‘Dr Sian Williams leaves as host of Channel 5 News after six years, to explore a wider role and new opportunities.‘
That was the headline last week. It sounds clear, decisive, exciting. But most decisions are full of questions.
Ten years ago, I was wrangling whether I really wanted to leave a place and people that I loved. After 11 years of hosting BBC Breakfast, its bosses announced the show was moving to Salford. I adored the job, and my great friends, Bill Turnbull, Carol Kirkwood, Chris Hollins, Sally Nugent and Steph McGovern. Why else would you get up at 4am for over a decade unless it was to sit next to your mates and help bring the new day to the audience?
I was asked, repeatedly, to move. But one teenage son was in the middle of his A-Levels. The other had just left home. The third, much younger, was still occasionally having fits, after being born without oxygen. My husband’s charity job was in London. My dad lived alone in Sussex after the recent death of my mum. Salford, even with its promise of my best friend’s warm welcome and the excitement of a relaunch, felt too much of a stretch.
While I was thinking, I received two pieces of advice. One, from Chris Evans: “Never leave a show where they value you and you’re still having fun.”
The other, from my friend and later, my Channel 5 colleague, Jeremy Vine: “Don’t leave the pantomime before the end.”
The last came from my son, in the form of a small, brass motto: “The ship is safest in the harbour, but that is not where it is meant to be.”
So, I waved farewell to my colleagues and hoisted my sails, to catch the wind to a new adventure. But there was huge uncertainty (and a lot of ‘what am I doing?’ questions).
Looking back, ten years later, the journey seems more decisive and planned than it sometimes felt. I’ve written a best-selling book about thriving after trauma. I have completed an MSc in Psychology and am now qualified as a Chartered Psychologist after a three-year, full-time doctorate. This involved worked in the NHS with acute cancer patients, with families going through complex trauma, and with adolescents struggling with suicidality at King’s College London.
But there are always storms that can batter you, and these can make you wonder whether you should turn tail, and limp back to the safety of the port. Cancer was one of mine. Coming at the wrong time, disrupting plans, reminding me of mortality. And there was learning in that too, a turning towards the study of the mind that I knew would help me and others.
For the past six years of this, I was also the lead anchor of Channel 5 News. The job of a psychologist happened in the mornings, evenings, weekends and holidays, and being a news anchor took the rest of the work time. In November last year, we relaunched a new, hour-long show, which included a weekly mental health and wellbeing slot called Mind Matters with Dr Sian.
It’s a wonderful job and when, a few months ago, Channel 5 News came to me and asked if I’d extend my contract for another couple of years. This made me pause. In news, I have a safe berth. It’s a job I love, with a team I admire.
But I am also doing more as a psychologist, seeing colleagues returning from Ukraine, counselling clients outside the news, on issues as varied as grief, sexual trauma or chronic anxiety. I’ve undergone more trauma training, as an EMDR therapist (eye movement desensitisation reprocessing) and am hosting conferences, workshops, and lectures on resilience and growth.
In that pause, I looked at the motto: ‘The ship is safest in the harbour, but that is not where it is meant to be’.
Ans so – here we are. Thursday 31 March, my last day presenting Channel 5 News. I’ll still be hosting my weekly ‘Mind Matters with Dr Sian’ at 5 pm, and doing projects and documentaries for C5, ITN and others. There’s radio, too, my first love and where it all started 35 years ago. But once again, I’m heading out to the open water for a new adventure.
If you are a fellow traveller, let’s hoist the sail while the wind is fair. It might get choppy at times, but I promise, exciting new horizons await…
Here are a few links explaining more:
Broadcast: Sian Williams to depart Channel 5 news