PRESENTING tonight’s BBC Sports Personality Of The Year 2014 show is what Gabby Logan calls a home game.
Live from the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, a city she lived in when husband Kenny pulled on his rugby boots for Glasgow Warriors in 2004, it’s also a return to the scene of this summer’s massively successful Commonwealth Games which saw Logan and her BBC colleagues enjoying stratospheric viewing figures.
If it’s almost home turf for the Leeds-born TV sports presenter and broadcaster, Glasgow was a revelation to her sports media colleagues this summer. “A lot of them knew Edinburgh more through the rugby, but they got to know Glasgow this year too. They were saying, ‘It’s really great here’, and I said, ‘I know!’ It was nice to be back. The whole Commonwealth Games was great. We travel a lot in our jobs, especially to locations where working conditions are difficult, dodgy internet access…”
Or hair dryers? Logan tweeted about the parlous state of the hair dryers when she was in Brazil this summer for the World Cup, not as small a problem as it sounds when you’re expected to look as groomed as she always does on camera.
“Yes! Hair dryers. Or the food. But Glasgow was a home game. It was lovely working with people who know what they’re doing. It makes it nice and cosy, and Glaswegians are so friendly anyway. Having lived there for a year, I know that.”
The candidates lining up to succeed Andy Murray, last year’s winner, are golfer Rory McIlroy, footballer Gareth Bale, gymnast Max Whitlock, F1’s Lewis Hamilton, swimmer Adam Peaty, skeleton slider Lizzy Yarnold, boxer Carl Froch, dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin, athlete Jo Pavey, paralympic skier Kelly Gallagher and her guide Charlotte Evans. A total of eight awards will be given away during the three-hour event.
“It’s a really strong line-up this year because it encompasses a brilliant range of sports, as well as both sexes, and athletes from their early twenties to forties,” she says.
Anyone could win it, and the presenters are as much in the dark as the viewers up until the last minute, which is just how Logan likes it. There’s nothing she enjoys more than winging it, thinking on her feet and ad-libbing with the cameras rolling. “The winner will be who the British public decide on the night and that can change, because they get a sense of somebody’s personality that they haven’t thought of before during the programme. We don’t know who the winner will be and the night itself can sway what happens. That’s why we get those shocks. There are certain years where people have moved up into the top three on the night. Things can change and you get surprises. Zara Phillips was one of those.”
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It’s been a great year for sport, and tonight’s show looks back on 12 months that gave us the Winter Olympics, the football World Cup, the women’s Rugby World Cup and the Ryder Cup as well as the Commonwealth Games. Logan agrees that interest and participation in sport is at an all-time high.
“It does feel like sport has permeated the mainstream when people like Louis Smith are being judges on reality TV shows, and Tom Daley has a show built around him,” she says, referring to gymnastic TV contest Tumble and ITV’s Tom Daley Goes Global 2014.
“Sports Personality Of The Year is very similar to these shows and I love that. Live sports presenters are used to not having scripts and doing it live and it’s a great training ground.”
Logan is articulate and friendly, and comes across as completely unflappable, the consummate professional. Ask the 41-year-old about potentially difficult subjects such the referendum, her IVF, her brother’s death, and she takes all questions in her stride. You can’t imagine the former Durham law student who started her career on live radio at Radio Metro in Newcastle ever dropping the ball or a clanger.
Her run-in with sprinter Usain Bolt in the summer is a case in point. After a newspaper report claimed he said the Commonwealth Games were “a bit shit”, a comment he denied, he went on to say in a track-side interview after his team’s 4x400m relay victory that he heard Logan had said everyone was enjoying the games without him. Up in the commentary box, put on the spot, Logan immediately replied that she actually said the Games were “OK without him and now he’s here it’s better, obviously it’s better”.
Today she says: “This got blown out of proportion. He is a sporting star, a legend, so if you’re running a big event you want him there. He adds so much sparkle. But athletes have to prioritise events and there has to be a year that’s a bit quieter or they will burn out. Bolt hadn’t run in Zurich and Brussels, either. It wasn’t a slight. He came and did the relay and when he came out we got a flavour of him. It would be tough for athletics if he wasn’t around, it would be like losing a Pele or a Messi for football.”
