Sophie Turner Laing
MY LIFE IN MEDIA
Sophie Turner Laing, 47, is Sky’s managing director for entertainment, giving her overall responsibility for all Sky channels except news and sport. She began her television career working in programme sales and went on to found HiT Entertainment, which has since produced popular children’s shows including Fraggle Rock, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder. She is a director of the History Channel and a trustee of Bafta. She lives in London with her husband and two children.
What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?
My first job was as a secretary for the Variety Club of Great Britain. Barkers at the time included such luminaries as Lords Grade and Delfont and Eric Morley, providing a colourful insight into the entertainment industry. After an 18-month stint working in PR and radio in Australia, I started working for The Muppet Show. Jim Henson was quite simply one of the most talented individuals I’ve ever been fortunate enough to meet. He had the most amazing ability to attract a huge range of exceptional people to work with him – whether on screen or behind the camera. The StoryTeller was a prime example – involving Duncan Kenworthy, Anthony Minghella, Steve Barron and many more. We sold The Muppet Show to over 140 countries – in what other business do you get to meet so many different people and cultures? That exposure and curiosity for the world has stayed with me.
When you were 15 years old which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?
The Times, The Daily Telegraph and Financial Times. My father was a stockbroker so watching share prices was an early habit.
And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?
Serious classics – Doctor Who, The Sweeney, The Professionals and Tales of the Unexpected – were in full swing, but it was the comedy shows The Two Ronnies and Fawlty Towers that I remember as if it were yesterday. Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg were must- listen stations.
Describe your job.
My role is to put entertainment at the heart of our content alongside our sports and news channels, giving customers more reasons to join Sky. I support a strong team of channel heads as they deliver on their vision and ensure we deliver the best and most innovative programming from Ross Kemp in Afghanistan on Sky1 to Song Book on Sky Arts and Lorraine Kelly’s DNA Stories on Sky Real Lives, plus a movies service that offers more than 850 films a month. I am also chair of the Cultural Diversity Network, which is launching a new mentoring scheme this month to help talented individuals from black, minority and ethnic groups reach senior decision-making roles in the TV industry.
What’s the first media you turn to in the mornings?
Radio 4 or Heart FM, depending on the traffic and the weather. I read our press clippings religiously as well as feedback posted on forums like Digital Spy, SkyUser and AVForums. I always scan the main papers but save my reading of The Times, The Guardian and the Daily Mail for car journeys. Leisurely paper reading is usually a weekend-only luxury.
Do you consult any media sources during the day?
MediaGuardian, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter online. My office has nine TV screens so I can keep an eye on our output and the competition.
What do you tune into when you get home?
I rarely watch scheduled TV, but currently stacked on my Sky+ HD planner (when I can get space from my children’s endless recordings of America’s Next Top Model and football) is House of Saddam, CSI, the film The Bucket List and The X Factor.
What is the best thing about your job?
The people, and the organisation’s “can do” spirit.
And the worst?
The commute along the A4 and the zero shoe shopping in Isleworth.
How do you feel you influence the media?
Quietly. It’s about making things happen and getting things done.
What’s the proudest achievement in your working life?
Managing to combine two things: setting up HiT Entertainment in 1989 and having my son Alex – two babies in one year. Both have turned out just fine.
And what’s your most embarrassing moment?
Unprintable in a quality broadsheet.
What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?
The Sunday Times. Other than the trade magazines, I have an eclectic taste: The Economist to Heat with a regular dose of Private Eye.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.
To serve on the board of a FTSE 100 company.
What would you do if you didn’t work in the media?
Run a vineyard from our house in France. However, I would need lottery funding for that ambition.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
Gail Rebuck, chairman and chief executive of Random House. A serious example of someone who combines drive and vision with style and a great sense of humour.
1982 Joins Henson International Television in London, the distribution arm of The Muppet Show creator, Jim Henson
1989 Co-founds HIT Entertainment, a specialist distributor of children’s and natural-history programming
1995 Joins Flextech Television as vice-president of broadcasting
1998 Joins the BBC as controller of the programme acquisition department
2003 Moves to Sky as deputy managing director, Sky channels and services
2007 Appointed Sky’s managing director, entertainment
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