Oxford Media Society: Dinner with Lizo Mzimba

Ah Newsround. Who can forget CBBC’s news channel for children? The show that made all the confusing topics of the world digestible for our younger selves. Moreover, who can forget the man who presented it? Working as both a reporter and an assistant producer for Newsround from 1998 to 2008, the name – or at least the face of – Lizo Mzimba sticks out in childhood memory. Now Entertainment Correspondent for the BBC, I was lucky enough to have dinner with the man himself as part of the Oxford Media Society committee. 

OMS has hosted an excellent array of speakers this term including Amanda Berry (Head of BAFTA) and Nick Mirsky (Head of Channel 4 Documentaries) and, if you aren’t a member already, I would urge you to join. Lizo, the last of our Michaelmas speakers, was no exception: a childhood sweetheart, I was excited to hear what he had to say. 

There is often a misconception that all television presenters are demanding ‘divas’, but Lizo couldn’t have been more funny, warm and down-to-earth if he tried. Walking into the restaurant Bills, he explained how his friend had given him a precursory warning about Oxford: ‘whatever you do, do NOT go to Purple Turtle’. (To this friend – I applaud you). Graduating from Birmingham with a 2:2, Lizo confessed that he put his degree on the back burner, but would have had it no other way. He immersed himself in the world of media, becoming both editor for the student newspaper and a member of the student TV station (even winning awards at the NSTA, the National Student Television Association). He also freelanced for The Guardian whilst at university and is a strong believer that one can make their own luck. 

As for his spare time – well that was spent watching Doctor Who. Yes, Lizo is a massive fan. In fact, he is also a die-hard fan of Harry Potter, the Avengers, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Given that I have barely watched any of these (yes, really) this was a topic of conversation I left for the others. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Lizo finding out I hadn’t watched all the Harry Potter films or read all the books. (This is talking to a man who stayed up till 2am to read them. You can imagine the reaction, I felt almost sacrilegious).

Lizo was incredibly chatty and personable, showing interest in each one of us. It’s easy to see why he’s such a natural in the television industry, having interviewed the likes of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, One Direction, Adele, George Clooney, Lady Gaga and of course, JK Rowling. When he came to give the main talk, he stressed the importance of passion for those looking for a career in such a competitive industry. He remembers how his friend was shocked that he had stayed up till 4am to write a report. But for Lizo, this was nothing. Why? Because he loves entertainment, the buzz of finding out which films have been nominated for an OSCAR first and then, “being the person who tells that to the rest of the country”. As soon as he wakes up he spends a good half an hour checking his overnight twitter feeds and reading his overnight emails (crucial when dealing with events in America). Put simply, he has a passion for finding stories and telling stories.  

Although he loves his current position as Entertainment Correspondent for the BBC, his former career at Newsround still remains part of his life. He is often approached by complete strangers, being thanked for his part in Newsround, the show that helped inform children what was going on in the world. Lizo expressed how rewarding this recognition is and how even after ten years, he still finds it a privilege to have been involved in such an influential programme. Nevertheless, he explained, “There’s nothing quite like having someone come up to you in the street with just the words ‘IT’S YOU!’ to which one can only reply ‘Yes… it’s me.” Speaking on Radio I, Ed Sheeran mentioned how he loved Lizo, ‘the guy from Newsround’ whilst at the recent Band Aid recording, Harry Styles spoke of his plan to go for ‘miso with Lizo’. (Lizo’s still waiting on the invite). 

After the talk, Lizo stayed behind to chat to those students who had further questions – yet another example of his approachable and friendly personality. He is clearly someone that loves his job and wishes to share that enthusiasm with other budding journalists, drawing upon his own experiences to give the best advice. It was fantastic to meet him. I must confess, my childhood love of Newsround is slowly coming back to me…