview to be the thing that gets people to go and see it because your film will really make people think.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, actually. You’re right.’ Then we laughed and talked about babies because she’d just had one and she perked up.”There’s barely anyone worth knowing that Sarpong hasn’t interviewed.

The people left on her hitlist include Oprah Winfrey and the Pope. But her vast experience is part of the reason she left T4. She became too slick at cutting off rambling celebrities and stringing out interviews; in short, she needed to do something that challenged her.Sarpong never says whom she votes for, but she seems to be a fan of David Cameron. “I’d love to interview him. I’ve met him. I think he’s got that Blair factor, in terms of making you feel very important.

I like what he’s doing on family and in making the Conservative Party more fashionable. But you have to wait and see. You don’t know what people are really like until they’re in power.” She skirts tactfully round the issue of Gordon Brown’s chances: “I think the beauty of living in a democracy is that people have a choice.”I like the American system of eight years maximum for a president. I think that’s enough for anyone. Even if you go into the job with the best intentions, leaving [No 10] must be very difficult. That job is so all-consuming – what else are you going to do? There aren’t many jobs that give you the adrenalin of being prime minister – I think they get addicted to the adrenalin more than anything else.” She must know just how they feel.


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