Suzi Perry on working the lights at the Grand Theatre, a love of live music and curries… and why F1’s glamour will never go to her head
Who wouldn’t want to be Suzi Perry? Jetting around the world in the slipstream of the most glamorous sport on the planet, Formula One. Chatting it up with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button one minute, rubbing shoulders with the world’s richest and most famous stars and playboys the next. Pure dreamsville…. Well, it’s really not quite like that. Sure, Suzi is on very matey terms with the likes of Lewis and yes, she does get to meet the A-listers the rest of us would never get within the start-finish straight of seeing. But while Suzi readily admits she adores her job fronting BBC’s Grand Prix shows, she makes no bones about the fact that it’s also ‘bloody hard work’.
“I’m away from home for 20 weeks of the year, travelling around the world,” she says. So when she gets the chance to come back to Britain, as she did just last month for the British GP, it’s a real treat. What’s more, being based at Silverstone she’s handily place to ‘revisit’ her Birmingham roots. Suzi was brought up in Wolverhampton (she’s still an avid Wolves fan) where she attended Smestow School and had an after-hours job working with the lighting at the Grand Theatre. She went on to study business and finance at the local Poly (now the University of Wolverhampton). After graduating, a short stint of fashion modeling in Japan and making commercials across Europe (one was for Kenco coffee) got Suzi used to travelling, an attribute that was to prove highly useful when she entered the world of TV – first as a sports reporter with Sky TV. She became the first woman to present the World Superbikes series and speedway, and then most famously to front BBC’s MotoGP motorcycle coverage for 13 years. Her CV also includes The Gadget Show, Superstars and Treasure Hunt among many others.
Her formative Midlands roots remain hugely important to Suzi. Both her parents were self-employed and worked really hard. Her father was a music promoter and had to spend some time in the States when Suzi was growing up. Her mum worked for a cosmetics company from home. It was all far from plain sailing though when her father’s business went under and her parents were suddenly bankrupt. That’s when she says she learned that if you want something in life you have to go and make it happen. “Follow your gut instincts.” Putting the hard work ethic into practice, Suzi spent her spare time as a stage electrician at the Grand Theatre while still at school, earning £120 for six nights a week – not bad for a 15-year-old. Three years later at 18 she started her own business making merchandise for bands. “I grew up surrounded by music because of my father and my godfather Mel Galley from Whitesnake. My love of live music remains with me,” she says. “A great gig followed by a curry is the best night out. I’m a big fan of Motown, Seventies’ West Coast artists; The Eagles, James Taylor, Carol King, Joe Cocker… and the Eighties too. It’s a long eclectic list.” Just as Suzi loves live music, she’s also an addict for live TV. “My passion is for live broadcasting, whatever the platform. It wakens the senses. Working for BBC covering Formula One is just a dream. I was thrilled when they asked me. I’ve always adored working in the sporting arena, particularly motorsport and the pitlane. I give 100 per cent of myself to present the best shows possible. It’s a tough but incredible job.”
With such a positive ‘live it now’ outlook, Suzi isn’t one for regrets. She does admit to one ‘probably bad decision’ when turning down the chance to be part of the original Top Gear team with Jeremy Clarkson. At the time of writing, however, it seemed there was a chance it may have come full circle – as the national media was filled with reports of Suzi being lined up to co-present the ‘new’ Top Gear with Chris Evans. Life looks like remaining as glamorous as ever for the fastest lady on TV. “Yes, there are pinch moments when I think: Wow this is so special. But I’m from Wolverhampton – we’ve all got our feet on the ground,” says Suzi.