Yvonne Briggs
Mon, February 6, 2012 at 12:10
Stephanie Hunt

Margie Gill says the most interesting person she knows on the Coffs Coast, is actually not on the coast at the moment, but living in Switzerland.  Margie tells me she’s a sports event broadcaster and has travelled the world working on the Olympic Games, World Cups, Commonwealth Games and other major sporting events.  What a glamorous life!

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The Life Behind the Glamour

Yvonne Briggs makes it plain from the outset that she wants to be seen as something more than her job. “A lot of people see this glamorous lifestyle of World Cups and Olympics, but what is more important to me is my life, my family and friends, and my personal history,” Yvonne writes in an email from Switzerland.   Home for the holidays and sitting comfortably in the sunny Sawtell home she had shared with her partner Andrew, Yvonne launches into the story of her 45 years thus far.  And despite her earlier admonitions we begin with her job.

It is a position with UEFA, the governing body of European football (aka soccer) that has lured Yvonne away from the beaches of Sawtell to the mountains of Switzerland.  She is the Host Broadcast Projects Manager for the TV Production department, working on the global television coverage for all UEFA events, including the European Championships and the Champions League.  It’s a big job, but she comes very well qualified.

Born and raised in England, Yvonne started her  broadcasting career with the BBC at 22.  She quickly advanced to Outside Broadcast Floor Manager in the BBC Sport & Events department: the eyes and ears on the ground to a director perched in a well-cabled TV truck.  She was young and impressionable and found herself at the big matches, mingling with the rich and famous.  She loved the work, but insists it wasn’t glamorous.  “The guys in the UK used to say I had such a great job because I was on the pitch for events like the FA cup final at Wembley or the rugby internationals at Twickenham.  What they never really got was that most of the time it was the middle of winter in England, you were there all day, and it was freezing.  ”

Perhaps to escape the cold, Yvonne and her then husband migrated to Australia in 1997.  It was a perfect time to work in sports broadcasting in Australia.  Yvonne spent the next 2½ years working on the Sydney Olympic Games, first for SOCOG and then for the Sydney Olympic Broadcasting Organisation (SOBO).

Yvonne with her team at the World CupAt this point a lesson in major sports broadcasting:  you may think that if Channel 7 is broadcasting the Olympics that they have coordinated and filmed all the coverage.  Not so!  For major events like the Olympics and the World Cup an independent host broadcaster like SOBO organises the TV venue operations, staffs the production facilities and provides full, unbiased coverage of each and every event.  That feed is then given to channel 7 and other broadcasters around the world who have paid for the rights to that event.

Yvonne found herself responsible for planning and managing worldwide coverage from seven of Sydney’s Olympic venues.  She thrived.  The next 14 years were spent chasing the action with various different host broadcasters – Salt Lake City, Japan, Athens, Beijing, South Africa.  “I’ve done four Olympics, three World Cups….it sounds glam, but believe me, it’s not always as  glamorous as it sounds.  A lot of your time is spent in a temporary office portacabin in the stadium car park.” 

What lies behind this insistence that her life is not glamorous?  “I don’t like talking about myself,” Yvonne says.  And yes, despite her friendly chattiness one can see that Yvonne is reticent to brag about herself.

Yvonne the athletePerhaps she feels that being behind the camera is less important than actually competing.  She is after all an athlete herself, having competed in several marathons, triathlons and the Ironman at Forster.  “I’m nothing special,” she says but I think that might be reticence again.

Perhaps being back in Sawtell she wants to focus on the idea of home.  Yvonne has been living in Sawtell for 8 years, and despite the fact that much of that time has been spent overseas she says this is where she belongs: daily swims with her ‘9 o’clock swimmers’ family, runs on the beach with friends, writing at her desk looking out to the sea: is this the less glamorous life she longs for?

Perhaps the toll her work has taken on her relationships has given her a levelled view of the fast lane, but Yvonne doesn’t want to talk about relationships, some things are too personal.

Then, surprisingly, Yvonne starts to tell me about her personal story of loss.  Yvonne explains that her father died when she was 6 weeks old from a condition know as Marfan Syndrome.  His 3 children were left with a genetic roulette that meant they each had a 50/50 chance of having the syndrome.  One of the symptoms is unusually long arms and legs , but the most serious complication is an aortic dissection, where the aorta eventually ruptures: usually fatal.

“Growing up I was the shorter, dumpier one, and my brother and sister were both tall and slim.  I used to think it’s not fair.”  But Yvonne was the lucky one.  Both her brother Martin and her sister Geraldine had the syndrome.  Yvonne did not. 

When Yvonne was only 25 her sister suffered an aortic dissection whilst 8 and a half months pregnant.  Geraldine died, her unborn child was saved. Life would never be the same again.

Her brother Martin had his first heart operation when Yvonne was 24.  “Martin was such a fighter,” Yvonne recalls.  “We kept thinking we were losing him and he kept rallying.  One impossible operation after another and he’d somehow manage to survive.” 

Three years ago Martin finally lost his battle.  The anti-immune drugs taken following a heart transplant left his system vulnerable, and then the doctors found an unidentified  mass in his abdomen.  “I was trying to decide should I stay or should I go…. finally I flew to the UK, only to be met by my parents on arrival at Heathrow with the news that he had died just before I landed.

Yvonne enjoys Sawtell Beach...home!In the end, this is what Yvonne has been getting to.  “People say ‘oh you’re lucky that you went to Australia’, or ‘oh you’re lucky to work on the World Cup’.  That’s not really luck.  But I am SO lucky that I’m the one that didn’t have Marfan.”  Yvonne lives with that luck every day.

“I am the product of what’s happened to me in my life, I think we all are” says Yvonne.  Yes, glamour is a part of that life, but so is grief, guilt, running, 9am swims, challenges, disappointments, family, friendships….  There is little doubt that there is more to Yvonne Briggs than a glamorous sounding job.

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Yvonne surprises me when she says that the most interesting person she knows on the Coffs Coast is a bear, and a very tiny bear at that. Mr Scribbles has travelled the world and been to places even Yvonne hasn’t dared to venture.  He was briefly a star of Spanish television, he was on stage with a pop star in Kiev, and he’s made a stand on the issue of cruelty to bears.  Sounds a fascinating character, but interviewing a bear….this should be interesting!

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Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (http://themostinterestingpersoniknow.net/).
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