The tsar of the show
Like Graham Norton and Terry Wogan before him, English actor Martyn Andrews will be putting his own spin on this year’s Eurovision Song Contest as he presents to the host country’s audience on the television channel Russia Today. He tells Nick Awde how he made his way to Moscow
If you appreciate diversity in your international news viewing, then you’ll probably have spotted Russia Today while flipping down your Sky or Freesat menu on the way to CNN. Aimed at English speakers the world over, Russia’s first all-digital channel was launched in 2005 with a style not unlike its US rival, backed up by 100 Anglophone reporters and presenters. And that’s where Martyn Andrews comes into the picture.
The British presenter moved to Moscow four years ago as part of Russia Today’s start-up team and he is proud to have appeared in the first hour of the channel’s debut.
“When I went for my screen test they straightaway told me, ‘You’re not a news presenter – you’re far too bubbly to be telling people about political crises and plane crashes’. I completely agreed and said that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But then they said they might have a string of documentaries and arts programming in mind.”
So they promptly handed him a new travel programme, The Wayfarer, which dispatched Andrews all over the region, from hunting with Inuit in the Arctic Circle to dancing with the gold-toothed locals in Mongolia, scaling the Caucasus Mountains near Georgia to descending 500 metres into the depths of old Soviet mines. Taking in other shows such as Entertainment Today and Culinary Quest, he is currently hosting the weekly arts and culture show Moscow Out.
Andrews’ path to presenting did not take the most predictable of trajectories. “I was born and raised in Liverpool and throughout my entire childhood I’m sure I drove my poor parents mad,” he says. “Every single night there were piano lessons, singing lessons, speech and drama lessons, local drama festivals. I did some small television roles with local TV and my first ever major television presenting job was for a BBC youth special Songs of Praise.”
He joined the National Youth Music Theatre before going on to Mountview. “After that I did Starlight Express for a year then Whistle Down the Wind for another year. I was working hard and had a wonderful time. But as anybody will tell you who does musicals, doing the same show eight times a week is not only difficult but sometimes artistically frustrating.
“I was lucky with Starlight because it was my first job at the age of 20. I started at the bottom and slowly – through accidents and holidays – ended up playing Electra for the last five months. In Whistle Down the Wind I played the Preacher so I had my own songs. I then did Qdos pantos, a musical in Lincoln called Rock Hard and TV commercials. And then all of a sudden 2004 turned out to be my year of no luck at all. I was 25 and missed out on shows like Les Miserables, We Will Rock You – I was too clean, too short, too skinny, too fat, too good-looking, too ugly.”
His answer was to take a holiday in New York where a chance meeting at a dinner party with a Russian oligarch’s wife led to a first-class ticket to Israel. Working out of Tel Aviv, he hosted Egypt Uncovered, a series in which he slept in the pyramid of Giza and opened up Nefertari’s tomb in the Valley of the Queens. The company was RTVI, an Israeli-American cable channel aimed at ex-pat Russian-speaking communities worldwide, particularly North America.
“When Egypt Uncovered ended they said, ‘We’re thinking about doing a diving series, would you like host it?’. Of course I said yes and ended up filming the award-winning My Abyss in suitably exotic marine locations all around the world.”
Andrews then found himself in England again. There were offers of stage work but instead he took the bold step of doing a print-based journalism course at NoSweat college in London. The idea was to put together the experience of his acting with his presenting in order to become a more rounded journalist for live TV.
“While I was doing the course, I did bits and bobs of work. I did a morning chat show, Lounge Living, on You TV, and also some QVC work, which sadly is frowned upon but it’s great to do since talking about a pillow for an hour is the best training a presenter can ever get.”
At the same time there was a sudden wave of launches for international English-language news channels, including Al Jazeera English, France 24 and Russia Today. Once again out of the blue there came another plane ticket from the latter, this time to Moscow. Since he has been busy ever since in front of the camera, are there any regrets about not keeping up with theatre?
“I miss singing and performing terribly, especially because I’ve been doing that since I was 11 years old,” he says. “I am feeling tempted to consider stagework again. But once you’ve got the wheels in motion with your career, I think you should keep going in the direction it takes you. I’m very fortunate to earn a living with what I do, to enjoy all the different locations I work in and still come back to London every month.”
And on a final note, how’s his Russian? “Good enough to impress my English friends, but bad enough to depress the Russians.”
Visit www.martynandrews.co.uk and www.russiatoday.com