The Lewisham-born, Blackheath-bred news presenter Charlene White on growing up in south east London and her pride at being the first black woman to present ITV News at Ten
Words: Frankie Mccamley
You have to catch Charlene White while you can. Darting between presenting ITV News, keeping fit and carrying out her charity work, White has little time in between. The 36-year-old south east Londoner and newscaster invited me to join her at a spin class before our interview, which set the tone.
‘I’ve lived in south London my whole life,’ she tells me with pride. Born in Lewisham, White was a pupil at Blackheath High School, and studied journalism at the former London College of Printing in Elephant & Castle in order to remain close to her family. It’s a pocket of London that will always have a special place in her heart.
‘I love the Mexican, Caribbean and Lebanese food and the constant meeting of different cultures,’ she explains. ‘Now, there’s an amazing street food festival every summer. One of my favourite places growing up was Lewisham Market,’ she continues. ‘Every Saturday, my mum would get us up to buy fresh ingredients for our weekend Caribbean soup.’
White’s mother died of bowel cancer at just 47, but she continues to treasure her mother’s recipe book. ‘My favourite is her traditional Jamaican carrot cake, which has lots of spice.’
It was her mother’s death that initially led the presenter to become a patron for Bowel Cancer UK. ‘My role is to raise awareness of the signs and to send out the message that people need to look out for any changes in their body. Catching it early can save your life,’ she urges.
White is overwhelmingly honest when talking about her own experiences. Tellingly, she is also modest about the day she made history, and became the first black woman to present the ITV News at Ten.
I was so nervous. Mark Austin was presenting alongside me and the entire team was so supportive. Everyone was rooting for me
‘I was so nervous,’ she admits. ‘Mark Austin was presenting alongside me and the entire team was so supportive. Everyone was rooting for me and the nerves came because I didn’t want to let anyone down. Two days later a former chief executive asked me: “Do you realise you made history this week? You were the first black woman to present ITV News at Ten.” I was really shocked. I assumed there had been someone else before me.’
Reminiscing, she reveals a huge smile that conveys pride, but belies the sacrifices she made to get to where she is. ‘It made all the hard work and the long hours worth it. It also meant that the sacrifice my parents and grandparents made leaving Jamaica was worth it as well. Making history in that way has meant that their decision to move here was the right thing for them to do.’
Her secret to success has been staying grounded, and always looking forward to the next goal. ‘If you have that dream in your head, don’t let anyone take it away. If you believe you can do it, you can.’
Charlene White will be reading at Carols Together London at St Marylebone Church on Thursday 8 December to help raise funds and awareness for Bowl Cancer UK. Tickets for the charity carols event cost £15 each. Click here to book