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Nicole Webb: From Sydney Newsroom to Central China

With three decades of media experience, Nicole Webb’s impressive CV includes 10 years as a Sky News producer, journalist and newsreader. It’s a career many only dream of and for the majority of it, Nicole’s busy lifestyle reflected that of any Sydney career woman. Until she took the leap of moving to Hong Kong and eventually China.

Nicole’s story of reinvention, love, humour, and finding her place in a foreign city of 9 million makes for an excellent memoir. And with the writing skills to make it happen, Nicole published China Blonde in 2020, just as China was making world headlines.

Mavens corresponded with her to learn more.

Being in the newsroom for so many years must have been a wild ride. Did you always want to work in media? How did you get into the industry?

Truth be told, as a teenager I really wanted to be in Hollywood! I can’t act or sing to save myself though, so that was really way out of the question! My career guidance counselor at school gently suggested journalism. I’d always loved writing and it seemed like it could be a great fit. The idea of being a newsreader also appealed to me. Before I knew it, I had applied for a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in journalism and as they say, the rest is history.

When I finished my degree, I applied for many jobs as a TV journalist…and received many rejections. Young blondes wanting a career in TV were a dime a dozen! Still, I didn’t give up. I eventually got a job in TV but it was in the sales department… while I did that job, I kept applying and making showreels and sending those around the country in the hope something would come up. I also did ‘work experience’ for free whenever I could.

Eventually, I quit my job in sales and gave myself one year to get into journalism. The year was almost up when I finally got a call from the news director at a small regional television network telling me I was the ‘perfect example of persistence pays off!’. He offered me a job in a town called Tamworth – Australia’s country music capital – population 30,000! I was there in a heartbeat and so my career began. I eventually moved to the big smoke (Sydney) where I worked at Sky News Australia for 10 years as a news producer, programmes producer and news presenter.

Tell us how you went from Sydney career girl to new mum in central China.

With great difficulty! Ha! We moved to Hong Kong first and I was also pregnant – so it was definitely challenging.

Leaving behind a career I’d worked so hard for and becoming a mum in a foreign country with no family… was tough to begin with. I felt like I lost my identity for a while and had to revisit who I really was without the autocue and high octane hairspray!

Hong Kong is an amazing place to live and be a mum though; I joined a pregnancy group of expat mums who were all due around the same time, so having people in the same boat really helped me to feel less alone and navigate the city and mum life.

Once I was a little less sleep deprived, I started to write for some local websites and then magazines… I was also asked to be the Master of Ceremonies for some events in Hong Kong and the Philippines and I dabbled in media training. At least I felt like that gave me a sense of purpose, other than just changing nappies and singing nursery rhymes. We moved to the middle of China (Xi’an) when Ava was 3.5 years old - by that point I had started my expat entertainment blog and had begun monetising it. Ava was also at school, so that made things a little easier. It was definitely a huge culture shock though but we had an incredible experience.

What was the single most significant thing you learned about yourself, living overseas?

I think the most important thing was that no matter how uncomfortable or daunting a situation is, I am able to adapt.

I think that brings some level of comfort, as I know, no matter what happens, I’ll be able to cope. I also realised that we can be many different things at once, even though people often try to pigeonhole us. We are the sum of many parts.

Many Australians only learn about China on the news in regards to its behemoth economy, political tensions or handling of the COVID-19 crisis. What’s China really like?

Gosh, where to begin. You’re right most people only know what they hear on the news, which usually revolves around politics and the economy. China is still very much a developing country in many areas… yet at the same time it is rising up to the future faster than its own bullet trains. There are literally hundreds of cities with millions of people…and for so long it really has been survival of the fittest. I think people really need to understand China’s history to understand the people of today.

No matter the cultural differences I think, at the end of the day, we all share that common thread of humanity and I met some truly incredible Chinese people and made many friends, not to mention learned so much about life in the Middle Kingdom. It’s a fascinating place! In my memoir China Blonde, as well as it being a fun, entertaining expat/travel read, I wanted to delve deeper into the real China. I interviewed 100 locals from all walks of life to get their perspective on living in China. Hopefully that shines through.

China Blonde scores 4.56 out of 5 on Good Reads and is available from all good booksellers including Booktopia, Book Depository and Angus & Robertson. To book Nicole for your next speaking event or presentation, or for media training and consultancy, click here.

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