Diversity is key priority for BBC, says June Sarpong after receiving OBE

·3-min read

The BBC and businesses can learn lessons from England’s successful multicultural football squad, the corporation’s director of creative diversity has said.

June Sarpong, who has been made an OBE for services to broadcasting, said social and economic diversity is “definitely a key priority” for the BBC, and she is impressed by England’s talented squad of “positive role models” both on and off the pitch.

After collecting her honour from the Princess Royal at a scaled-down ceremony at St James’s Palace in London, the 44-year-old TV presenter said: “I think the lessons that not just the BBC but industries across the board can learn from football is their approach to nurturing talent from a young age from low-income communities.

“If there is a young, talented footballer from a poor community, they will know about them and they will be able to go and develop them and support them.

“I think that is what we need to do better – not expecting people from low-income backgrounds to come to us, but for us to go to them.

“I think that is something that can be learned from football, for sure.”

Investitures at St James’s Palace
June Sarpong was presented with her OBE by the Princess Royal at St James’s Palace in London (Aaron Chown/PA)

Sarpong described the England squad, who are multi-racial and socially conscious, as “young men who just are examples for the next generation – they are stand-up guys”.

Earlier this year, the diversity campaigner moderated a talk between England and Manchester United star Marcus Rashford and former US president Barack Obama.

Both men spoke about the power young people have to make change, the positive impact reading can have, and the importance of giving back to your community.

Last year, 23-year-old Rashford spearheaded a prominent campaign to tackle child food poverty in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarpong began her career on radio, before becoming a presenter for MTV, moving on to ITV’s Loose Women, and then taking a seat on Sky News debate show The Pledge.

She has also been involved in advocacy work and was made an MBE in 2007 for services to charity and broadcasting.

She said she feels her OBE is also an award for her family, who come from Ghana.

“It has been a wonderful day,” she said. “It is a day that is also about my parents and where you have come from. My parents are immigrants who came to the UK to try and make a better life for themselves.

“I think that, when you look at all (the things) that immigrant generations have had to go through, it really does mean something. I am thrilled.”

Sarpong, who was brought up on a council estate in Walthamstow, east London, said the “trajectory” of her success is not lost on her.

“It is why I am so passionate about social mobility. My own story and my own journey is an example of it.

“I have had so many people help me along the way and give me opportunities, and, without that, I would not be here.”