“We walk into any room like we own it” – Traveller Christina Broadway on being a successful TV production executive
Elle May Stevens interviews Christina Broadway – A Traveller, a successful TV production Executive, and part of the production team of the award winning TV show ‘Killing Eve’
At the prestigious British Academy Film Awards Awards this year, a talented young Romany TV production executive found herself on stage alongside the best that British drama has to offer. Christina Broadway, an English Traveller, is the youngest daughter of Maurice and Linda Broadway who are settled down in Devon. She is part of the production team behind the multi-award winning drama Killing Eve. I caught up with Chrissie this week to find out a bit more about this inspiring young woman.
EMS: Have you always been settled in Devon or did you move around when you were younger?
CB: Growing up we had two ‘bases’ as I thought of them. The Ump in Devon and my aunts place in Wootton Bassett. We travelled all over, a lot on the Isle of Wight and to Leighton Buzzard, but as far north as Ripon and to Wales too. Then we settled in Devon when I was ten. My dad had cancer and wanted to settle - and they wanted to put me through school so it was a good time.
EMS: How did you get on with school? Did you enjoy it?
CB: I always loved school. I remembered sometimes we’d be shifting home and got back late, but I’d get up and get myself ready and then ask mum to take me to school! And she says ‘You can have the day off’ but I’d want to go. I was always quite quick and stuff like reading and writing came naturally to me, and I like the praise and having something to do. When I was in primary school there were normally other Travellers around too. But in secondary school I was the only Traveller. And I found it hard for the first year or so because I didn’t know how to mix with Gorja and they all treated me like I was odd. But then I made some friends and the school was supportive.
EMS: You went to Leicester University, was it a different experience from secondary school?
CB: Such a different experience. At school everything was quite guided and I felt like I could coast quite easily and do well without trying. Then university was a real step up in terms of having to work hard. No one was holding your hand to make you do the work. If I didn’t read and do my essays, no one cared. I was just hurting myself. So I learnt quite quickly I had to be far more self disciplined. It was also very different because it was the first time I moved away from home. My parents didn’t mind me going to university but wanted me to go somewhere I could commute from home. I wanted to go the best university for my course which at the time was Leicester. It was very strange though living on campus. I found I had different ways, like wanting to wash tea towels on the hob, and being very strict like with eating fish on Good Friday. But it was also the first time in my life I felt like there was nothing dividing me. No one knew I was a Traveller unless I told them. My room was the same as their rooms. But I did tell everyone anyway! I’m not ashamed of it. And mum and dad came round once they realised I wasn’t turning into a different person just cause I didn’t live at home.
EMS: So your family were very supportive of your decision to go to university?
CB: They always wanted me to do as well as I could and knew I was bright and wanted me to pursue that. They weren’t able to help in terms of reading my essays and talking to me about books, but they were always very proud when I did well. It was a tricky time when I wanted to move away because they didn’t want me to. But I think they understood my reasons and when they saw I wasn’t going mad or going out every night or forgetting the morals they taught me, then they came around.
EMS: Did you always want to work in TV?
CB: What’s funny is there’s a picture a photographer took of me when I was 17 for an exhibition on Romany Gypsies. It’s me stroking our horse next to our trailers. And it says ‘Christina is a 17 year old Romany Gypsy from Devon. She would like to work in journalism, publishing or television’. So it was always on my list. When I was a kid if anyone asked me what I wanted to do I always said I’d go to university and study English. Which is what I did. I can’t imagine not having that ambition or that sort of ‘plan’. And luckily my parents supported it so it always seemed like what I was supposed to do.
EMS: You work for Sid Gentle Films and are part of the production team behind Killing Eve. What is your role and what does it involve?
CB: It's complicated and a bit boring! I’m the production executive. It’s a small company of about nine people. In order to make such a big show as Killing Eve, we need to hire a lot of freelancers. What I do is look after the show before we hire the freelancers-so development, early prep etc. Then I help hire and oversee the free-lancers, make sure they are doing things the way we want them to, answering any of their questions, and making sure they are coming in on time and following our rules and policies. Then I look after the show when the free-lancers leave - delivery, marketing, transmission and distribution.
EMS: So it’s not all fun and partying! There's a lot of hard work involved organising people and making sure everything runs smoothly and on time.
CB: Yes, exactly.
EMS: How did it feel when your team received the Bafta award and standing on the stage in front of all those people?
CB: It was incredibly surreal! We honestly thought one of the other shows was going to win. I was so shocked and looked for the first person near me to hug - our Script Producer! Then we were going up to the stage and I thought I would trip! And it felt so unreal. I don’t think I actually registered where I was, I had no idea what to do with my hands. And I could barely hear Phoebe's acceptance speech because the speakers all face out away from the stage. It was only afterwards when we walked away that I realised what it all meant - that we'd actually won!
EMS: I know Aunt Linda is really proud, how did the rest of your family react?
CB: So many family I don’t normally speak with have phoned to say well done! It’s lovely. It feels like a uniting thing. I didn’t realise how many people were watching me and hoping I did well! And it’s nice for this to be a win for us as a people, not just me as an individual. My sisters were super proud too. And my dad. He's been on the phone telling everyone I know and watching every YouTube clip of the red carpet to see if he can see me in the background!
