Lee McKenzie is one of the biggest names associated with the world of broadcasting, journalism and presenting. From gracing the Formula 1 circuit as being one of the key names in the paddock to taking on the role of a senior reporter for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Lee McKenzie leads an extremely busy life.
“2016 was the busiest year I have ever had and I didn’t get to spend a whole amount of time at home or in any one place, apart from Rio! ” McKenzie told me. “When you get offered such an incredible range of sports and TV programmes that I am passionate about, you would do what you can to present and work on them. Days or years like that don’t come around often.”
With that in mind, Lee McKenzie has racked up an impressive amount of air miles in her career. Yet, she recognises that it is important to spend the time travelling resourcefully.
“I read or write or prep for the work that I will be doing either when I get there or for whatever work I am coming back to,” she said. “You always need to be ahead of what you are working on.”
Motorsport, tennis, equestrian, rugby, Formula 1 and athletics – these are just a few of the sports that Lee McKenzie has commentated on, presented or wrote about. The sports she covers are incredibly diverse, and with that there comes a vast field of information that she has to retain.
“I would say I only really regularly cover rugby, tennis, equestrian and F1,” McKenzie commented. “I enjoy reading and watching these anyway, but the amount of preparation that goes in is huge – particularly before an Olympics, Paralympics or Commonwealth Games.”
Last year saw Channel 4 take over the rights to air Formula 1 from the BBC. Lee, who was previously part of the travelling BBC F1 team, joined Channel 4 along with co-presenters David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan.
“The transition was smooth as many behind the scenes people are exactly the same,” Lee said. “That is why it has the same professional feel but with a different twist. There is no doubt that is an altogether different programme to watch, though!”
With her role in Formula 1, McKenzie has the pleasure of interviewing drivers, team personnel as well as legends of the sport. From Hamilton to Ricciardo, to Alonso and Raikkonen, McKenzie has the task of chatting to them all post-race, no matter their individual outcomes.
“I like interviewing people like Sir Stirling Moss, Emerson, Sir Jackie. Drivers like these guys and particularly the older generations take us all into a world which I haven’t seen before unless I watch their races back. The stories they have are wonderful.
“I would have loved to have met Ayrton Senna. My Father was at his funeral but I didn’t ever get to say hello to him even. I got on well with Michael Schumacher and he was always wonderful to interview. We had a lot of fun.”
Every journalist, however, dreads the time when their question is either blanked or misinterpreted completely. This can be difficult, especially with international competitors from all four corners of the planet speaking a second or even third language of English.
“I knew a lot of drivers before they got to F1 so I am in a good position,” McKenzie explained. “I see what chatty drivers to me are often like with other journalists and nationalities and sometimes I cringe. It goes both ways though and sometimes they shut down on me too.
“Obviously Lewis (Hamilton) and Sebastian (Vettel) are good speakers and neither hang back with their opinions, which is always good.
“Divers might say your question isn’t relevant and move on and you either ask why it isn’t or let it go depending on why you’ve asked it and who it is.”
Lee McKenzie proved she was an all-rounder when she appeared as a co-driver in the World Rally championships. After ITV posed a challenge to her in 2004, McKenzie competed in several rounds of the World Rally Championships in 2004 and the Norweigan Mountain rally in 2005. From the challenge being set to her racing debut, she had just three months to obtain her racing licence and learn as much as she could before taking to the rally stages.
“It was for a programme on ITV orgininally. I did a lot of rallies in the UK competing in Rally GB and I also competed in Mountain Rally Norway, which was incredible.
Would Lee ever swap her broadcasting shoes for a pair of racing boots again? No, she wouldn’t.
“I was there so I could get coverage…but I was better than people thought and I could have done a bit more if I had wanted. It just takes time though, which is something I am not blessed with at the moment. I did make some lifelong friends from it!”
McKenzie’s career began when he was just a teenager, and since then she has achieved a vast amount.
“A knock back is the same in any career,” she said. “I have been told to improve, how I can improve. I haven’t got jobs that I thought I should have got, but I can’t do anything about that apart from be even better in the future and constantly improve. Give people no chance to ignore you the next time!”
Finally, when asked what one piece of advice she would give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in media, she said:
“Never want to be a presenter. I am a journalist who happens to be on TV. Work hard; I worked at a local newspaper on my weekends from the age of 15. Graft, be a good journalist on the news desk before you turn to sport. Get a good grasp of the basics, law for journalists, shorthand the things that set you apart from the rest.”