From the SSE to the BBC
Lawyer-turned-TV editor Melissa Hardinge took inspiration from the positive attitude of Americans she encountered during her exchange year
Why did you apply for the Secondary School Exchange?
I went to a girls’ school in Manchester and, as I was young for my year, it was quite a big leap to go to university and so I was looking for something that would bridge that gap. I had not been away from home and I had not been to America before so it was very exciting.
How was it different from your education in the UK?
I went to the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut and it completely opened my eyes to the world. They had the most extraordinary facilities: they had a forest, a lake, 30 tennis courts and they an outdoor and an indoor ice rink. They took their sport very seriously, we did three hours of sport a day. It totally blew my mind.
What did you do after SSE?
I had a place to study law at Oxford, but while in America I questioned whether I really wanted to follow this path. I still qualified as a lawyer when I returned to the UK but these little voices in my head that had been awakened during my exchange made me think I was more suited to a more creative path. I think the confidence I gained in America spurred me on. I had always loved television, I was passionate about making television for young people and children and it was really instrumental in my decision to change my career. I’m now Senior Commercial Editor at BBC Children and manage a variety of brands such as Millie Inbetween, Horrible Histories, and Got What It Takes?
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I work in the CBBC channel which caters for 6 to 12 year olds and I am absolutely passionate about what I do. It’s such a challenging age group – their viewing habits are changing, they are leading the way in adopting new digital technology, and they are quite a fickle audience so you really have to work hard to keep up with them. Our job is to create shows that are inspiring, educational and entertaining, from documentaries through to comedies. This audience is really crucial, they are on the cusp of leaving childhood and becoming teenagers, finding out what sort of people they are going to be, so introducing them to things they haven’t met before is very rewarding. It’s a great job and yet it doesn’t really feel like a job.
Given the opportunity, what issue would you choose to speak out about today?
One issue which is very close to my heart is to encourage girls to be confident in themselves. I have two teenage daughters and they are very opinionated and I want them to believe in themselves and to know that their voices are important and need to be heard.
Did the SSE cultural experience change your attitude or outlook in anyway?
It opened my eyes to the world and gave me a lot more confidence. I think going into university I was much more ready for the challenge and I think that that positive attitude, that energy and the can-do attitude that the Americans have is something we can all learn from. It certainly has really stayed with me in my working life.
How would you sum up SSE?
I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. It’s one of the happiest years I’ve ever had. I met life-long friends and I had a completely different education than I had had before. It felt more like a college because they were just very off-curriculum. I did everything from skating, travelling to tree-hugging and made a whole network of friends. It was just the most positive and fantastic year.
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