Guardian Weekend – Sian Williams: My Family Values

The journalist and television presenter talks about her love of all things Welsh and her mother’s generosity of spirit.

My mother, Kathy, was a nurse for 40 years. If there is anything I hope I’ve inherited from her, it would be her compassion and generosity of spirit. She died in 2009 of liver cancer. She was only 70. When she knew it was terminal, she protected us from that initially. She always thought of others first.

My father, John, has an insatiable appetite for knowledge. He’s 76, fiercely intelligent and an inspiration. When my mum died, he couldn’t cook. Instead of buying ready-meals, he enrolled on a cookery course. He enjoyed it so much that he progressed to a Cordon Bleu course. Now he’s doing a degree in modern history. That’s how he tackles life – with a fierce determination and a belief that there’s always something you can learn. I’d like to think that I’ve inherited that philosophy and, at 48, I started a master’s degree in psychology, which I’m just finishing.

Because I was born in England, I feel I’ve let the side down. I’m the only person in our vast family tree born outside Wales since records began 350 years ago. I make my kids sing the Welsh national anthem whenever Wales are playing rugby, even if we’re in a pub and they’re wearing England shirts.

I was a tomboy and climbed trees and played Knock Down Ginger with my twin brothers, David and Peter, who are three years younger. We squabbled and fought a lot but are now very close. They’ve inherited my mum’s compassion – one works for the NHS, the other fights for victims of mesothelioma.

My father is a stickler for grammar and facts. He’d test my brothers and me on history and geography over Sunday lunch. He’d also test us on grammar. For years, I could hear my father saying things such as: “It’s not over 100, it’s more than 100. You must know the difference.”

Mine was a happy childhood and I spent lots of time on Eastbourne’s pebbly seafront. Nothing ever came without a big dollop of learning attached to it. I was less excited about our Sunday walks on the Sussex Downs because my brothers and I always wanted to watch a film. Sometimes, Uncle David, who’s an archaeologist, came along and he’d pick up stones and tell us about them. Our march to the top of the hill became a history lesson, too.

There were strict rules in our house. My dad worked away from home a lot so my mum enforced the discipline. There were rules, such as not wearing makeup until I was 18; I couldn’t have pierced ears or stay out late. I had the same boyfriend from 16 to 21 and he had to ensure I was dropped off at a regular time. It was all very proper.

I’ve adopted their work ethic. When I was growing up, I knew that every time the phone rang and Dad was home, I’d lose him to work. Hearing it made me sad because it meant he’d been called back for a news story.

My father told me not to become a journalist or join the BBC – I did both. He dropped out of university to become a regional journalist, then went to Fleet Street, before joining BBC radio news. Dad knew how unpredictable and demanding it is.

If I only do one thing well, I hope it’s that I’m a good mother to my children Joss, 22, Alex, 20, Seth, seven, Eve, five and my stepdaughter, Emily, who’s 17. I’d like them to grow up to be sensitive, caring and loving, just like my mother. When I first became pregnant, I’d only just started working at the BBC in London. Mum was dancing around the kitchen with excitement and Dad said “What about your job?”

Richard Webber

• Sian Williams presents Sunday Morning Live on BBC1


This article first appeared in the Guardian on 29 August 2014.