EMS: You looked stunning in your red dress, very elegant. Killing Eve isn't the first major production you've worked on. What were some of the others?
CB: Thank you very much! It was a last minute buy from Whistles. I started my career working on Alan Partridge, then I moved to a company called Carnival where I worked on a few productions including Whitechapel, The Last Kingdom and Downton Abbey. More recently I've worked on The Durrells and now, Killing Eve!
EMS: You’ve worked on a few shows. I believe it’s one of those industries where you can start at the bottom and work your way up with no formal education. Do you think going to university helped get you where you are today?
CB: I do! I got into the industry on a diversity scheme. They were looking for applicants who were disabled or from ethnic minorities. I think I probably could have applied if I didn’t have a university degree, but everyone else did, so I felt more on a level pegging. Also that time at university and school -learning to work to a deadline, mixing with lots of different people, how to be professional and manage my own time and workload - those are all important skills. My mentor, Kimberley, once said that even when a university degree isn't relevant she wouldn’t hire someone without one, as having a degree proves that you can work hard, work on your own, get something done in a timeframe. Having said that I know one girl, who is 31 and is now a commissioner at Channel 4, who started working when she was 16 years old, and was just bright and hardworking and worked her way up. So there are different ways in - but yes, I think my way worked for me.
EMS: How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking, compared to the other production executives you've worked with?
CB: I am quite young. I’m 31. But I’ve moved up quite fast because some good people took me under their wing and mentored me. Then some other good people took a chance on me! Most people who do my job are in their late 40s or 50s?
EMS: Your job sounds like you have to take on lots of different roles, almost like running your own business, and involves a lot of travelling up and down the country. Do you think your upbringing as a Traveller helps you cope with the lifestyle?
CB: The main thing I think it helps is because a film set is really mixed, at the top you have people who are often very wealthy and very posh or middle class, and then down the ladder you have people who have never been in school a day in their lives, have really broad accents, working class folk who are there to lift heavy things or do the lighting. I think my upbringing has meant I’m as comfortable talking to one sort as the other. The other thing is confidence - us Travellers are a confident bunch! We walk into any room like we own it. And we are doers. So when something needs to be done, and a decision needs to be made, I’m often the one to say 'Okay, here’s what we'll do'. I think that comes from growing up where everyone works for themselves.
EMS: I know you're quite open about your ethnicity with your work colleagues, has it ever been an issue?
CB: When I was in school a kid once called me a Gypsy, but the school were super supportive and told him it was a racial slur and he could be prosecuted. In university I told a boy I was a Romany Gypsy, he didn’t believe me and said some horrible things which upset me. But in terms of work, no, it never has really. I got into industry on a diversity scheme BECAUSE I’m a Traveller, so I felt like my career and my ethnicity have always gone hand in hand. The thing I get more than anything, which I think is racism of a different form, is a bit of ... fascination. My boss will tell people in a meeting 'Our Chrissie is a Gypsy, you know!' as if it’s a curiosity or something to marvel at. So never directly - but yeah, sometimes I feel that I’m a bit of a curio. My ex-boss, who knew I was a Traveller, when ever he got a bit tipsy would tell me how Gypsies had stolen his roof tiles, or that he didn’t like that some Gypsies had the same surname as him.
EMS: What advice would you give young Traveller people who want to get into TV, film and media production?
CB: I would tell them to do work experience - you can contact production companies and ask to come in for a week or so. It's a business about who you know and contacts, so getting that first step in the door is important. And then once you are there, be good, be on time, be smart, be keen, and take the initiative. Don't give them any excuse not to want you back. Then keep in touch with any contacts you make and keep asking about any opportunities. Hopefully after a while you'll have a list of people in the business who you know, and one of them will lead to a job as a runner.
EMS: What's a runner?
CB: A runner is the entry position in TV and film production. Its a wonderful business in that every single person you meet, no matter how high up, at one point started as a runner. And they are called ‘a runner’ because they run errands, they get the tea, they take things from A to B, they are a bit of a dogsbody sometimes, but they are there to learn and see and then through that - they work their way up.
EMS: And finally what are your hopes for your future?
CB: I really love what I do, so to continue doing this. I'm terrified at any moment someone is going to figure out I shouldn’t really be here and the dream is going to burst! But I think everybody feels like that. I'd love to keep working on shows I love, and keep having them be successful! I'm trying to buy a home so hoping that goes through - my first ever owned home! And I hope one day to also have a family in it.
EMS: It’s been wonderful catching up with Chrissie and I’d like to thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to me. I’m always excited to hear a success story about someone from my community, especially when it’s someone I know. And I look forward to hearing more success stories in our communities, whether it’s passing an exam, starting a business, or getting a stopping place.
By Elle May Stevens
Killing Eve is a British spy thriller television series, produced in the United Kingdom by Sid Gentle Films for BBC America, starring Sandra Oh as a British intelligence investigator obsessed with capturing a psychopathic assassin, portrayed by Jodie Comer.
Elle May Stevens is an English Traveller. She lives a semi-settled life in Lancashire with her parents, has been writing for 10 years, and enjoys being an only child now all her sisters are married.