15 Years at Sky Sports Ruined My Life; Sexism Is the Norm at TV Channel Says Woman Who Lost Her Home after She Was Reduced to a Nervous Wreck by Stress

Article excerpt

Byline: by Polly Dunbar

FOR most women, the only feasible reaction was disgust. After all, the sexist comments made by Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys demonstrated the sort of casual chauvinism it might be hoped had long been consigned to history.

The fact they were made in the workplace, made them all the more wildly inappropriate and offensive. But one woman was watching with satisfaction. It wasn't that Vanessa Bridger condoned the behaviour of Keys and Gray - far from it.

Having worked with them for many years, she had experienced the bitter humiliation of their constant putdowns and narrow-minded 'jokes' more times than she cares to remember. For Vanessa, the revelations of the past week felt like the ultimate vindication. 'I saw it all unfold and just thought, "Yes",' she says.

'For so long, Keys and Gray have been allowed to treat women like dirt, and I'm so glad that now they've been exposed for what they are: ignorant bullies.'

Gray was sacked from his [pounds sterling]1.7m role on Tuesday after footage leaked to the press last week showed him and Keys making comments about female football linesman Sian Massey's appearance and her ability to understand the offside rule. Gray, 55, was also later seen inviting colleague Charlotte Jackson to tuck a microphone down his trousers.

Keys, 53, resigned his [pounds sterling]500,000-a-year post on Wednesday. Yesterday, his wife Julia ignited speculation about their marriage by posing for photographs without her wedding ring. She said she was on the verge of making a public statement, and suggested cryptically that what she intended to say would be dependent 'on what happens today'.

Vanessa believes the problems at Sky Sports run deeper than just Gray and Keys, however. 'Sexism and bullying is a culture which can be found throughout Sky Sports,' she says. 'When you work there, it's so accepted that you think it's normal. But it's damaged so many people, and it has to stop. Maybe now it will.'

Vanessa, 43, dedicated 15 years to working for Sky, having joined the broadcaster shortly after its launch as a four-channel network in 1989.

As a production assistant and later a director, she often put in 12-hour days.

Yet she says the treatment she received as a woman at Sky chipped away at her, eroding her confidence to the extent that she began to suffer severe anxiety and depression.

So debilitating was her illness that she was forced to give up her job in 2004 and has since been unable to work, relying on sickness benefits.

Shaky and tearful, she admits she is still a 'nervous wreck' and is on several medications. She finds it difficult to believe she will ever be capable of returning to television.

'What happened to me ruined my life,' she says. 'Because I couldn't work, I lost everything - my marriage broke down, I went bankrupt and I lost my house.

'For years, even the sound of the Sky Sports News music could make me feel panicky and sick.'

Vanessa's career at Sky began by accident. At 19, she accepted a temporary position in the marketing department of what was then the Sky Channel, a loss-making satellite network.

Having quickly acquired a reputation for being hard-working and efficient, she was offered training as a graphics operator at Eurosport, a channel Sky initially invested in before the launch of Sky Sports in 1991.

'The start of Sky Sports was an amazing time. Everything we did was new and innovative,' she says. 'At the start, my job was to put down on paper all the timings of the programme, second by second, so the crew knew precisely when everything would happen.

'But over time, I was given more and more responsibility. I worked alongside one director for everything, and watched everything he did until I could see what he saw - the tiny details which need attention in order for a show to run smoothly. …