How NZer Dan Wootton became a UK household name   11 Aug 2013

Charlotte Everett

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I’m sitting in one of East London’s most exclusive private members clubs, waiting to meet the latest Kiwi Success story I want to interview. But there’s something a little different about this meeting. This time, I’m interviewing another journalist.

Dan Wootton is one of our most successful journalists at an international level. Having refused to compromise on his desired career path, he has carved up an impressive career on Fleet Street. At only 30 years old, he has thrived as a showbiz reporter and editor at the News of the World, Daily Mail, on ITV’s morning show “Lorraine”, and now at The Sun. In 2010, he was named Showbiz Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards.

Lower Hutt “born ‘n bred”, Dan had been working as an entertainment columnist for The Dominion Post and had also been working on Kiwi breakfast show “Good Morning” for a year. At 21 years of age, he decided to come to the UK.

“Initially I was only going to come over for six weeks, to see how it went,” Dan explains. “But I think I always had the feeling that I had a connection to the UK. My mum was born here, and my dad’s family were from here too – he was actually born on a British Army base in Malta. I had a British passport, so I never had any issues in terms of work or anything like that. And now nearly nine years later, I’m still here!”

But like many of us, Dan’s start in the UK wasn’t entirely smooth-sailing. Fortunately, he had plenty of his good friends from school already over here for support. “I did the typical thing – I came over, I dossed with one of my best friends, on the floor, in Acton for a month,” Dan reflects. “And I had no money – I had to borrow money off my parents to keep myself going. I had the absolute typical Kiwi experience for the first six months. Actually, my second flat was quite legendary – the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia did a big feature about it. It was this flat in Gunnersbury Road, and they had converted the attic into a place where ten people would sleep – people would just have these little partitions separating them. I was the only person in the house who had my own bedroom!”

And it took Dan around six weeks to find work. But he was absolutely determined to find journalism work and not go down another track. “I was really tested,” Dan says, “but I’m glad that in the end I stuck to my guns. But it was really difficult to begin with.”

He thinks it helped that he’d only had a year in full-time work in New Zealand, as it meant his expectations weren’t overly high when he came over, and he was happy to start at the bottom. No one interviewing him here cared about his experience in the New Zealand media. Dan thinks it would be a lot harder for someone coming over with a wealth of experience that upon arrival would not be deemed relevant by the industry in the UK.

So what was his first job here?

“It was actually quite funny,” Dan says. “My family found it hilarious. I’m the least financial person in the world – I hated economics in school – and my first job here was actually as a financial journalist for a derivatives magazine. I knew nothing about that area, and it was really tough – I was dealing with hedge fund managers who would have had fortunes of £100,000,000 or something, and here I was earning absolutely no money, and talking to them about something I knew nothing about. But the thing was, it was a job in journalism. That first step on the ladder. And I only stayed there for a couple of months, but it was really important just to get that job, and from there I was able to move up very quickly. But I started as the lowest of the low – an editorial assistant slash reporter – so they could basically pay me the lowest possible wage that you could pay a journalist really.”

He goes on: “But it just goes to show you that it is possible. Yes, it is hard breaking into the media in the UK; it is a real closed shop. And especially Fleet Street – the national newspapers and tabloids are very ‘British’, and a lot of the journalists who work for them are Oxford or Cambridge graduates. But I guess the point with me is that I came with none of that institutional experience whatsoever, and no contacts whatsoever – yet I’ve still been able to do it and be successful in English newspapers. You can do it. It’s all about having the determination and knowing where you want to go. But it is possible.”

After working for another trade magazine, Dan’s big break came when he started working for Broadcast magazine, which is the trade magazine for the TV industry. It was much more in line with where he wanted to go, and opened a path to move on into national newspapers. From there, he moved on to News of the World, which was his big break into national newspapers. So it only took him a couple of years to get from that initial trade magazine on to a national newspaper.

Dan is probably best known to UK audiences for his role as showbiz presenter on “Lorraine” for the past four years. Although he’d been doing a similar role in New Zealand on “Good Morning”, people told him that he would never get a job on television or radio here because of his accent. He explains that he was actually fine with that, because print journalism had always been his primary passion. But Dan also remarks that in the UK there is a definite culture of expert commentators, and if you work for a national newspaper and become one of the leading journalists in your field, then all of a sudden you are of interest to television and radio – irrespective of how you look or how you sound. All of a sudden he was making guest appearances for a variety of shows, and was then approached by the producers of “Lorraine”.

“Lorraine” has really been beneficial for Dan’s career and given him a lot of recognition, but it’s only a small part of what he does. His full-time focus is still within national newspapers, and he has very recently moved across to The Sun.

“I had been at News International until the News of the World shut,” Dan explains. “Obviously that was a very traumatic time. They actually offered me a job to stay though – and set up a new online venture for them – so I was one of the lucky ones. But I decided I’d been there for 4 ½ years and had really built my reputation up, and it was time to go out alone. I had an amazing two years where I set up my own business, worked as a columnist for the Daily Mail and did celebrity interviews for them, worked for Now Magazine, plus I had all of the “Lorraine” stuff. So it was a brilliant two years, and then I got offered this job at The Sun – specifically working on The Sun on Sunday. Because my experience through the News of the World had been so focussed on Sunday newspapers and it’s something I’ve got a real passion for, it was a really exciting opportunity to go back and work at a paper that is just starting out really.”

So what is Dan’s advice to young New Zealanders who are moving over here to follow their dreams? “Firstly know that you CAN do it,” Dan quickly answers. “It is possible. Things feel like a really closed shop. I remember coming over and applying for job after job after job at the BBC or wherever, and being turned down on a constant basis. You need to know your industry and be strategic. Probably go in at a lower level, get a bit of experience in a small organisation and then move up the ranks. Don’t think necessarily that you are going to walk straight into BBC for example – though there is a really good track record of broadcast journalists from TVNZ and places like that going in to work for BBC World. But I guess for me, where I was quite different is that I didn’t want to be sort of a “Kiwi journalist” working over here for overseas broadcast. I wanted to be successful in the UK market.”

However Dan is not entirely focussed on his life in the UK. His family and friends in New Zealand are extremely important to him, and he returns home often – on average twice per year. He can’t ever imagine being like other Kiwis he knows who haven’t been home in say, six years. He acknowledges that it’s very hard, and very expensive, but it’s something that has always been a priority for him. Even before he was successful, when he had no money, he somehow managed to “scrimp and save” to fund trips home. He’s even managed to get home a couple of times for work – most recently in April, with Air New Zealand to do a big feature for the Daily Mail with Bear Grylls out in the wild.

Dan Wootton is a true Kiwi success story. With unshakable determination and hard work, he’s proven that anything really is possible. The journey of his career and his personal story is testament to that fact.

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left by Kiwi in London 29 Aug 2013

Interesting article and nice to see a mainstream Kiwi success story. I'm not sure working for The Sun or News of the World, given what happened, can be classified as a success. I appreciate his views on the importance of returning home but thinks he is slightly dismissive of those who cannot afford it. Good luck to him and looking forward to seeing him on Lorraine!

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