Ollia Horton: alumni profile
What was your path after graduating from CCGS in 1994?
I enrolled straight away in a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Communications at Newcastle University. Key subjects included radio and sound production, Japanese, creative writing, cinema studies, and many more very interesting, eye-opening subjects. I moved up to Newcastle in 1996 and spent most of 96-97 hanging around 2NUR radio station on campus, presenting the weekend news and other programmes. It was a wonderful experience which only confirmed my great love of radio.
At the end of my studies, I knew I wanted to travel for a bit, but the way it came about was quite unexpected. Despite being sure I wanted to spend time in Japan, I met a Frenchman in a pub and as they say, the rest is history. I followed my heart to Paris, but not just to do the usual Europe tour. I decided to stay and learn French, and a one year stint as an aupair turned into 20+ years!
I was a market researcher, a language coach, and I also created my own community radio show in 2008 (Happy Hour on www.idfm98.fr). My Frenchman became my husband in 2007, and we have a daughter, born in 2009. Finally, in 2012, I went back to my roots and got a job with Radio France Internationale English service where I work today. I started as a morning news presenter, and moved onto web and multimedia production, with a particular focus on cultural issues.
You’ve worked for Radio France for 9 years as well as a volunteer bilingual presenter for Radio Enghien for over 13 years. What do you love most about radio as a medium?
Radio is a medium which feels more personal than television and internet. It whispers in your ear, it allows you to develop your imagination, you have to work harder to understand, and I love the way voices sound on the radio. It's a revealing medium, you can't hide behind beautiful make-up, it's authentic. What I love about producing and presenting radio is the adrenalin you feel when doing a live show, it's like being on stage. You prepare in advance, but each time is new and refreshing, and time flies by. It is one of the few moments in life where you are really in the moment, totally focused and alive. Unfortunately, RFI has decided to restructure and we no longer have a daily broadcast. Instead we produce video content and podcasts as well as a range of news articles and features.
What has the highlight of your career been to date?
There have been many high points, but I think when I first realised I was being paid to be on air (in 2012) it was a total thrill. To hear the jingles, and give the signal to the technicians on the other side of the glass panel, and wonder who around the world might be listening – seeing as RFI has an international audience, be it in Africa or India or the US. More recently, I would say covering the Cannes 2021 film festival was an enormous privilege and a very enriching experience.
Tell us about your experience of travelling to Cannes to cover the Cannes Film Festival?
Cannes is every bit the legendary place you imagine it to be. Glamorous, palm trees swaying, beach parties, open air restaurants, and cinema stars on the red carpet ! I had never been to Cannes before, despite all these years in France. It's an interesting place, very vibrant in terms of art and culture and has a rich heritage and a lovely natural setting. Of course it's very built up and touristy, but that's part of the fun.
The 2021 festival was a little different this year as it was held in July, not May, so it was extremely hot and sticky and more tourists were there, although not as many as usual due to Covid-19 restrictions in place. I organised some interviews in advance, and then crossed my fingers for surprise opportunities. It was a crazy schedule between recording interviews, writing up articles, taking photos for social media and rushing out to see the films in the line up.
My highlights include meeting some fascinating people such as Jean-Claude Jitrois, a French fashion designer who created a dress for one of the actresses to wear. I bumped into the South African adventurer Mike Horn, who was happy to record an impromptu interview. And on the second last day, an agent called me to see if I wanted to interview Bill Murray (gasp!) and his musician friends who were promoting a film about a concert they did together in Athens, during which Murray sings (!!) and recites poetry (yes he did!). It's called New Worlds: Cradle of Civilization – it's quite out there.
What are you passionate about?
You've probably guessed by now that live radio is my passion, and in particular, interviews with interesting people who come from different walks of life and different places in the world. I like creating an on-air melting pot, with humour, music and sharing stories. I am passionate about meeting people and learning about things I didn't know before. I would also say I'm passionate about artistic endeavours in general and I love interviewing budding talents.
Reading, writing, drawing, music, painting are also important to me. Finally, being in touch with nature. Sometimes nothing beats being able to run down to the sea and jump in the waves for a swim, just like I did growing up on the Central Coast. Being in Paris for so long has made me appreciate my moments in nature all the more and crave them.
What has it been like for you living in France during the COVID-19 pandemic?
After 18 months of doubt, panic, stress, frustration, anger, sadness, questions, vaccines, lockdowns, remote working, homeschooling, it's been a rollercoaster, and somehow we've adapted to each step, and it's kind of become the 'new normal'. Mask-wearing, distancing, showing a vaccine passes, it's all become a part of daily life. We wonder when it will « end » and try to appreciate the small things in life and those around us. I consider myself to be lucky to have had a stable situation throughout the crisis so far. It's not to say it has been easy, but we have not suffered like some. I think the most difficult is not knowing when we can travel again, to come home and see our friends and family far away.
What is one piece of advice you would give to your high school self?
This is a tricky question. I'm tempted to say many things with the gift of hindsight, but actually, when I think about it I would say: Change nothing. Be yourself, have fun.