She was always a picture of poise and confidence as a producer and presenter of the BBC World News covering business, finance and politics, but “as a child, I was incredibly shy”, recalls Sharanjit Leyl. “In fact, in my first report card when I was in primary one at Henry Park Primary School, the teacher wrote, ‘She’s too shy and whispers to the teachers.’”
Leyl spent most of her childhood “working hard to try and defy this notion of shyness”, but it was not until her teenage years, when her family moved to Washington DC for her late father’s job as a diplomat, that the need to find her voice was amplified.
“I had to speak to all these people who had no concept of where I’m from, or what my background is, so suddenly having a voice—and especially one that represents the part of the world where you’re from—became very important,” she explains. “It was very difficult, but eventually I began to gain confidence when I learned that people are in fact interested to hear what you have to say.”
And she has never looked back since, finding the same confidence in front of the camera as she embarked on a broadcasting career.
“I realised it’s not about me as a person,” she says decisively. “I’ve had to cover horrifying breaking news stories, from the Sri Lankan Easter Sunday bombings to the Christchurch shootings in 2019. You just kind of … swallow whatever concerns you have about your own safety and fears because, fundamentally, you have a responsibility to focus on telling the truth about what’s happening. It’s about ensuring, to the best of your ability, that people’s stories and pain are conveyed to the world with empathy while updating viewers with the latest news updates.”
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Leyl left BBC in mid-2021, after an 18-year career with the broadcaster, to pursue new interests. Her journalistic fervour, however, remains intact. While she continues to moderate high-level panels for the United Nations, multilateral development banks and corporate companies, she is also using her voice to speak out about—and take a firm stance on—topics that are close to her heart, including diversity and gender equality, as well as sustainability.
“I champion these causes and, for the longest time, I had to be impartial and could never take a side due to the nature of my job,” she explains. “It’s kind of a liberation to talk freely about the things that you are passionate about and can take sides on. Obviously, I am taking the side that everyone should be equal and treated equally.”
Obviously, I am taking the side that everyone should be equal and treated equally— Sharanjit Leyl