Seema Jaswal says sport helped save her life after teenage meningitis battle

For those of you who don’t know Seema Jaswal – you soon will. This summer the presenter is the face of sport, fronting ITV’s Euro 2020 coverage alongside the likes of footie legends Ian Wright, Gary Neville, Eni Aluko and Mark Pougatch.

Seema started out as a runner on Sky Sports News before cutting her teeth as a presenter on a shopping channel in the early hours of the morning. But her real career turning point came in 2015 when she was asked to present the Indian Super League and she and her husband Ajay upped sticks and moved to India for 18 months. From there she says her opportunities “snowballed”, and it’s safe to say she’s never looked back.

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From presenting the World Snooker Championships and the Cricket World Cup to hosting the global coverage of the Premier League, the 36-year-old does it all and is thriving in a male-dominated industry.

Seema’s love of sport has not only led her to where she is today, it also helped saved her life. At the age of 16, while at college where she played tennis, netball and danced while studying for her A Levels, she contracted meningitis and fell into a coma.

After a stay in hospital she went on to make a full recovery, but doctors told her if she hadn’t been so sporty the outcome could have been “very different”.

Here Seema, who lives in London and is an ambassador for Meningitis Now, tells OK! about her proudest moments and the unwavering support she receives from her male peers…

Euro 2020 kicks off this week and you’re one of the main presenters for ITV. How does it feel?

It’s really exciting. Presenting the Euros is a dream. I was a reporter for ITV at the World Cup in 2018 and now to be presenting alongside Mark Pougatch is just amazing.

It’s a big moment in my career. Obviously the Euros was supposed to take place last year so I’ve had to keep the news to myself for a whole year. What’s really nice as well is that we have a new tribe of girls in the presenting team.

That must be amazing for you to see…

Absolutely. I feel privileged to be among this group of women because they’re all brilliant presenters. I worked with Eni Aluko at the World Cup and Emma Hayes, Reshmin Chowdhury, Michelle Owen and Nadia Nadim are all great too.

Things have definitely started to change. I entered the industry during a time of transition and now it’s more balanced, but I don’t know if everyone has experienced the same, so I feel very lucky.

If you think about the likes of Hazel Irvine, Gabby Logan and Clare Balding, they were in the industry during a time when it was very male-dominated and it was rare to see women fronting sports programmes.

Where I work at the Premier League there are so many female presenters, floor managers and directors.

Things have come a long way…

Definitely. I’ve also noticed that a lot of the men I work with have daughters and they want them to have opportunities in these fields, and not feel that just because they’re female they don’t get them. Many men within the industry show a lot of support, which is nice.

Did you look up to the likes of Gabby Logan and Clare Balding growing up?

When I was younger I didn’t know I wanted to be a sports presenter, but I was passionate about sport because I grew up playing tennis and I loved Venus Williams and Steffi Graf.

Then as I started getting into TV as a runner I looked up to Kirsty Gallacher and Georgie Thompson on Sky Sports News, and as I got more into the industry it was Hazel, Clare and Gabby. But when I first wanted to become a presenter I loved watching Holly Willoughby and Davina McCall.

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How did you get into presenting?

I studied sociology and politics, but when I graduated I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I loved sport and I was a qualified tennis coach so I applied for a job at Sky Sports News and managed to get work as a runner.

I remember walking in for the first time and seeing the lights and presenters and thinking, “This is what I want to do.” I spoke to the boss and he said, “You look very young and you don’t have a journalism background so you’re going to have to work really hard to get to the top.”

He advised me to get some live TV experience and said a shopping channel was a good place to start. I was working at midnight and selling all sorts of stuff, but it was really good to learn about live TV.

What did you do next?

I got a job at the BBC doing Sportsround and Match Of The Day Kickabout, and then on The Wright Stuff.

The transition from that to actually breaking into the industry was so hard because I didn’t have enough experience to host live matches – but you can only get the experience if you’re given a shot.

The turning point was in 2015 with the Indian Super League. Star Sports needed a presenter and they offered me the opportunity to be the face of Indian football and host 60 live matches.

I relocated to India where I’d never been before and it was the best thing I ever did. While there I was asked to present the Premier League global coverage back in the UK and that opened so many doors for me.

Was it hard to work your way up in such a male-dominated industry?

I just treated it like anything else. Maybe it’s because of the way my parents raised me, but I just didn’t think of obstacles like that.

I didn’t think, “This is a man’s place and it’s going to be really difficult.” I just thought, “Work as hard as you possibly can and if you get any knockbacks then try again.”

I’ve never faced barriers like sexism or racism, but I’m not saying they don’t exist because I think everyone’s experience is different.

Alex Scott received a lot of trolling after she was announced as the new host of BBC’s Football Focus. What did you think about that?

She deserves to be where she is because she’s great and she has worked really hard. I messaged her on Instagram and said, “Go girl!”

I wish her all the best with the role because what a role it is, and to take over from Dan Walker is amazing. I don’t know Alex well but we had an amazing experience together in Bologna when Charles Leclerc drove us around in a Formula 1 car!

You work with Ian Wright and Phil Neville a lot. Have they always been supportive?

Absolutely. Wrighty says to me, “Seema, the best pundits and the most well-prepared pundits are always the female pundits I work with.”

He is a massive supporter and so is Phil. Phil managed the England women’s team and he’s always there to show his support. I know a lot of the other female presenters feel the same. Ian and Phil are brilliant to work with and we have a lot of fun.

What’s been the proudest moment of your career?

In 2020 I had one of the best moments of my career when I hosted the Rugby League World Cup draw at Buckingham Palace with Prince Harry. It was unbelievable.

It was in the throne room and even going into Buckingham Palace was amazing. Prince Harry was so lovely. We had so much fun doing the rehearsals – he was so relaxed and genuinely a nice man.

Going to India was also an amazing time. I was so lucky my hubby was able to come with me. I couldn’t have done it without him.

How long have you been married?

It’s our 10-year anniversary in July. The Euros finish five days before our anniversary so he has plenty of time to organise something special!

He loves football and he’s a huge Liverpool fan, but I tend to remain impartial. I say to him I’m actually the dream wife because I watch Match Of The Day before he does! We always have a laugh about it. I’m the one who tells him when the fixtures are.

You survived meningitis when you were 16. Has that made you more appreciative of everything you’ve achieved?

Absolutely. It’s definitely a part of why I feel I can just go for anything, because you never know what’s around the corner.

I remember the doctor telling me I was so lucky to come through it completely unscathed without any form of disability, because that doesn’t generally happen.

I’m an ambassador for Meningitis Now and I have heard some horrible stories and met sufferers who have lost limbs. It was a very scary time, but probably more so for my parents because I went into a coma and you just don’t know if you’re going to come out of that.

It was my mum who saw the signs and knew something wasn’t right.

How long were you in a coma for?

Eight hours. After I recovered, I was keen to get myself back to full fitness quite quickly and it took a couple of months.

The doctors said to me that if I wasn’t so fit and healthy it might have been a very different outcome. My body was able to fight it better. Being sporty helped me then and now it’s my life.

Finally Seema, the ultimate question – what are England’s chances at the Euros?

I can’t wait to watch the home nations, it’s going to be so special. England are in a difficult group with Scotland and that’s going to be a tough match, but I do think England will top their group.

It’s an exciting time for the team. There are so many talented players and the squad get on really well. Gareth Southgate is my favourite England manager. I’ve seen the team grow and progress under him. I’ve been lucky to interview him and every time he’s nothing but brilliant and charming.

Seema is presenting ITV’s Euro 2020 live coverage starting on Saturday 12 June.

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