It took me seven years to find my big break, but I did it – and you can too

Guest post from Alex Brooker, presenter of Channel 4’s The Last Leg and star of Scope’s End the Awkward ads. Alex has been working with young people on Scope’s First Impressions, First Experiences programme, which supports disabled people aged 16 to 25 into work placements at top companies.

Alex in the End The Awkward video
Alex in Scope’s End The Awkward video

All I’ve ever wanted to do was to be paid to watch football. Unfortunately I realised it doesn’t work as a career choice, so I ended up doing the next best thing – working as a sports reporter on a newspaper in Liverpool.

I studied journalism at university, did a work placement at the paper, and they offered me a job. I spent half my time on placement reporting on toddlers’ football matches, but I did it because I was determined to make an impression.

But after a while I realised that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I didn’t know where to go next, and I spent years applying for other jobs – without a sniff of luck.

My big break

Alex BrookerThen, in 2012, I did an audition video for Channel 4, which was looking for reporters to present its coverage of the Paralympics. I was offered a gig as a reporter on The Last Leg – at the time it was the Paralympics highlights show.

It was a huge gamble. I was quitting my job for what was basically a nine-day contract (what if I was crap, and everyone on the internet laughed at me?) But I knew I couldn’t turn it down.

My first on-air interview was with the Prime Minister in the Paralympic stadium, with 11 million people watching. I’ve never been so scared in my life. My first line was, ‘Tell you what David, it’s packed to the rafters in here…’

It was the best feeling ever – when it was over. Fortunately for me, it went really well.

After my first day working on the Last Leg, I was asked to co-host – I wouldn’t be a reporter any more, I’d be on the sofa doing the jokes.

I counted myself as half-decent funny in the pub, but doing it night after night on television is a different matter!

Four series on, I feel very lucky to have been thrust into this TV life. I get invited to awards parties, and sometimes I get given free stuff, which is nice. I got given some free cooking sauce the other day.

In some ways, though, it’s just like any other job. The key is preparation – it’s a topical show, and if you don’t do your research you can’t be funny. We do so much reading for every show.

How to make it happen

When you’re looking for a job, you need confidence in your abilities and a thick skin. I’m still not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.

I waited seven years between my first job as a reporter and getting the job at Channel 4. Seven years of rejections. But I didn’t lose confidence in my ability, and you shouldn’t either.

Wherever you want to end up in life, the big thing is confidence. It doesn’t come overnight, but you just have to look at yourself and think: what do I bring to the table? Some people are funny, some people are organised, some people are good listeners. Everyone’s got something.

And don’t be afraid of your disability. That’s who you are. It’s who I am. My hands are part of me – I can’t go into an interview with a pair of mittens on hoping they don’t notice!

Be confident. You’ve got something that no one else has, I promise you.

Alex chaired the judging panel for the first Disability Power List, which launched today.