BBC Radio star Emma Barnett on how her hometown has inspired a new Manchester colouring book

-Credit: (Image: Emma Barnett)
-Credit: (Image: Emma Barnett)

BBC Radio Four star Emma Barnett has just started her new role hosting the station's flagship Today show. But away from the airwaves, she has been making time to pay a special tribute to her home city.

For Emma and her husband Jeremy Weil have created a new Manchester colouring book - celebrating many of the landmarks Emma loved growing up in the area. They first came up with the idea when they were on parental leave with their second child.

Former Woman's Hour host Emma was born and raised in Salford, but now lives in London with Jeremy and their two children, aged one and six. She stepped into the hotseat on the Today show just last week - and now the General Election has been called is expecting a hectic Summer ahead.

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But she's also been busy creating the new Colour in Manchester book which features 16 iconic landmarks handpicked by Emma. It includes Manchester Town Hall, Piccadilly Gardens, both United and City grounds, as well as the Emmeline Pankhurst statue and Deansgate Locks

Emma told the MEN: "The whole idea came for this when we were on maternity/paternity leave with our daughter, we were taking photos and showing them to our son, he was asking lots of questions about where we live, so we printed out some photos of where we live, and he started colouring it in.

"It led to a nice conversation where we thought "oh there must be a colour in book of where we live" but there wasn't. So we thought oh why don't we make that?

"We just thought about it more and more."

In October their first colouring books were published for where they live now - in the Brixton, Herne Hill and Dulwich districts of London. They were such a hit they thought they'd expand even further - and Manchester was naturally Emma's first thought.

The new Colour in Manchester book -Credit:Emma Barnett
The new Colour in Manchester book -Credit:Emma Barnett

"The first book outside of London was always going to be Manchester. I was in Manchester a few weeks ago and I took a few of the photos myself so it was great fun to go around all the areas I grew up.

"I greatly enjoyed putting together, I loved walking around and taking photos of my favourite things. I thought right I'm going to go to town have a right old time, see all my old stomping grounds and take pictures."

But Emma also had to think about not only what typifies Manchester, but what would make a good image to colour in.

She says: "There are things that you might think of as iconic, but to colour in is not as satisfying. We knew we had to have something with the bee on it, so the planters on Mount Street are a nice image with the trees.

"And with Piccadilly Gardens, I couldn't feel we could NOT have it in there, but it was quite tricky to get a good image of that. So we went with an aerial shot. The good thing about colouring is even if the original image is not what you want, as long as the outline is there, you can actually put the flowers in or the grass."

Emma and Jeremy with one of their original colouring books for Dulwich -Credit:Emma Barnett
Emma and Jeremy with one of their original colouring books for Dulwich -Credit:Emma Barnett

Emma and Jeremy, both 39, launched the book in April online, and have already been besieged with requests to do more areas around Manchester next. The book is available to buy on their website for £14.99.

"This is obviously our first one in Manchester, but I grew up at Broughton Park in Salford, so I'd really like to do a Salford one next and I have a cousin in Chorlton who is saying "don't forget Chorlton". I've got a little list on my phone, I like thinking about these things. I'm a bit of a geek about touring and learning and cultural hotspots."

So where is Emma thinking for the Salford colouring book? She's already got on her list the likes of The Lowry, Imperial War Museum, Salford Lads Club, RHS Bridgwater, Bridgewater Canal and Larkhill Place, saying: "I loved going there as a kid so it would be really fun to go there."

The couple are eyeing new places for colouring books -Credit:Emma Barnett
The couple are eyeing new places for colouring books -Credit:Emma Barnett

Emma says for her and Jeremy, who works as Head of Product at The Economist, the joy of the project is seeing how much people are enjoying the books - both young and old - and how passionate people are about their local landmarks.

As for her own children, Emma says: "My six year old definitely has a good sense of where I'm from and also does the worst Manchester accent in the world! I just find it really funny when he does it."

As for her own accent Emma says: "When I hear a recording of myself from University, my accent has definitely softened, but I never had a strong one. I think 20 years of being a southerner probably has had an impact, but southerners always ask where I'm from. I've got stuck in no man's land with my voice!"

Emma Barnett has just begun her new role on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 -Credit:Jeff Overs/BBC/PA
Emma Barnett has just begun her new role on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 -Credit:Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

There has also already been the conversations about which football team her children will support. Emma laughs: "My son went straight to the Manchester City page in the colouring book, but we're still having the conversation about what team he is going to support.

"He started mentioning Portsmouth because his best friend's dad supports Portsmouth... I've strongly advised him that his birthright means he should be supporting Manchester City."

Taking on her new role at Today has been an exciting one for Emma - and she says her hope is that she can take the news and politics show across the country to reflect different voices and backgrounds. She said: "There is a commitment from Tody to move all around the country for a certain numbers of shows, we will be moving all around the UK. I'd love to come and do what I can in Manchester with them. It's good to push yourself and push on."

Emma is heading back to Manchester again this weekend, and says she'd love to hear suggestions from people about places to visit and include in future books in their area. She said: "Just email us on the website, we'd love to hear people's ideas."