For nearly forty years, writer, journalist and broadcaster Emma Freud has been a dominant force within media relations across a variety of different mediums. Born into the public eye as the daughter of one of the twentieth century’s most eminent figures in politics: Sir Clement Freud, Emma has grown up with a unique perspective on fame. Having been discouraged from learning about the work of both her father and great grandfather Sigmund, Emma only discovered the full responsibility of inheriting the name Freud on reaching adulthood. It was always a topic which had been totally off limits with her dad being unable to discuss his psychological roots and anything to do with the Freud reputation was something which remained unspoken. Therefore Emma grew up with a misty relationship with her famous heritage and instead of following in the academic footsteps of both her great grandfather and grandfather, her noteworthy calling would lay elsewhere.
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Making her presenting debut on ITV’s The 6 O’Clock Show in 1982 alongside television royalty; Michael Aspel, Chris Tarrant and Danny Baker, Emma fulfilled the roving reporter element of the live Friday night extravaganza. This more often than not involved her partaking in an extreme activity that might have been outlawed in the post millennium era of health and safety. The 6 O’Clock Show was essentially a live light hearted magazine show for eighties Britain with segments on everything from fashion to politics. In an era before The One Show, 6 O’clock Show took a light hearted view on the major events in popular culture and helped to pioneer a new era in broadcast journalism. For six years, the show dared to take television light entertainment to uncharted territory and pushed the boundaries of early evening television which still has a legacy within the multi platform landscape of 2022.
Emma Freud was now one of the most recognisable faces on British television and in 1988 became one of the many household names lining up to lend a hand to the newest television charity Comic Relief. Beyond charity, Emma had another reason for wanting to get involved in this growing phenomenon after developing rather a soaring crush on Comic Relief creator Richard Curtis and this proved the perfect reason to get to know him. It was Comic Relief that brought these two creative powerhouses together which has resulted in one of the most successful romantic partnerships in British showbiz. For over thirty years Emma has overseen the tireless work of Comic Relief both in the UK and around the world and remains proud of hers and Richard’s contribution to an extraordinary worthwhile cause.
Despite raising millions for charity and good causes both in the UK and the world’s poorest communities, Comic Relief has been responsible for some of the most memorable moments in British television history. It’s interesting to reflect on the hours and hours of unrivalled entertainment which has been created over the years courtesy of this worthwhile cause and on occasions has pushed the boundaries of comedy. From Mr Bean and Torville and Dean to James Corden’s first ever Carpool Karaoke, Emma is extremely proud of Comic Relief’s unique ability to move with the times and reflect the comedy fashions of the time. The show holds a metaphorical mirror up to the ever changing landscape and the biggest comedy stars are always willing to give their time to create magical television moments. Who can forget Ali G’s probing interview with David and Victoria Beckham or Ricky Gervais’s satirical take on the charity appeal video? It’s these factors that have made Comic Relief part of the fabric of British culture.
Her responsibilities at Comic Relief never halted Emma’s broadcasting and journalistic career and in 1990 secured her own daytime chat show Plunder which celebrated the careers of noteworthy figures through clips of some of their defining moments. When interviewing celebrities, Emma prefers to allow her subject to do whatever they’re comfortable with instead of forcing a contrived conversation on them. This is the secret behind Emma’s relaxed presenting style as she possesses a natural fascination with people and would rather direct a conversation rather than dominating it. For some performers, this is a dream interview as she creates the illusion that they’re in charge and doesn’t mind if they are. Plunder ran for two series from 1990 on weekday afternoons on BBC2 and featured an array of stars from Joanna Lumley to Andrew Lloyd Webber via Ian Hislop and Derek Fowlds.
Almost every broadcaster over the age of fifty will most certainly have an interesting story about attempting to interview the genius of Spike Milligan and Emma was able to have such an opportunity when the comedy legend guested on Plunder in 1990. It seems quite absurd in today’s television climate that the anarchic comedy heavyweight would be let loose on a light hearted afternoon chat show but at the turn of the nineties when daytime television was still seemed as a luxury, the stars were lining up to appear. It’s interesting here to remember that Milligan had previously won a long and convoluted battle to present the Radio 4 factual institution Women’s Hour so a daytime chat show seemed relatively routine in comparison. From early on, Emma realised that there was little point attempting to second guess Milligan so didn’t even bother. Instead she relaxed and allowed him to do what he was best at: entertaining an audience and simply sat back in awe of the comedy icon.
Swapping television for radio, in January 1994 Emma secured the lunchtime slot on weekday Radio 1. At such a troubled period for the station which saw the overhaul of many of its best loved voices, it was easy for newcomers like Emma to be labelled as the scapegoats for the minor revolution at the station. Therefore what should have been the start of an exciting chapter in her career was tinged with disappointment as Radio 1 attempted to regain its identity as a youth orientated platform. Yet as a female with her own daytime show on prime time Radio 1, Emma helped pave the well for female broadcasters to be seen and everyone from Jo Whiley to Fearne Cotton benefited from it. Emma’s tenure at Radio 1 may not have been the longest but it arguably helped to break down the outdated and conservative values which had dogged the station for decades and returned it to its rightful youth demographic.
As a journalist, Emma has written for almost all of the major UK broadsheets and loves the opportunity to wax lyrical about her passion for food. For Emma, there’s nothing better than being able to bring people together over a home cooked meal and thrives on the ability to entertain through food. To gather people around her kitchen table and provide them with a home cooked meal remains an unrivalled gift which should be cherished. This sentiment comes across in Emma’s articles, both for her own blog and broadsheet newspapers. Sharing a kitchen with Nigella, Mary Berry and Davina McCall would be enough to intimidate any foodie. Yet armed with a quiet confidence, Emma Freud is up for any challenge and her diverse career epitomises this.
It seems ironic therefore, that when probed for her proudest achievement she proudly exclaimed “winning Comic Relief Bake Off!” . Helping Love Productions create the show, Emma was already heavily involved with the format but was eager to participate. Being praised by the great Mary Berry was a real accolade for the food critic and journalist with passion for home cooking. It didn’t matter that the manner of the victory was merely one episode, for Emma this is enough to satisfy her inner baker. It’s incredible that despite her huge aforementioned achievements, winning Bake Off remains the pinnacle of success. It’s clear that despite being one of Britain’s most prolific writers and broadcasters, Emma Freud shall forever cherish the ability to be passionate about food and her bursting enthusiasm remains extremely infectious.
Laying her aforementioned career out in this celebratory article, it’s virtually impossible to sum up her vast contributions to public life. As a broadcaster, she rose to the very top of her industry fearlessly interviewing some of the most prolific figures of the twentieth century while playing her part in revolutionising daytime mainstream radio. As a journalist, she has developed an international reputation for her informed insight of world affairs. Yet beyond all of this, her tireless and gruelling work for Comic Relief has helped to put the charity on the international political radar raising millions to help poor and disadvantaged people all over the world. In over my five years of Beyond The Title, many of my subjects have inspired, captivated or even moved me. But very few have been able to challenge my perception of the Arts like the subject in question; she’s an inspiration to us all! It was an absolute pleasure to talk to the all conquering Emma Freud and with such a variety of talents, it’s exciting to see where her career shall take her next.