Whether she’s anchoring Loose Women or presenting ITV’s news coverage – or sometimes both on the same day – there’s no doubt Charlene White’s having a moment in her career.
But when we catch up with the 40-year-old over Zoom, she’s so delightfully down-to-earth that it’s more like talking to someone you’ve known for years than TV’s hottest property.
“All my school reports said, ‘Charlene has a short attention span.’ And the reason why I work so hard is that hasn’t changed,” she says. “The reality is the more I do, the more my brain is ticking over.”
This month, she’s adding another project to her CV, co-hosting ITV’s documentary Trevor McDonald & Charlene White: Has George Floyd Changed Britain?
The programme looks at Britain’s response to race in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, as Charlene and Sir Trevor meet people who it has impacted.
Here, the presenter talks about the emotional interviews she’s conducted and her hopes for the future.
Hi Charlene. You’re the busiest woman on TV at the moment!
It’s OK, I’m going to Center Parcs soon so I can have a time out then. Although, as if it’s a rest, if I’ve got my two children with me!
Tell us about your new documentary…
Everyone’s well aware of the footage of George Floyd from almost a year ago. A year on, we wanted to look at whether there had been any tangible change. Were the conversations just conversations or had there been action?
There are some very emotional interviews. How were they to film?
I spoke to singer Alexandra Burke and it was quite an emotional interview for her, and for me, as there were certain things that she was saying that resonated with me. She talks about the extreme examples where she was told she needed to have a nose job or to lighten her skin so then she’d be a lot more acceptable to the British public.
I asked her if she thinks her career would be further than it is, had she done the things they’d told her to do. That’s when we got quite emotional, as she said, yes, she thinks she probably would have done. How are we in this situation? We have someone like Alex, who’s hugely talented, being told she had to change who she is in order to be accepted in this country for her talent.
British athlete Bianca Williams also talks about the online abuse she’s endured. What’s your experience of Twitter?[Laughs] I don’t know why I’m laughing because I do get some horrific abuse.
But it’s the weird dynamic that because it happens so often, I’m very used to it – which I shouldn’t have to be. I’m a black woman in the public eye, so for a lot of people I’m fair game. It all came to a head when a member of the EDL [English Defence League] said, “I’ve heard there’s a black girl on ITV that doesn’t wear a poppy” and told his followers to abuse me in any way they could find me.
That’s exactly what they did. We’re talking thousands and thousands of comments, petitions to ITV, a Sack The Slag campaign.
As long as it doesn’t get as bad as that, it’s manageable. But that upset me a lot. It takes a lot to make me cry, but it got to a point where it was really overwhelming and really did make me cry. It’s never been to that particular level since.
What’s it like now?
Any time I talk about anything to do with race, it’s like a barrage of online abuse comes in my direction. But some of that I believe is lack of education.
One thing that always comes up is, “Go back to where you came from” and it’s like, “Dude, for a start my parents were British subjects when they came here.”
So it’s a real lack of understanding of our history, which we touch on when Trevor goes to visit a school that has changed parts of their curriculum as a result of what’s happened over the past year.
The younger generation seems to be more open – does that make you hopeful for the future?
My parents’ generation knew that race was an issue, but they lived in a time where you had to have your own parties because you weren’t allowed to go to certain clubs in London.
They had to create their own churches because the churches here wouldn’t allow them in. But what they didn’t do is stand in those churches and demand change.
Then you come to my generation who are like, “We’re going to have those conversations and we’re going to elicit some sort of change because this whole ‘doing our own thing’… no.
I deserve to be a part of what you’re doing. I work just as hard, probably twice as hard, to be there.” My parents put in that hard work so I could deal with race and I put in the work so that the younger generation will deal with it in a completely different way.
From secret feuds and sexy scandals to the biggest showbiz headlines – we’re serving up a daily dose of gossip.
Get the inside scoop on all your favourite celebs with our daily newsletter delivered straight to your inbox for free.
You can sign up here.
You’re co-hosting with Sir Trevor McDonald. What was that like?
It’s a huge moment. We crossed over at ITN for a few months when I started and he left prime time. I walked past him once and I couldn’t find the words to actually get “hello” out of my mouth. He’s just a legend.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the documentary?
I’d love for people to stand by the coffee machine at work having a conversation about it. Maybe they’ll do that on their Zoom meetings instead!
We wouldn’t be having this same conversation about sexism because we’ve moved on so much, since women got the vote, that we don’t feel weird about sexism – we just call it out.
And I’d love us to reach that stage where racism is concerned.