Sky Sport’s Simon Thomas
Some highs and lows in his TV career
Living the dream
Imagine you are sky diving. You’ve just jumped out of the plane at 14,500 feet. You’re dropping to earth at 120mph. But, when you reach 5,500 feet, and pull the cord to open the parachute, nothing happens….
That was Simon Thomas’s experience as a Blue Peter presenter being filmed for the top BBC TV children’s show. ‘It seemed like an eternity,’ he says. His sky diving instructors came to the rescue and, eventually, the parachute opened and he landed safely. But when he came to watch the film footage of the event, he says, ‘My bottle went!’ Although he managed another couple of jumps, he failed the course.
However, when Blue Peter screened Simon’s failure, parents contacted Blue Peter to say how helpful it was to see someone who had not succeeded. A year later he went back to do the jump again to show how he had conquered his fear. ‘All those horrible feelings came flooding back. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I was brought up as a Christian and I’ve always had that Christian belief that this life is not the only thing – there is eternal life. But what was messing with my head that night was the thought that “If the two bits of fabric and two sets of strings fail, I’m about to find out if this Jesus figure I’ve learned about growing up is true or not.”’
Simon’s dad was a vicar. ‘We went to church every Sunday. It was part of growing up, but I never ever felt that what my dad believed was being imposed on me.’ As he lay awake the night before the jump, he knew that what he had grown up believing was being tested.
The next day he phoned a Christian friend and explained his situation and his fears. His friend prayed on the phone that Simon would know that Jesus is real.
Shortly afterwards, as Simon was about to cross a road before the sky dive, he looked round to see a young guy who said, ‘I want you to know that Jesus is real and he loves you.’ That unexplained, coincidental encounter gave Simon everything he needed to go ahead with the jump.
Simon says, ‘That moment with that guy on the street was really significant for me. And we went back with this really good news story of how you can conquer your fear.’
After leaving the BBC, Simon joined Sky Sports in 2005 and presented Sky Sports News. He then became the lead presenter of Sky Sports’ live Football League coverage, and in 2014 he began presenting live League Cup football. In 2016 he began presenting Premier League matches live alongside top pundits such as Graeme Souness, Jamie Redknapp and Thierry Henry.
Commentating on live Premier League matches for Sky Sports brings its own pressures, Simon says. One memorable but stressful occasion was the Norwich City play-off final against Middlesborough at Wembley. Simon has been a life-long Norwich City fan, but he knew he had to present the game impartially; Middlesborough fans would be looking for any signs that he was favouring his own team.
‘It was an amazing but terrifying feeling. You are thinking “Do not get this wrong. It is your team.” Incredible pressure and incredible joy and memories all rolled into one.’
Although Simon has been presenting Sky Sports for 12 years, he says, ‘I still find it terrifying doing it. You are only a sentence or two away from it being a horrible, horrible experience. The job I do is far less important than many people’s jobs. I’m not saving lives. I’m purely helping facilitate a bit of entertainment on a Saturday. It’s not brain surgery, but you do your job in front of people, so if you mess up in the age of social media, nothing gets missed. There is that horrible pressure every time I go to present a match. All those doubts come flooding into your mind: “You’re not good enough. You’re going to mess up today. You’re going to ask a really stupid question. You’re going to forget your lines. You won’t have any work next week.” You don’t have an autocue, you have to remember your script.’
How does he deal with it? He says, ‘My faith is really important in terms of how I prepare myself. Before I go on air, I take myself off to somewhere quiet – often it’s a toilet – and I pray. My faith is about God walking through life with me; being part of my life, not just on a Sunday when I go to church with the family. My relationship with God is all-encompassing and that includes my work. So I pray “God, all I ask is that today I can do my job to the best of my ability.” I know that without God, it’s a whole lot harder.
Asked if fame and living the dream is all that’s needed for fulfillment, Simon says, ‘The buzz I got from being recognized on the street lasted about six months. It’s not about you – the person. They are interested in that persona they see on TV. If you hang onto that, it’s a really empty feeling.
‘For me, what makes sense of everything that I am and everything that I do, is my faith.’
I worry about all the same things other people worry about. When my Sky contract runs out, what’s life going to look like? How will I pay the mortgage? When I do die, is this story I’ve read about in the Bible actually true? I have these doubts, but when I lock back onto God, everything makes sense again. It doesn’t mean life becomes easy, but what it does mean is that life makes sense.’
Quoting Narnia author CS Lewis he says, ‘Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.’
‘For me, in my 44 years, it hasn’t been moderately important, it has been everything. The message that comes through the Jesus story is actually it doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter if you’ve failed. It doesn’t matter if you’ve messed your marriage up. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a rubbish mum or dad, or whatever. Jesus loves you unconditionally.’
The publishers of Christmas HOPE are grateful to Simon Thomas for his help with the article about him. You may or may not know that, since Christmas HOPE was published, his wife has tragically died. Simon has asked people of prayer to pray for him and his son as they face this terrible loss. He has agreed that we should continue to distribute the magazine.