Mishal Husain: The presenting powerhouse doesn’t know any other way to live

"I get nervous before I go on air every day and sometimes I worry about a shift the night before and can’t get it out of my head. But I manage and I get through it. I never want to be the kind of person who slacks or coasts, because I think if I do that it’ll all be taken away from me."

At 16 I was at the stage of wondering what direction I was going to go in. Having a vocation was important in my family. My father was a doctor, his father was a doctor and I felt a certain amount of pressure to go into medicine, though I had a feeling that wasn’t right for me. My family came over from Pakistan and there was that idea that you don’t just go to university to study, you have to become something.

It was probably around them that I decided I was going to go for the law. Not necessarily because I wanted to become a lawyer but I thought it would probably satisfy my family but was broad enough so that I might use it to do different things.

I was sent to boarding school in England directly from Saudi Arabia, where we were living at the time. It was quite a shock to the system. I had grown up in a very international environment, we were an expatriate family living in the Middle East, we had friends from all over the world. Then I arrived in the UK when I was 12. I had a list for summer clothes and winter clothes and I remember thinking – winter clothes?

When I look back on that time, especially after my father died, I realised what a significant period that was, much more than I realised back then. If my parents hadn’t sent me to boarding school I might not have gone to university in Britain and gone on to have the career that I’ve had.

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With husband Meekal Hashmi in 2011. Image: Getty Images

I’m very close to my mother. Both parents had high expectations of me but my mother was the one I could confide in. When I came home for the holidays she would come to my room at night and sit on the edge of my bed, and I’d put my head in her lap and we’d just talk about what had happened that day.

It’s strange when you have a very close mother-daughter bond but then you don’t have any daughters yourself.

I think most women do turn into our mothers as we grow older. I think my husband lives in hope that I’ll become more like her, because she’s much more patient, tolerant and good-humoured than me. She’s been a big influence on how I parent my three sons.

I think my younger self would be daunted by the idea that she’d be the mother of three boys. Having to deal with three sets of teenage male hormones – she’d wonder how she’d be managing with that. It’s strange when you have a very close mother-daughter bond but then you don’t have any daughters yourself. It shouldn’t make any difference but… I haven’t been able to experience that as a mother. The mother-daughter bond would have been so special for me. I’ve had to translate that into a mother-son bond. Hopefully it will be as strong as they grow up as mine is with my mother.

I think the 16-year-old Mishal might be a bit scared by the idea of being a public figure, on the television. She’d wonder if she’d have moments when she’d just fall apart. And yes, I have moments when I worry about all sorts of things. I get nervous before I go on air every day and sometimes I worry about a shift the night before and can’t get it out of my head. But I manage and I get through it. I never want to be the kind of person who slacks or coasts, because I think if I do that it’ll all be taken away from me. So I keep pushing myself. That can be uncomfortable but I don’t know any other way to live my life.

In 1989 the year Mishal Husain turns 16…

  • The poll tax is introduced in Scotland
  • The Dalai Lama wins the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Madonna divorces Sean Penn after four years of marriage

I still clearly remember the day I went from a reporter to a live studio presenter. My editor asked me to come into his office for a chat. I thought I’d done someone wrong. He told me there was a problem with the presenting rota and could I do a presenting shift? It was so unexpected. I thought, can I do this? I said of course I’ll do it. It was just a two-minute segment on BBC World News, but afterwards I thought my knees were going to give way under me. I hadn’t realised how nervous I was until then.

That moment is still so clear in my mind as the turning point. Afterwards I decided to work very hard to make that the direction my career would go in. And perhaps around then my parents started to think, maybe it’s not so bad she didn’t become a doctor in the end.

I think women who are bringing up sons and daughters now are aware that their self-perception is a big influence on how their children will view their own potential. I remember teasing my aunt once when we were watching Tony and Cherie Blair on the news and she said to me, “Imagine, you being the Prime Minister’s wife one day.” And I said, “What about being the Prime Minister!” That was the difference between her generation and mine.

But having that conviction didn’t stop me feeling very nervous before I walked into an important meeting. That can also happen to a man of course, but I know for me having the courage to get over that came later in life. If I could talk to my younger self I’d tell her, don’t worry about being seen to blow your own trumpet, take every opportunity you can and tell people what you’re good at.

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Mishal at her dad Tazi's north London home in 2013. Image: Getty Images

If I could relive any day of my life it would be my wedding day in London in 2003. We had a registry office marriage the day before, then a Muslim wedding. I married someone I’d known for many, many years. It was very emotional. I was in pale pink, a traditional Pakistani three-part outfit. And my mother gave me some family jewellery. Everyone sets out on their wedding day full of hope and expectation and happiness and when I look back on it, 15 years down the line, I just feel so grateful for that decision and to have spent the last 15 years with that person. It would be wonderful to relive that day with all those emotions, but also knowing things will work out between us.

If I could have one last conversation with someone, it would be with my father. He died two years ago and it had a major impact on me. I’d want to ask him why he felt so strongly that… Twelve years old is very young to be sent thousands of miles away to boarding school. It must have been a hard decision to make. I’d want to ask him if he ever wondered if he’d done the right thing.

I’d also want to tell him his death made me think so much about the way I am and where that comes from. I don’t think I really got to thank him for setting me off on the path I’m on now. You teach your children as much as you can and then you have to let them go, just hoping you’ve given them what they need to make the best of their lives. So I’d want to tell him, I think you did a decent job.

Mishal Husain’s book The Skills: From First Job To Dream Job is out now (Fourth Estate, £16.99)

Image: BBC