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Faith in Practice

Getting the call

Richard Woodall

At Blue Peter Simon Thomas went sky diving with the RAF Falcons, racing with the world's top sprinters, and to meet the Queen to award her one of the show's celebrated badges. He now presents football programmes for Sky Sports.

Being able to watch sport for a living is the best part of my job. No job is perfect but I am very fortunate to be doing what I am doing and my faith gives me that perspective where I know it could all be gone tomorrow.

I remember when I got the job at Blue Peter, everyone there said 'Welcome to the family' and it was like a very exclusive club. In many ways the atmosphere reflected the show, and I guess that's how it was meant to be. But when I joined Sky, it was very different. It's all live television and you have little time to get to know anyone because everyone has a job to do.

At Blue Peter, I got a taste of being famous. At first it was a massive novelty but as the years went on it didn't really matter to me as much as the job itself. At Blue Peter, you rehearsed for four hours for a 24-minute show, whereas at Sky Sports News you sit down on a chair at 10am for a shift, and once you've read through the scripts you're ready to go on air. A lot of people just think you sit there and read, and when it's dull you do, but when you're reacting to news stories you're on your own. Presenting is where you earn your corn.

It's impossible to compare the two jobs. Blue Peter's experience is unbeatable and whatever I've done on Sky is never going to quite match that, but I knew that. With Blue Peter, it's the ridiculous life you lead, it's very strange. I was about to head to Belize 10 days after returning from holiday to do some filming. On my way back home, I got a call from the office asking if I had any plans for the following week. They said: 'Have you heard about this new film Finding Nemo?' I hadn't, but they wanted to fly me out to Australia on Monday to dive the Barrier Reef. You just can't compare anything with that.

At Blue Peter, it wasn't that difficult to be a Christian. But SkySports is a different beast. It's quite a macho environment and it's more difficult to stick your head above the parapet. When I was at Blue Peter I was talked about for being a Christian more. When I landed the job, the papers went to town on the fact I was a vicar's son becauseI was replacing Richard Bacon. The News of the World was outside my Dad's door and asked him if he had any shots of me in a choir boy's outfit - but I'd never sung in a choir in my life! I'd done a beach mission in Cromer and Big Breakfast talked about me as a beach-walking Bible Basher.

In my current job I sometimes feel compromised in certain areas - one at the moment being betting. This is particularly so during ad breaks. Presenting a game of football doesn't compromise you; it's the other bits around it which can be tricky.

Before I got my chance on Blue Peter, I was working in Selfridges, was a runner for CBBC (and had applied for a job there but didn't get it). I'd spent three years trying to get on Blue Peter but I felt like it wasn't going anywhere so I ended up working for the Oasis Trust for a year doing some PR, but it just wasn't for me.

One Sunday, a mate asked if I'd seen the front of the News of the World. I got it, and the Richard Bacon drugs story was all over it. I waited a week to let the dust settle, sent a showreel in, and said a little prayer. I generally felt this was what I was supposed to be doing. I got the same letter back the same as the previous time but this time there was an additional line which said they were going through all the applications at the moment and that they would be in touch once they'd seen mine.

A couple of weeks later I got an interview where I had to record a piece to camera; this was followed by an audition. There was then this agonising wait. Because of what had happened with Richard Bacon, they were so scared about making the wrong decision in case everything backfired on them again. Thankfully, I got the call. It had been three-and-a-half years from having the dream to getting the job.

When you've worked on Blue Peter, a lot of people say you are made for life and you'll never struggle for work. It's just not true. Halfway through my time on Blue Peter, I thought sport was something I might want to go into. I had lots of meetings with BBC Sport but the guy in charge didn't see a future for me there. I thought I might have been pigeon-holed as a children's presenter but I had an agent at the time and he suggested meeting Sky. They were prepared to take a punt on me.

Growing up, I was always aware of God. But there was one moment when I was seven where I realised I knew God was out there. Our family had gone for a walk in these forests near where I grew up. I loved climbing trees and so was up a tree, but as it started to rain again Mum said we should move to the other side of the clearing. I wondered why as we were not getting rained on, but she just said she really felt we should move to the other side of the clearing. So I did. Seconds after we did get to the other side, there was a sound like a tornado jet, then a huge bang and lots of smoke. A bolt of lightning had blown the tree I was sat in to smithereens.

Later, Mum was asked how she knew we should move. She said she had heard a voice and knew it was God saying we should move. That particular moment was when I thought this faith is real. Some might say it's a coincidence, for me I know it's not. People ask why God chose to save me from that and not others from bad things. I don't know, I can't answer that. I've had the questions every Christian has when they don't understand what he's doing.

As the son of a curate, the thought has crossed my mind about church ministry, but I don't think it's something you suddenly decide you want to do; you need an element of calling to do it. It's not something I am planning to do at moment, but at the same time you can't rule these things out.

Simon Thomas was talking to Richard Woodall