Similarly, when it emerged she was embroiled in the same tax avoidance scheme as Gary Barlow and Colin Jackson, with Icebreaker, a company that purported to support young musicians, she immediately went on the PR offensive to set the record straight. Logan says she invested in “good faith” and has vowed “to pay any tax” she owes, having pulled out of the scheme in 2012.
The eldest of four children, Logan comes across as being thick-skinned with a healthy sense of humour. Her father Terry Yorath was a footballer and later manager, so she became adept at moving schools and making new friends, and the air of confidence has stuck. One minute she’s wrangling rugby players onto a sofa for an interview, the next she’s shooting from the hip as a stand-in presenter on The One Show, interviewing the likes of Liam Neeson and Donny Osmond or fronting programmes like ITV’s celebrity swimming show Splash!
She laughs a lot down the phone from her home in Buckinghamshire. It seems humour is part of the glue that holds the Logans together and she talks of her husband’s best quality as being his sense of humour – especially when they banter on long journeys, and the family car turns into a “cruel factory”.
Logan married Kenny, the former Scotland winger who won 70 caps for his country between 1992 and 2003, and played for Wasps, London Scottish and Glasgow Warriors in 2001 after meeting him in a bar in London. When he retired from the game, he set up a sports marketing, events and sponsorship firm, that his wife is also involved in. With parents who separated when she was 30, she is determined to make her marriage work.
“We appreciate what we have and know we have to work at it. I don’t want to take it for granted. But you can’t compare your marriage to another. My parents’ was different. They got together when they were 19, and they also lost a child.”
In 1992, Logan’s younger brother Daniel collapsed and died while playing football in the garden with his father. He was just 15 and had an undiagnosed heart condition. His death sent shock waves through the family and her parents’ marriage foundered. She later said: “I think 75 per cent of relationships where a child dies end up dissolving. They had lots of ups and downs. By the time they split up it was toxic, so it was a relief for us in some ways. Yet I do wish they were together sometimes.”
Another tragedy that took its toll on the family was the Bradford stadium disaster in 1985, in which 56 people died trying to escape a fire that started in the wooden stands. Her father was then manager of Bradford City and helped fans escape, but remained haunted by what he saw.
Logan’s response to these setbacks has been to push ahead and attack life, determined to make every moment count. Ambitious, competitive and courageous, it’s no surprise she was always attracted to sport and she represented Wales at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland in rhythmic gymnastics before sciatica forced her to retire aged 17.
Denied a sporting outlet of her own, she gets her kicks from live presenting these days. She began a life-long allegiance to Newcastle United in her first job and gained the ability to control her language in the heat of the moment.
“I started out in radio and you just filter yourself. I’m not a big swearer anyway. It would be more catastrophic for my career if I went around effing. In real life I might let one slip, but you just don’t when you’re on radio or TV. Having children as well [nine-year-old twins Lois and Reuben], swearing is a no-go zone. I swore the other day and when I turned round Lois was shocked and was whispering to Kenny, ‘did you hear what mummy said?’ So it must be unusual. I was proud of myself.”
As much as Logan loves fronting sports programmes, she has long been keen to straddle the worlds of sport and mainstream presenting and has a wide range of programmes on her CV. Her sports credits include Final Score for BBC Sport from 2009 until 2013, Match Of The Day and a variety of live sports events for the BBC, including a revived episode of Superstars in December 2012. Last year she started co-hosting Sports Personality Of The Year. Away from sport she’s appeared on everything from Stars In Their Eyes – “the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done” – impersonating Sharleen Spiteri singing Say What You Want, to Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Loose Women, Strictly Come Dancing and The One Show. Is there anything she won’t try?
“Well, I think you have to push yourself to do things outside your comfort zone. I love being part of The One Show family if Alex Jones is off. It’s brilliant to get on those shows. I love entertainment shows and quiz shows. The adrenaline rush after is great. It’s worth the fear. In the last few years I’ve been doing other things beside sport, and it’s nice to get the balance.”
