A meeting with a violent male-dominated teenage gang set TV news presenter Suzanne Virdee on a mission to help free vulnerable young girls from vicious online abuse, while empowering them to be the best they can be
Suzanne Virdee is known to millions as the face of TV news. The Solihull-born journalist who grew up in Edgbaston has covered many of the major local, national and international news stories during her time as a presenter, first with BBC and now with ITV. But, we wonder, is there more to reading the news than… well… just reading the news? Do any of the stories go deeper than merely being words to read off the autocue? For Suzanne, the answer is a big, firm “Yes!”
Five years ago, she went to cover an event set up by police to work with teenage gangs looking into the causes of street violence and how to reduce it. What Suzanne found surprising, intriguing and concerning was the police’s description of the relationship between violent young males and teenage girls who seemed to feel the need to attach themselves to the gang culture.
Suzanne wanted to know more about the relationships that create such apparently blind loyalty – and what she discovered led her to write about the growing perils of social media pressure and cyber-bullying facing young girls, and how they should confront it in a book entitled A Girl’s Guide To Being Fabulous!
That was then, and this is now… because Suzanne has just released her second book, A Girl’s Guide To Being Awesome. The new book is billed as empowering girls not to just survive their teen years but to thrive by tackling all the tricky topics that growing up in the 21st Century brings – including how to deal with the 24/7 noise of social media, the impact of easily accessible online porn, relationships, body image and self-esteem, plus how to cope with the pressure of school work and working out what you want to achieve in life. “My book is a girl’s personal cheerleader – because it informs, inspires, and boosts confidence,” said Suzanne. “My message to all girls is that it doesn’t matter where you are now, it’s where you’re going that counts.”
Suzanne’s own journey has seen her progress from working on local papers at 18 to regional dailies and radio before a long period working at BBC News with the likes of Nick Owen and then onto ITV London and national news programmes. She lives in Redditch with her professional photographer husband Andrew and says she feels “privileged” that Birmingham has given many opportunities during her career, allowing her to meet everyone from Prime Ministers to pop stars as well as the public at large.
Of her books, she says: “The first one was self-published, but the new one has been produced by a proper publisher and the content is more interactive for the times. When I did the first book people wouldn’t talk much about the pressures on young girls, now everyone is more aware of it. Lots of things have come out in the past few years that had been hidden for so long – like the sexual assaults going on in our schools.”
The huge rise in vicious trolling and cyber bullying on social media is well reported in the media these days and is particularly highlighted when the targets are high-profile celebrities such as Little Mix’s Jesy Nelson, who admitted on a recent TV documentary that fat-shaming from online trolls had made her want to die. Suzanne said: “Jesy talked about how she was bombarded on social media which had gotten to her to the point of desperation. She also explained how she had learned that she had to just block them.
“I love social media, but it’s about working out how it affects you as an individual. If girls are fearful, then just don’t look at it. If you feel you are addicted to it, don’t be. It’s so easy for young girls to get sucked into what they should be like when they see so many gorgeous-looking people on social media.”
Suzanne is talking to safe-guarding organisations such as Cherished Birmingham as well as reaching out to councils to get her book into the hands of vulnerable teenage girls and says she would also love to see her guide turned into a series of TV films or podcasts.
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 40 per cent of the population under 25 and Suzanne said: “I want our next generation of girls to feel as happy here as I did growing up and inspired too to achieve their dreams.” To become awesome, in fact…