Listeners divided as Emma Barnett debuts internet hosting BBC’s Today Programme

BBC Radio 4 listeners were divided over Emma Barnett‘s debut as host of the Today Programme with some fans praise her ‘refreshing’ presence, while others were left uneasy about a sex education quip.

The 39-year-old broadcaster hosted Woman’s Hour on the same channel from 2021 until she bid farewell to the female focused show last month. 

The veteran radio host, who also hosted the BBC’s 5 Live for six years, took on the new role as host of Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, replacing Martha Kearney. 

She introduced the show, saying: ‘Good morning, what a pleasure to be here. It’s six o’clock on Wednesday May 15. This is Today with Amol Rajan and Emma Barnett.’ 

While fans were happy to hear her voice four hours earlier than usual, others were less than impressed with a quip about putting ‘bananas on condoms’ at that time of the morning.

Picture shows Emma Barnett introducing BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on her debut

After bidding farewell to Woman's Hour last month, the veteran broadcaster started her new role on the Today programme this morning

After bidding farewell to Woman’s Hour last month, the veteran broadcaster started her new role on the Today programme this morning

Emma was discussing the Rishi Sunak ordered review of England’s sex education policy for school children when she made the quip. 

She said: ‘Now to sex and relationship education as you were just hearing in the bulletins. Do you remember yours? Did you have any?

‘Was it worth it? Did they teach you anything? Some might remember it boiling down to a very awkward teacher putting a condom on a banana – or was that just my experience. 

‘The Prime Minister ordered a review into it and new guidance is expected as soon as tomorrow.’ 

As the former Women’s Hour host introduced the BBC’s chief political correspondent Henry Zeffman, she added that she ‘wouldn’t make him blush’. 

However, some listeners were left a bit queasy by the joke made so early in the morning. 

One listener said: ‘Emma Barnett should remember she is not on Woman’s Hour’

While a fan said: ‘How refreshing to wake up to the voice if Emma Barnett. Welcome to our space and all the best.’

A third listener said: ‘Just woke up in a panic thinking I’d slept in and was listening to Emma Barnett.’

Emma interviewed a member of the Ukrainian punk band that played alongside US Secretary of State in Kiev bar last night. 

Emma is replacing Martha Kearney, who has been presenting the Today show for the last six years

Emma is replacing Martha Kearney, who has been presenting the Today show for the last six years

The guitarist described playing Neil Young’s Rockin’ in Free World with Mr Blinken as ‘very weird’ but added he was ‘very glad’ it happened.

One listener said: ‘How fabulous to listen to Emma Barnett this morning. Interview with a member of the band who had Anthony Blinken on stage with him in Ukraine, priceless.’ 

Barnett, 39, hosted Woman’s Hour Radio 4 show since 2021 but is set to join the Today Programme from May, replacing Martha Kearney.

Her stint as presenter came to an end on April 11 as she praised the ‘incredible’ show, saying it will ‘be a part of me forever’.  

Woman’s Hour, which runs for an hour between 10 and 11 am on Radio 4, highlights women’s issues and stories, as well as more lighthearted content.

Emma’s final episode featured interviews with American activist Gloria Steinem and British soul singer Rebecca Ferguson.

Ferguson and the Woman’s Hour team then surprised Barnett with a highlight reel of all her most memorable moments from the show, including snippets from her interviews with Liz Truss, Nadine Dorries, Jodie Comer and Kate Winslet.

Barnett was left almost speechless before bidding her final farewell to the team in the final minutes of the show, saying: ‘It has been an incredible ride. I’m not sure I have many words left to say after that but I do want to thank you for your company in the Woman’s Hour hot seat.

‘Thank you for trusting and thinking of us and coming to our amazing team with your views. I greatly appreciate it.

Emma Barnett has bid a very emotional farewell to Woman's Hour on Radio 4 in her final ever episode

Emma Barnett has bid a very emotional farewell to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 in her final ever episode

‘Woman’s Hour will be a part of me, forever. I have been able to do some incredible journalism here. I have approached subjects with great fear and favour and also been able to have a great laugh.’

‘But I leave Woman’s Hour more convinced than ever of women’s power, energy, strength, resilience and wisdom. While I’ve worked here I’ve even had the privilege of giving birth to one, my little girl.’

She concluded by saying: ‘I’m only moving a little earlier to the Today programme… because my god I’m going to miss this, I’m going to miss you, but rest assured I remain totally convinced of the need for a woman’s lens on the world and I’m taking that with me.

‘It has never been more crucial. For the last time, thank you. Woman’s Hour will be back tomorrow at 10.’

Barnett also referenced the ‘really important journalism’ she had been given the opportunity for, such as being trusted by Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe for her first interview after being released from prison. 

Her passion for the show and for the subjects she had covered was resoundingly clear throughout the statement.  

During her time hosting the show, Emma has also spoken to Queen Camilla – then Duchess of Cornwall – about her work with domestic violence survivors, and to Hasina Safi, the former Women’s Minister of Afghanistan. 

Other important interviews she highlighted includes those with Professor Kathleen Stock, the then CEO of Stonewall Nancy Kelly, Lady Lavinia Nourse – who was falsely accused of child sexual abuse – and a more light-hearted chat with her namesake, actress Emma Thompson.