My Glasgow: Interview with Jean Johansson

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Television presenter and journalist Jean Johansson is from Port Glasgow but grew up in Glasgow and still calls the city home. She is a reporter on The One Show and one of the presenters of hugely popular BBC daytime programme Animal Park. It’s been a busy year for Jean as she has also joined the team on BBC Scotland country magazine show Landward and co-hosts financial advice programme Life Moments for STV. Her column appears every weekend in the Sunday Mail.

Jean burst onto our screens after winning a nationwide search for a presenter which led to a long and successful career with CBBC and The Disney Channel.

She lives in Glasgow with her husband, professional football player turned coach Jonatan Johansson and their six year old son junior.

We talked to Jean about her career and favourite places in her hometown.

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You divide your time between Glasgow and London, and previously lived in London for a while. Are there particular things you you miss about home or notice when you are away?

When I’m in London, it’s just so hectic, even more so than when lived there almost ten years ago now. When I go back it just seems to be getting busier, and you spend half the time just getting on and off packed Tube trains. That’s probably the main difference.

I never moan about traffic in Glasgow and I never moan about Buchanan Street being busy because I just know the difference. You can barely get down Oxford Street now, so I just like the slower pace of life at home and the fact that you can have a stroll without being stressed out about banging into people or trying to weave your way through a crowd.

I’ve really got the best of both worlds, because London’s a 24 hour city and that’s one of the positive things about it. If you want to go and get a late table for dinner like I did last time I was there – we went to an event then went to dinner at 11 o’clock at night. I loved that.

You don’t mean you went for a chippy?

[laughs] No, I mean sit down for a nice meal. Most restaurants in central London have an 11 o’clock sitting so you go in and it’s busy and buzzy and there’s always interesting characters out that time of night as well. So, I like the 24 hour vibe on London.

Everything sort of shuts down in Glasgow after a certain time and that’s unfortunate. It would be nice to have more all-hours cafés or just a place to go at the end of the night.

What do you like best about living in Glasgow?

The people. I love Glasgow people. I’m from Port Glasgow originally but I’ve grown up in Glasgow, it’s my home city. I love the banter, I love their vibe, the friendliness. I really do think it’s one of the friendliest cities in the world.

People are warm, always willing to help you out, always happy to see you, I think. Call me biased, but I’ve lived away from Glasgow and can appreciate that it’s a special place. It still has a real stamp of Scottishness on it as well, a distinctiveness.

You basically talk to people from lots of different backgrounds for a living, so you can probably say with some authority that when you come back and you have a conversation in Glasgow, then that’s a different kind of chat.

Oh, for sure, and in my work life as well. I go to some big events in London and last year I went to the Scottish BAFTA Awards in Glasgow and the vibe was completely different. Even though there were still some A-List people and big celebrities there, because they were Scottish and some from Glasgow, it was so relaxed, everybody was out to have fun.

It wasn’t about getting selfies or Instagram and everything, it was like, right, let’s all get steaming and have a laugh and celebrate the night. And I always think it’s just a really good energy. When people are out in Glasgow, they’re spending money and they want to have a good night, they want to have a good time so that’s sort of the vibe I’m always on when I’m out in the city centre.

That’s exactly it. You always have a good night when you go out in Glasgow.

So, how about restaurants and cafes that are some of your favourites, or places you identify with around the city?

Well, I’ve just discovered Six By Nico which is just fabulous. I just loved every bite of every course in that restaurant, it was amazing, and I’m loving the whole Finnieston thing that’s happening.

The Crab Shakk and The Gannet. Chelsea Market, I go there for breakfast sometimes. So, yeah, I really love that there’s a foodie scene growing in Glasgow because I don’t think we’ve ever really had that.

I like buzzy places so I like to walk in and hear people chatting and feel that there’s a vibe. I like 29 because I love sitting and looking over Royal Exchange Square. I think that’s a really nice place to sit and eat.

If I was just in town on a Saturday, I’d grab a bite anywhere in Princes Square. Darcy’s is great, been around for decades as well, it’s always good to see everything there.

Il Pavone, across the way from Darcy’s, it’s a little bit more expensive but, you know, if I’m with my mum and we fancy a glass of wine and a nice plate of pasta after we’ve been shopping, Il Pavone’s one of our old favourites.

My absolute favourite Glasgow hangout is the Merchant Pride Bar. You can find me in there on a Saturday to see the set by Glasgow diva Barbara Bryceland. Àlways a lovely atmosphere and its always hard to get me off the dancefloor.

Sometimes I use Blythswood Square Hotel on a Monday for Millenial Mondays, when they offer free tea and coffee and welcome bloggers and creatives to use the bar for meetings, writing, blogging and connecting with people.

It’s a great example of a Glasgow venue offering a space to young people who are trying to get businesses or creative ideas off the ground.

I like it because it’s a nice environment for writing my column and meeting friends for a catch up.

Your favourite Glasgow neighbourhoods? Is there a part of town that you always end up gravitating towards?

I really like Dennistoun. A friend of mine lives there and I really like it around there now. There’s a fabulous new restaurant called Bilson Eleven. It’s probably a year old now which I hope is going to encourage some new restaurants to open around there as well.