It wasn’t just Logan who signed up for Strictly. Husband and “best friend” Kenny also slipped on his dancing shoes, and while not quite waltzing away with the title, managed to impress the public and judges enough to outstay his wife. Assuming that healthy competition abounds in the sporty Logan household, did it not rankle to have her rugby-playing husband judged to be more of a twinkle toes than her?
“At the time I didn’t mind Kenny lasting longer than me, but now I’m sick of it. Let it lie Kenny, it’s seven years! Robbie Savage also went further than me and he keeps on about it too. It’s because they took their tops off. Kenny was shameless, shameless. He’s very good at canvassing support and people obviously felt sorry for them which helped them.”
As well as a would-be Fred Astaire, Kenny is a hands-on father too, looking after the children when his wife’s job takes her away, for example to the World Cup in Brazil.
“Kenny said when you go away there are lots of lists, when I go away none of this happens. That’s so true. I just get on with it,” she laughs. “But I don’t think that’s about male and female, it’s part of who you are and your personality, and it shows you can multitask.”
Logan is pleased to call herself a feminist, but believes the gender divide in sport is narrowing and that sport media is no longer the preserve of the alpha male.
“I’m definitely a feminist, of course. And my husband is too. He’s naturally a massive supporter of women doing what they want to do. It’s not about education – Kenny is dyslexic and left school at 16 and couldn’t read or write – it’s an attitude, whether you’re a man or a woman, highly educated or not.
“The sports media is not male dominated any more. There’s Suzi Perry on Formula One, Clare Balding, me on Match Of The Day when Gary Lineker’s not there, and there are women presenting football and rugby. There are a lot of women across the BBC, producers and directors behind the camera. There are also many more women in sports bodies so the career possibilities are there if you want to go for it.
“Women are also getting on the back page of the newspapers more too. Performance is everything. You just have to prove you can do it as well. The tide is turning. And young girls can do it too. It’s not the preserve of blokes. My daughter loves riding and is as likely to talk about a male rider as female; she has role models who are both. Whether it’s a male or a female is less important.
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“Then you get Stephanie Roach named for Fifa Goal of the Year, alongside the likes of Ronaldo. Having a woman with that kind of skill, it becomes about it being a brilliant goal, whether it’s by a woman or a man.” Roach is shortlisted for the 2014 Fifa Puskás Award, the only female player to be nominated, alongside James Rodriguez and Robin van Persie, whose goals were scored in the World Cup.
As one of four children (Logan’s brother Jordan is managing director of a property company and sister Louise is a performer in Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity in Las Vegas), would she like a larger family? Logan gave birth to the twins after IVF and has talked in the past about having more. The Tesco Celebrity Mum of the Year 2012 calmly responds. “Well, it’s not something I want to go into massively. If had four children by now that would be fantastic, I’d be delighted to have four. But there are days when I’m so busy I think, who would be with that other person while I’m doing this? Where would I fit more children in?”
It’s hard to imagine, as Logan rushes from home to various studios, keeping the family and her career on track. She did find time to join in the referendum debate, however, being one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter sent to the Guardian in August, opposing independence.
“I was pleased with the result and Kenny was thrilled. People can say to me, ‘You don’t live here,’ but I do live in the UK, and I wanted a UK that still had Scotland involved. That was the prime motivation. Kenny grew up there, was educated there and has property there and I feel attached to it and my Scottish family. Obviously there’s going to be change now, which I hope will be positive for the UK and Scotland. People felt strongly and we’ll see the difference in the build-up to the next election, with a more engaged debate.”
Logan brushes off the brickbats she got for taking a public stand on the referendum debate, which many other celebrities preferred to shy away from.
“I did get abuse, yes, but if you want to have intelligent conversation Twitter is probably not the best place to start it. People felt strongly and I had great conversations with taxi drivers in Scotland, but Twitter is like someone serving aces, ace after ace that you can’t return in 140 characters,” she says.
So if you get Logan in the back of your cab tonight on the way to the Hydro, you can expect intelligent conversation, a bit of a laugh and an encyclopaedic knowledge of sports. Just don’t expect her to do her Sharleen Spiteri.
• Gabby Logan is presenting BBC Sports Personality Of The Year 2014 alongside Gary Lineker and Clare Balding live from Glasgow tonight on BBC1 at 8pm