Nearby, there’s Drygate Brewery and Coia’s Café and it just seems to be quite young round there and diverse which is nice as well. You’re hearing different languages and seeing different types of people so Dennistoun’s quite a cool place. But really, I love Buchanan Street, Royal Exchange Square, Merchant City.

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Your entry into the media was through a search to find a new presenter, before reality contests and that kind thing.

Yeah, it was, it was a search for a new face. They should have filmed it at the time. It would have made a good show. This was way before X Factor or anything like that. It was amazing, and it’s a shame because they do that for singers but for not for actors and presenters now.

They just try to turn reality stars into presenters. That’s the route into telly these days. So, it was a unique way of casting and I think they should be doing that a lot more to get more diverse talent and more regional talent into television, because out of that presenter search, they got a presenter from Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast so it’s a good way to get diversity.

You were also thrown in at the deep end, it was straight into live broadcasts, a lot of it was you and a camera under pressure.

I was thrown in! Well, my first show went out to 2.2 million people. You don’t really get numbers like that these days unless you’re a big, big show. It was a good way to start though. Just people having trust and it’s a shame now it seems to be the same old faces and they always go for a safe pair of hands.

I didn’t have a clue what I was doing back then but I had good people at BBC Scotland who took time to mould me and work on my presenting skills and my interviewing skills and my voice. They really coached me and they had the time to try and mould a presenter from scratch, so I was lucky I came through at a good time.

With your reports for The One Shows and other programmes, do you like the part of your job that involves going to meet people and find their story?

Oh, absolutely and I love that a lot of my stories are Scottish as well. I did the story about the legacy of the Barrowlands and it’s my favourite One Show film. It got the biggest response as well.

I’d grown up going to the Barras on a Saturday and I never knew any of the history or how it came about. You don’t ask when you’re a teenager, I just used to go there and enjoy the banter.

To go and chat to people who have had stalls there for decades and hear about Maggie McIvor who started it all up and who was a real pioneer and a strong, female businesswoman in her time and she set up the ballroom, it’s just amazing.

And I loved chatting to people on the day because everybody had stories. Not all of them made them into the film, probably because of legal issues.. Everybody was really open. I showed up at the Barras with the crew and they could have been hostile or unwelcoming. You know, this BBC crew flying up from London, but I think they heard one line out of me and thought it was one of their own so they ended up making a really nice film and everybody was generous with all their information and stories.

That’s probably my strongest point, chatting to people and that’s all I do really. I’m just a person that likes talking and I like being talked to as well. I’m lucky that that’s what I do for a living.

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With your work on Animal Park, has that opened you up to the rural way of life?

Totally, Salisbury and Wiltshire, I’ve fallen in love with that part of the country and just that rural lifestyle. When I’m down there I live in a country pub that’s got rooms upstairs so that’s really nice to just wake up early, get my wellies on and go out into the safari park and see what stories we find. It has opened my eyes.

Then there’s Landward, where I’ve done things like snorkelling in Loch Gairloch on a day where I was just blown away by the white sand beaches, warm water and just the beauty of Scotland. Landward has opened my eyes to the country from top to bottom and we need to make an effort as a family, me, Jonatan and Junior, to get out and see more of our own country rather than jumping on a plane to London or going off somewhere. There’s so much to do here.

Do you think there is a strong creative scene in Glasgow?

I work for the Scottish Fashion Awards, I’m an ambassador for them. I’ve hosted for a few years I see some of the young designers coming through, There’s a lot of creativity. I love this great company called Tens that make sunglasses.

Iolla in Finnieston make stylish glasses. Lynn McCrossan’s got a great cashmere line.There’s a great candle company called Candelle & Co.

So, there’s just lots going on. Some of my friends that I hang around with are very creative. Edward Reid is a singer and performer, Gary Lamont is an actor – he is writing and producing and has just taken a show to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Being around people like that is really inspiring and they’re real Glasgow boys as well which are my favourite kind of men, you know. Funny, down to earth, working class and very, very talented. So those are the kind of people that I find quite inspiring and like to be around. We’re all from Glasgow.

We’ve all gone off and worked in America and London and loads of other places, but we’ve all ended up back near home so that’s nice.

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Thinking about what you were saying earlier about regional stories, are these the ones that you try to champion when you are pitching ideas for The One Show?

It’s so important. I’m always pushing it for The One Show. That Barras story was a real example of connecting with people and I’m sure loads of Scottish people tuned in and went “I know that market and I never knew that” and just loved hearing their own accents and seeing their own people on telly.

I also did a story that hasn’t come out yet about the Ben Cruachan Hydro-Electric Scheme that was built into a mountain over Loch Lomond way.

I got to interview two of the men who originally built that back in the 50s and were down there knocking through the mountain and it was a really nice story because they’re kind of unrecognised for this amazing piece of work.

They’re just normal Glasgow guys that were sent down there to do something quite extraordinary. It’s nice to have a good, positive story coming out of the west of Scotland so it was really important to me and I’ll always try to keep an ear out and try and pitch things that are suitable for a national audience as well.

That’s the difference. When it’s national, it has to be able to translate and go across the whole country. That’s the trick I think but I’ll absolutely continue to pitch and listen out for great local stories.

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